Maryland Department of Health
Leonardtown Nurse Offers Message of Hope and Rebirth
At first, Shelita thought she had bronchitis because her early COVID-19 symptoms, in January, included a bad cough. The nagging cough persisted, so in February the 44-year-old registered nurse from Leonardtown got tested for the flu.
By this time, public health concerns about COVID-19 were in the headlines and on the minds of those in healthcare, so she began to wonder if she was infected. At the time, however, her cough seemed to be on the mend.
Then she worked the weekend shifts on March 21 and 22 at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in northern St. Mary’s County. She was off Monday, March 23, and that’s when the body aches began. At first, it just seemed like being tired from the weekend shift and maybe a caffeine headache from not having a morning cup of coffee. As the day wore on, though, the pain got progressively worse.
“I’ve never had body aches that bad, ever,” Shelita recalls. Having had the flu and its accompanying aches and pains, she had a solid point of reference. These aches were so bad they made her cry out loud. By the afternoon, it became severe so she called her family physician. A teleconference was quickly arranged.
“They said if I got worse the next day to call back,” Shelita says.
On Tuesday, though, it wasn’t just worse – the cough and pain were unbearable.
“The next day I went straight to the emergency room,” she remembers. Prior to working at the Veterans Home, Shelita had worked as a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital, so she knew some staff members there. Indeed, the nurse who swabbed the back of her nose was a former co-worker.
The results came back from LabCorp, making official what Shelita already suspected: it was COVID-19.
Though debilitating and physically draining, Shelita’s case did not require being hospitalized. Instead she was able to self-quarantine in her home.
Shelita was contacted by a contact tracer from her local health department, asking her about her close contacts so that they could track the virus.
“They got the names and numbers of people I’d been in contact with,” she said, adding that she was already on the case. “Once I got the news I started texting and calling, so they were already notified.”
Shelita remained isolated until her symptoms subsided, and for another 15 days beyond that. By the end of April she was able to say, “My health is great!” — but seasonal allergies still cause her to cough.
The recovery and quarantine process, however, requires a sustained effort. As a nurse, Shelita knew the importance of drinking plenty of water and making sure she got enough to eat. In her situation, she said, eating wasn’t a problem because she was not afflicted by the stomach and taste issues that sometimes come with a COVID-19 infection.
Still, she cautions that the physical part of making a strong recovery requires vigilance. Of equal importance, if not more, she said is the mental challenge of being both sick and isolated.
“Your support system is going to be the best thing to help you out,” she advises, adding, “It’s nice to hear from people when you’re in need.”
These days, she is confident about turning the corner on COVID-19, but she cautions, “I generally don’t believe we’re going to get to a normal like we had before.”
As a healthcare professional, she says continued vigilance about things like emphasizing washing hands and maintaining safe physical distance during social interactions will likely be around for the foreseeable future.
Since making her recovery, she has been vigilant about letting people know that, while the infection is debilitating, it can be overcome. She recently recorded a video for the St. Mary’s County NAACP Health Committee, in which she said: “I’m just recording this to give everyone hope and inspire people …”
For her part,, Shelita is optimistic about the future: Recovering from COVID-19 is “like a re-birth to me.”
You can view Shelita’s video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atAu_35RLpM.