Alexa Ashwell went through her usual paces before putting together a televised report in early July for the 11 p.m. news, and things seemed ordinary.
Ashwell, in her third year as a TV reporter for Fox 45 in Baltimore, had her spot in front of the city’s police headquarters with a camera operator ready to record her piece. Her bullet points were handy just in case, but as a 10-year veteran of TV news, Ashwell planned on this being just another assignment. Until she found herself struggling to remember her reason for being there in the first place.
Ashwell described it as “brain fog,” but chalked it up to stress or a lack of sleep. Hours later, she had a different outlook on how she was feeling.
The Westminster High School graduate started experiencing symptoms associated with the coronavirus, and then her fears were realized as Ashwell became part of the story she’d been covering for the last few months. She tested positive for COVID-19, and said eight weeks later she’s still struggling to recover.
Ashwell recently shared her story through social media, and wrote about the “ongoing battle to feel like myself again.”
Aches and pains in her shins got Ashwell’s attention shortly after she dealt with the brain fog, she said. A high school and college sports career gave her plenty of history with sore muscles and body parts ― she earned two Times first-team all-county honors in softball, and helped Westminster win state championships in 2001 and 2004 before playing at Millersville University ― but Ashwell said this was different.
Her forearms were next, she said, and waking up in the middle of the night with severe back pain soon followed. The next morning, Ashwell said her throat hurt enough that she assumed it was an infection. A trip to an urgent care facility near Canton gave her a negative test for strep throat, and Ashwell said she started to worry.
Along with the body aches and sore throat came a lack of smell and taste. Ashwell said dinner was bland, and she couldn’t detect the distinct scent of the Vicks or Icy Hot rubs she had been applying to soothe her pains. She’s not a fan of spicy foods, but when a dose of Taco Bell Fire Sauce did nothing to her taste buds Ashwell grew even more concerned.
“Oh my God, I definitely have COVID,” Ashwell said she thought to herself. Two separate tests soon confirmed the diagnosis. But her journey was far from over.
“It was Week 2 where I experienced symptoms that I’ve never experienced in my life,” she said, “and that was having trouble breathing.”
Ashwell said doctors told her the second week tends to be more difficult than the first for those who have the coronavirus.
“That was news to me, and I had been reporting on the virus for months,” she said. But her chest felt tight, and Ashwell struggled to take in a full, deep breath.
She stayed close to a humidifier when she could, and took to sitting on her bathroom floor with the shower running as hot as possible. Her boyfriend started making green tea, Ashwell said, so she could drink up to five cups per night.
“I was desperate ― I was Googling any way to help myself breathe at home,” she said. “Those nights were the absolute worst. There were times that I just slept sitting up. It was just wild to me where this virus had taken me. ... There were a couple times where I was thinking, I need to go to the ER. I’d be hunched over with the humidifier in my face, so close that my face would be dripping wet.”
Less than three weeks after she first dealt with symptoms, Ashwell said she came to an emotional crossroads. Catching her breath turned into a chore, which led to anxiety and questions about just how severe her case had become.
“I was so exhausted, and scared. I have just never experienced not being able to get a full breath in my life. I didn’t know that feeling,” Ashwell said. “I didn’t know what COVID felt like. ‘How bad it is supposed to get?‘ ”
She found out in Week 3 when talking on the phone became too much. Ashwell said she felt like her skin looked yellow. A trip to the hospital turned into doctors telling her they thought she also had pneumonia, and they prescribed her two different inhalers.
The inhalers worked, she said, but the viruses weren’t finished with her yet.
Ashwell said she spiked a fever in Week 4. Another visit to urgent care included blood pressure tests and a chest X-ray. Her blood pressure was high for the first time in her life, Ashwell said, and doctors prescribed antibiotics to battle the pneumonia.
“At the end of the day, this is a virus that is one we haven’t experienced before. Therefore, you just don’t know how your body is going to respond. And mine had a hard time.”
Alexa Ashwell, on her fight with the coronavirus
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Ashwell said she had to make a chart so she wouldn’t forget which medicine she took on what day. Brain fog was still a thing, she said, but her other symptoms began to dissipate.
“The shortness of breath just never left. I still have it,” Ashwell said. “It has gotten better since I wrote about it. I am slowly recovering.”
Ashwell is working from home, and said she hopes to resume working out as soon as she can. She has more doctor appointments coming up to stay on top of how she’s feeling. With a family history of heart problems, Ashwell said she doesn’t want to take any chances.
But her latest COVID-19 test came back negative, she said.
“I have to keep that in mind that I still have to take it slow,” Ashwell said. “This whole experience has made me feel like I have something that I don’t know. It really has created this anxiety. Why is my body not kicking this virus? It’s mind-boggling and scary to me that my body responded to the virus like this.”
“You simply don’t know how your body is going to react. That’s what I would say,” she said. “At the end of the day, this is a virus that is one we haven’t experienced before. Therefore, you just don’t know how your body is going to respond. And mine had a hard time.”