The Britain family includes Galen and Lori, along with the son Chance (age 23) who is in the U.S. Marines and currently stationed in Quantico, Virg., and their daughter Charity (age 20) who attends college at the University of Sioux Falls, but is currently home for the summer. (Courtesy photo)
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – As of Monday, July 20, there have been a total of 7,943 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state of South Dakota, with a death toll so far of 118.
By subtracting the 829 cases which are still considered to be active, the survival rate of the 7,114 South Dakota cases which have an outcome is 98.3 percent.
When looking at the numbers closer to home in the Black Hills, the counties of Fall River, Custer, Pennington, Lawrence, Meade and Butte Counties combine for a total 836 positive cases, with 25 deaths so far. By subtracting the 158 active illnesses, the survival rate of the 678 Black Hills cases which have an outcome is 96.3 percent.
Of course, there are a wide range of factors which would play into your own personal chances of survival, but in general, the aforementioned numbers show that a vast majority of the South Dakotans who are diagnosed with this disease do survive.
Two of those survivors – Lori Vosika of Hot Springs and Pastor Bob Anderson of Custer – recently shared their personal stories of how the disease affected them. And while there are similarities in how they described the stages of the disease – from first noticing symptoms, to the diagnosis, to their quarantine/treatment and then recovery – the differences they described also highlight the importance of how no one’s experience is exactly the same. Vosika suffered only mild symptoms and was quarantined at home for about a week and a half. Anderson meanwhile began quarantine at home but then spent five days in the hospital in Rapid City.
Vosika’s diagnosis and recovery
Lori Vosika and her husband Galen Britain, have two children, including Chance (age 23) and Charity (age 20). Lori is a social worker at the Hot Springs VA and has been a VA employee since 1996.
She said her first symptoms showed up on the evening of Tuesday, June 23, when she got home from work and felt very exhausted. She went to bed early that night with chills and body aches, but said COVID-19 was not on her mind at that point. She awoke in the middle of the night with a slight fever and diarrhea but felt much better in the morning, so went to work.
Her job, where she wears a mask at all times, consists of working in a private office with minimal interaction with VA patients. Once at her desk and still feeling some of her symptoms from the night before, Vosika said she then went to the Fall River Health Services website and began reading more about the various symptoms of coronavirus. Her discovery prompted her to get tested.
By calling ahead to Fall River Hospital, the screening and testing went “smooth and easy,” she said. Medical personnel wearing protective equipment met her at her car and administered the test without her leaving her vehicle. Because of Vosika’s profession, she qualified for rapid testing and learned of her positive result by a phone call from Fall River Health Services within 15 to 20 minutes.
Her prompt, positive diagnosis on June 24 then resulted in an at-home quarantine, not only for herself but also her husband Galen and daughter Charity. Lori said she took the upstairs and master bedroom and bath, while the rest of her family stayed downstairs.
The first two days of quarantine for Lori consisted of her sleeping nearly the entire time. She never experienced any respiratory issues, she said, and had symptoms consisting mostly of fatigue, runny nose, head and body aches, as well as a loss of appetite. Her most troubling symptom was a sticky slime in her throat, which she couldn’t dislodge to swallow or cough up. She said she would often wake up in the middle of the night and feel as-if it was smothering her.
On or around Thursday, July 2 – eight days after her positive diagnosis – she began feeling more like herself. Throughout her illness, she described her symptoms as “mild to moderate,” with them never crossing the line to severe or causing a sense of panic.
Her time in isolation following the first two days of solid sleeping was spent watching Netflix and on her computer and social media. She laughed as she described how she mostly communicated with her family downstairs by text message, who would bring her meals and refreshments a few times per day – sometimes coming into her room while wearing a mask and gloves, and sometimes by just leaving it outside her door.
Lori said there was a considerable learning curve throughout the quarantine before her family developed a routine that worked, which included using disposable paper products for meals and a large garbage can upstairs to reduce the amount of times it needed emptying. She said the entire family relied heavily on the support and assistance of their friends, who often went to the store for them and brought them dishes of food, which lasted multiple days. For that, she said they are very grateful.
Despite being in contact with one another at the outset of her symptoms and in the same home during quarantine, neither Galen nor Charity every developed any symptoms of their own. Lori said Charity was tested twice and was negative both times, while Galen was never tested.
With routine check-ins by medical personnel from Fall River Health Services to monitor the progress of her symptoms, Lori was ultimately determined to be recovered and allowed to safely come out of quarantine, and for both she and her husband, return to work on Monday, July 6.
Anderson’s diagnosis and recovery
Bob Anderson and his wife Elizabeth, who are both 71-years of age, live in Custer, but have ties to Hot Springs through the Bethesda Lutheran Church, where he was a vacancy pastor for six months two different times in the late 1980s and again in the mid-1990s.
