Coming Out On The Other Side: A COVID Survivor Shares Her Story

Feb 9, 2021

Bonnie McLean takes good care of herself. She has a list of vitamins she takes; she drinks a protein shake every morning; and stays active. When she started to feel ill in mid-July, she didn’t immediately link her illness to COVID.

“It took me a week to realize how ill I was,” she said. “I woke up one morning and was tired and I thought maybe I hadn’t gotten enough sleep and I was so tired I didn’t want to do anything but I forced myself to get up and get on with my day.”

She thought she had a stomach flu. She had no respiratory issues, fever or cough. 

"I had diarrhea and my stomach just didn’t feel right, and body aches, I did get tested but I didn’t get the results.” 

Her nurse practitioner told her if she started to feel worse to go to the Ascension Sacred Heart Emergency Room. Which she did after days of fatigue and weakness. 

“I did start getting worse,” she said “The fatigue and the weakness — I was so weak by then and then I started to get shooting pains in my head and I said, I need to go; this is time to go.” 

She called a taxi to take her to the ER. Nurses took her blood pressure, which was 70/40. She was tested again and two hours later admitted as a positive COVID case. 

As a former nurse and now a doctor of Chinese medicine, McLean had a deep appreciation for the medical staff. By mid-July, Florida was experiencing a surge of cases, and local hospitals were feeling the pressure. 

“They were overwhelmed,” said McLean. “They were moving me from room to room, to open up other parts of the hospitals to bring in more COVID patients, I think they moved me six times over two weeks.” 

McLean was also treated with remdesivir, which had only been approved by the FDA for emergency use at the time. She went on a respirator, but fortunately was able to avoid the ventilator. A lot of her treatment was still experimental. 

“My doctors were wonderful, they were really amazing, they were willing to do all the experimental stuff that now is kind of — it’s what people are doing — but back in July, when I had it, all of it was experimental,” she said. “They gave me convalescent plasma, which is from some somebody who’s had it and built up the antibodies. I really feel like that was an important piece that saved my life.” 

McLean was in an isolation room and had no visitors except medical staff — whenever nurses or doctors came into her room, they were undetectable in their PPE. 

But one of the hardest battles for McLean continued to be constant fatigue. Her nurse told her to keep fighting. 

“He looked me straight in the eye and said this virus wants to kill you and the way it kills you is it will make you want to sleep; it will make you not want to move. It will make you not want to breathe. It will make you not want to do anything,” she recalled. “If you want to live you have to start moving, you have to breathe, you have to make yourself breathe, breathe deeply, make yourself move whether anybody is here or not.”  

Bonnie McLean
Credit Courtesy photo

“He looked me straight in the eye and said this virus wants to kill you and the way it kills you is it will make you want to sleep; it will make you not want to move. It will make you not want to breathe. It will make you not want to do anything,” she recalled. “If you want to live you have to start moving, you have to breathe, you have to make yourself breathe, breathe deeply, make yourself move whether anybody is here or not.” 

Alongside medical care, McLean credits her recovery to the power of prayer.  

“I’d always believed in prayer but I tell you I felt them, I just felt bathed immersed in this lovely love of my family and my friends and patients, one of my patients even called the nunnery and ask the nuns to pray for me.”

“I think nurses and doctors felt the prayers, too. “They’d come in my room and kind of want to hang out in there for a while and I think that they also needed to see someone was responding to the therapy and I was going to recover.” 

McLean did recover. And after seven weeks, she returned to work to treat her own patients. She still gets tested as a precaution. Last week, she donated convalescent plasma for the first time — something she believes made a difference in her recovery. 

And when she tests negative for the antibodies, she also plans to get vaccinated. 

“And I’m not a vaccine person,” she said. “I’ve never had a flu vaccine ever, but I will get this one.”

She gets irritated when she’s out in public and sees maskless people, or when she reads a post online that disregards the seriousness of COVID. 

“I tell you what, after having it I get really annoyed when somebody says it’s hoax or something,” she said. “It’s hard for me not get my little Irish temper up.”

Now, about seven months from her experience and coming out on the other side, McLean said she has a fresh outlook on life.

“The gratitude for things I had taken for granted, like being able to breathe, to be able to get up in the morning and have a day to go to and be able to go to work or go do my chores … just the sun coming up. You know, little things I guess I just assumed they would always be there. And that was what I came out with on the other side was the gratitude.”