Leah Blomberg’s voice is still raspy from having a tube stuck down her throat for nine days.
Her muscles are so weak, it takes her 45 minutes to take a quick shower.
Now, as she struggles to recover from coronavirus, she wants protesters to stop “crying and complaining” about shelter-in-place orders, like the one in her state of Wisconsin that just got extended until May 26.
“I spent 9 days in a medically induced coma, on a ventilator due to this virus. I spent another 9 days in the ICU having horrible hallucinations from the meds,” Blomberg posted on Facebook.
“I basically had to learn how to walk again due to muscle atrophy from being 100% bedridden for 2 weeks. I’M LUCKY TO BE ALIVE,” the post continued. “Stay in your house. Take the money they government is giving you. … Stop complaining and be thankful for your health. Thank you Governor Evers for caring more about our HEALTH than our WEALTH.”
Her post garnered praise and criticism as hundreds of protesters across the country demanded governors end stay-at-home orders and reopen all businesses.
Blomberg said she empathizes with protesters who are struggling financially – she, too, lost her job as a real estate receptionist during this pandemic.
But she echoed health officials who said the country isn’t ready to reopen because this outbreak is not yet under control.
As of Tuesday, more than 788,900 people have been infected in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 42,400 have died in the past two months.
Blomberg said the protesters’ demands are shortsighted because the virus is still spreading unabated.
“If you’re in a hospital bed, you’re not making any money anyway. In fact, you’re putting yourself in further debt,” Blomberg told CNN.
“If you’re dead, it doesn’t matter anyway – you’re not going to be able to provide for your family. You’re going to have your medical bills, your funeral costs, you’re going to be leaving that for them on top of it all.”
‘People don’t understand how easily this spreads’
Like many millennials, Blomberg said she didn’t think she’d suffer severe complications from coronavirus.
She started feeling flu-like symptoms on March 19. “I just felt like I got hit by a truck,” Blomberg said. “All the energy was gone, and literally everything in my body ached.”
Then she lost her senses of taste and smell, symptoms that are common with Covid-19.
“It wasn’t until the 24th when I didn’t have the energy to make it to the bathroom in time – when I finally said to my husband, ‘Take me to the ER,’” Blomberg said.
“They immediately called an ambulance to take me to a hospital that was accepting Covid patients. And when I got there, they said, ‘You’re not getting enough oxygen. We’re going to have to intubate you.’ So I was put in a medically induced coma and put on a ventilator.”
She tested positive for coronavirus but still has “absolutely no idea” how she got infected.
“We didn’t have anybody in our close circle that has gotten sick or died from this,” Blomberg said.
“I didn’t know I was at risk. I’m 35. I have no underlying medical conditions that would have compromised my immunity.”
But since sharing her story on Facebook, she’s received a torrent of messages from others who were suddenly impacted by Covid-19.
“I’ve gotten messages from people in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Pennsylvania,” Blomberg said.
“A lot of these people reaching out either have been through what I’ve been through, or have a family member going through it. And people don’t understand how easily this spreads.”
Q&A: Why worry about coronavirus when the flu also kills many Americans?
Struggling to walk again
Blomberg’s nine days in a coma led to muscle atrophy – the wasting or loss of muscle tissue.
“The recovery is probably the worst,” she said. “Basically it’s having to learn to walk again, because your muscles …. it’s like you’ve never used them before.”
What used to be a 15-minute shower “is now 45 minutes … and that’s trying to do everything as quickly as possible,” she said.
Her physical anguish is now compounded by the financial pain of hospital bills.
She’s only received a portion of her medical bills, but owes $11,000 so far.
Blomberg laughed when she thought about how quickly her life has changed in the past few weeks.
“Not only do I not have a job, but now I don’t have this money” for medical bills, she said.
A message for the protesters
Blomberg hopes sharing her ordeal will prevent others from suffering. And that means encouraging protesters to stay home and obey shelter-in-place orders.
“A lot of those people will not understand until it happens to them or someone they love. And it’s really sad,” Blomberg said.
“If you think things are tight now, if you get sick and get to the hospital, these 5-digit bills, 6-digit bills – it’s going to be even worse.”
She’s not just concerned for the protesters, but also for everyone else they could infect through asymptomatic spread. That includes health care workers, some of whom have died from Covid-19.
“That’s a slap in the face: ‘Oh yes, thank you to all these workers taking care of the sick … and oh, by the way, you have Covid now.’” Blomberg said.
“There are hospital workers who have been put on ventilators and haven’t made it. I pray I haven’t infected any of the people who took such great care of me.”
Why are medical workers getting sick with or dying from coronavirus?
Like many Covid-19 patients, Blomberg said the hospital she was treated in was frantically busy.
“I was next to the nurses’ station, and I constantly heard their alarms going off to go to patients’ rooms,” she said.
“If we were to open up right now, (hospitals) would definitely be overwhelmed.”
When she sees protesters wanting to reopen the country right now, “all I can do is just shake my head,” Blomberg said.
“We have to wait for the medical community to say it’s OK. They’re the ones who know what’s going on. They’re the ones who know, who have the facts, who have all the data. They’re the ones who we ultimately should be listening to.”
In the meantime, Blomberg wants everyone to know “this could happen to anyone.”
“It’s so frustrating – to know how severe and how awful this is, and you still get people saying, ‘It’s a hoax. There’s no one in hospitals. There’s no one dying.’ Open your eyes,” she said.
“There are plenty, plenty of people in hospitals, (and) too many people dying.”