Bob’s COVID story actually begins with his wife “Liz,” who was the first person in their home to be diagnosed with coronavirus. He said Liz developed mild symptoms of a sinus infection, including a headache, on Monday, June 15. Her symptoms worsened the next day so she was tested on June 16, but did not learn she was positive until three days later on June 19.
The two of them were then ordered to quarantine in their homes by the Department of Health, where they attempted to socially-distance amongst themselves and using separate bedrooms and bathrooms. By Monday, June 22, Bob said he began running a temperature of 100.4 degrees and was advised by a Custer Regional Hospital nurse to get tested that day.
Four days later, on Friday, June 26, he learned that he too was positive for COVID-19. By Saturday, June 27, his body temperature continued to increase and spiked at 102 degrees.
He recalled getting up at 5am on the 27th to turn down the thermostat in their home due to feeling hot, but when he checked his own temperature, he said, “that’s not the house, it’s me!”
With a fever accompanied by a bronchitis-type cough, his nurse advised him by phone to check himself into the emergency room of the hospital.
“I have asthma and sleep apnea, and am also overweight, so I have a lot of strikes against me,” Bob acknowledged.
Rather than going to the hospital in Custer, Bob said he asked his wife Liz – who had already recovered from her bout with coronavirus – to drive him directly to Rapid City and drop him off at the E/R and drive away, which she did.
Once inside, Bob said he told the nurse who greeted him that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was told to come to the hospital due to running a high fever. He was then ushered into a private room and further evaluated by a medical team, which included blood work that showed his oxygen levels were at only 55 percent. It was then also determined that he had both a viral and a bacterial infection, which included pneumonia in both lungs.
He was then given two liters of oxygen, and since he met certain criteria, was given the option of receiving some experimental Emergency Use Authorized (EUA) medicine, as well as a transfusion of plasma with antibodies from a patient who had recovered from COVID-19.
Anderson said he accepted both of those options and put in a bed in the hospital’s COVID Ward. He described the ward as a large warehouse-like space, where patients were separated into cubicles which had three walls and a shower curtain for a door. There were no televisions, magazines or decorations in the rooms, and there were exposed pipes and wires in the ceiling. He guessed that the room was large enough for 30 to 40 patients, but it was unknown how many were actually in there because he did not venture out of his small room.
He recalled the nurses in the COVID Ward being very patient and kind, despite the stresses of their jobs. While he himself was not in much pain, Anderson knew that many of the patients around him in the nearby cubicles were in pain, as he could hear their screams, he said. As to why they were specifically in pain, he did not know.
The first two nights in the hospital, Anderson said he did not hardly sleep, due to his fears associated with his sleep apnea.
“I didn’t want to close my eyes to sleep, for fear of quitting breathing,” he said.
He was given a CPAP machine for his third night in the hospital, which aided with his sleep, he said.
However, by July 1, Anderson said his doctor told him that he had been progressing nicely with his treatments and was allowed to check out of the hospital that day – five days after being admitted.
From that point, he was then told to quarantine at home, which he did until July 7 when he received a letter from the Department of Health stating he was no longer at risk of spreading the disease, based on his symptoms.
Throughout his time at home, he received routine monitoring and check-ins by Monument Health staff, as well as from people with the State Department of Health.
Over the course of the 10 to 11 days he was sick, he lost a total of 12 pounds. The most concerning and severe symptoms he experienced was the high fever. With his asthma, he said he normally doesn’t have much of sense of smell, and while he was sick, he did not have much of an appetite or sense of taste.
The medications he was on for a few days to treat coronavirus included Dexamethasone and Remdesivir.
Thoughts about the disease
Vosika said COVID-19 is “not the flu, but it is flu-like in its symptoms.” She added that the blending of the various symptoms and the duration in which she had them is what made it difficult at times.
But overall, in regards to how she felt while being stricken with the coronavirus, she said it really wasn’t that bad.
“If everyone could be effected like I was, I say ‘bring it on!’” she said.
In regards to the disease itself and how the world is reacting to it, Vosika said she is disappointed that many have focused on it being a political issue, instead of it being a critical health issue.
She is a proponent of wearing masks and feels it is a very simple thing people can do to help mitigate the spread of the disease and “be good caretakers of others.”
“They’re inconveniences but their minor in how they can effect your life and the lives of your loved ones, as well as the lives of people you don’t even know,” Vosika said.
While the severity of her symptoms were minor and she did not experience a fear for her own life while being sick, she did worry a lot about the potential people she could have exposed, prior to knowing that she had the disease. Specifically, she was concerned about infecting her husband Galen, who has diabetes and is considered high-risk.
Anderson said fears of the disease have been perpetuated by the news media and feels there are many other diseases and illnesses around that are just as dangerous, which people can suffer from just as easily. He however said he hopes he never gets this one again.
He has noticed that in Custer, where he lives, locals are far more cautious in public and wear masks, but tourists seem to be a bit more complacent.
As a retired pastor from several area churches, he said he knows he received prayers from at least 12 different churches during his ordeal, for which he is grateful.