Sandy Oxx’s fight against coronavirus began with a tickle in the back of her throat at the end of June.
Oxx, the former executive director of the Carroll County Arts Council, got tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at the end of May after returning from a trip to Florida, and her results came back negative within 24 hours. About a month later, she developed a fever of 103 degrees that didn’t subside after about 10 days, on top of the irritation in her throat.
It started to make her feel shaky and weak, she said, and she knew something wasn’t right.
“It would kind of go back and forth,” Oxx said of her fever. “When you have one for nine days and it doesn’t go away, that’s when it was just weird. I could tell it was getting harder to breathe, and I had a cough.
“I [also] didn’t want to drink wine with dinner, which was a telltale sign.”
She got another test on July 6, but didn’t have those results before she drove herself to the emergency room at Frederick Health Hospital the following week.
Oxx had no idea she would remain in the hospital for the next five days battling the deadly virus.
Oxx, 61, who lives in New Market, served as executive director of the Arts Council for 21 years and headlined a number of creative initiatives at the Carroll Arts Center, such as the PEEPshow and the Festival of Wreaths, prior to retiring in 2018. The PEEPshow remains one of the most popular Carroll County events of the year, and Oxx has a Peep tattoo to commemorate her innovation.
The tattoo is inked on her left wrist, and Oxx said it was a positive token for her when she was recovering in the hospital.
“Five years in, I challenged the community with, if we could raise $50,000, I’d get a tattoo,” she said. “I never, ever thought we would raise that much money, so I got it and it made me feel very good when I wasn’t feeling so good.”
Oxx said patients who are admitted to the hospital with coronavirus symptoms are tested right away — for her, that test came back positive within hours. From there, it was all systems go.
Oxx described her hospital stay as “the best of times, and the worst of times.”
“Once they scoop you up and start treating you, it felt like I was in really good hands,” she said. “I felt affirmed that it wasn’t just a cold, that I did have something serious that needed attention. They’re so well equipped — I had two IVs, a heart monitor and a chest X-ray before I could even blink.”
Nurses at Frederick Health were able to get Oxx’s temperature reduced relatively quickly with Tylenol, which she said made her feel much better. The personal protective equipment worn by the medical professionals reminded her of a spacesuit, she said, and she felt like an alien. If they so much as forgot one small item when entering each patient’s room, their PPE had to be removed and replaced with a whole new set before they could re-enter.
Oxx said doctors asked her if she wanted them to administer chest compressions on her if she became so ill that she could no longer speak.
“That was kind of like a profound question for someone like me,” Oxx said. “Yesterday, I was walking the dog and now you’re talking to me about chest compressions.”
Oxx’s condition never worsened to the point where compressions were necessary, and she never needed a ventilator. Her oxygen levels were always good, but she said she experienced one bad night during her hospital stay when she faced difficulty catching her breath.
Overall, Oxx said she felt like she was on the mend from the moment she was admitted because her medical care was so comforting. Nurses administered her with antibiotics and steroids for pneumonia and blood thinners to prevent blood clots as she was unable to move much during her stay.
Oxx was officially released on July 19 and chose to be wheeled out to “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles. She was given a sign that read “I beat COVID-19,” signed by the employees who worked on the floor where she was treated.
“They ask you what song you want played when they wheel you out, and that just brought me to tears because music is everything to me,” Oxx said. “I had seen this happening in New York, but to see that it was happening here in Frederick was, I mean, it just bolstered my soul.
“I was crying pretty hard.”
Oxx continues to recover at home, binge-watching “Outlander,” and has remained in isolation with her husband and son, who both tested positive for the virus as well. They were both mildly ill, Oxx said, and are recovering.
“We were going out, and we were always wearing our masks,” Oxx said. “I still got it, so I’m not saying masks solve everything necessarily, but I would hope if someone who, for some reason, doesn’t feel the need to wear a mask, when they see someone wearing a mask, they don’t go, ‘Oh, that liberal, that hypochondriac.’ I hope they realize that people are trying to protect you from landing in the hospital, from losing your children, from dying …
“This isn’t a curse or a punishment,” she said. “This is how we’re going to open our communities and our schools, and if people can’t do this, it’s just going to be a disaster if people can’t just buck up.”