This is the second story in an ongoing series on Chicagoans who contracted COVID-19 and have fully healed or are on the road to recovery. Check back for more stories.
CHICAGO — It’s been more than a month since Reggie Williams-Rolle was sick with coronavirus. But the memories are still fresh — the sleepless nights, gasping for air, time “moving as slow as molasses.”
“I do not want this ever again,” he said.
Williams-Rolle, 30, has fully recovered from the virus, like thousands of other Chicagoans. He’s back to working from home as a human resources consultant. He’s feeling 100 percent healthy again after a grueling 17-day fight.
Now Williams-Rolle, who lives in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood, is sharing his story to deepen peoples’ understanding of the disease — and to spread hope.
“It’s a long battle but I think, most importantly, it’s a battle that beatable,” he said.
‘Am I Going To End Up On A Ventilator?’
It all started March 30. That day, Williams-Rolle was only experiencing body aches.
By the next night, he had developed a fever and a slight sore throat. He called his doctor, who gave Williams-Rolle Tamiflu and told him his symptoms didn’t qualify for a coronavirus test.
The Tamiflu didn’t help. A few days later, Williams-Rolle still had body aches, a fever that wouldn’t break and a persistent headache. He was losing his sense of smell and having chest pains.
Worried, Williams-Rolle went to the emergency room. Again he was told there weren’t any tests available for people with his symptoms.
Things only went downhill from there. Williams-Rolle had all of the same symptoms, plus extreme exhaustion, which made basic functions like taking a shower “very difficult.”
Sleeping became a constant struggle.
At one point, Williams-Rolle said he was so uncomfortable in his bed he resorted to sleeping on the floor.
“My bed is kinda soft,” he said. “I was like, ‘Well, maybe let’s try the floor. Maybe the hard surface of the floor will be something different.’ It wasn’t. It didn’t help.”
On the eighth or ninth day of his sickness — Williams-Rolle’s isn’t exactly sure when — he went back to the emergency room because he was having trouble breathing.
“It was almost like I was gasping to get air. I would literally be laying down and. … I just felt like I wasn’t getting enough air coming through my system. There was a lot of tightness in my chest,” he said.
That symptom finally warranted a coronavirus test, which came back positive. Williams-Rolle learned during that hospital visit he had developed pneumonia in his left lung, a complication of coronavirus. He was given antibiotics to treat the pneumonia.
It took four or five days for the antibiotics to work, but they did.
By the 15th day, Williams-Rolle had gotten to the point where he was “starting to feel more alive and actually wanting to engage a little bit more.”
Two days later, he felt so much better he started working from home again.
Not unlike many people who have been sick with coronavirus, Williams-Rolle can only guess how he contracted the disease that left him bed-ridden for more than two weeks. He said he was still working in the office and working out in the gym up to two weeks before he got sick “because things hadn’t closed at that point.”
“When things had shut down, all I had done was go to the grocery store. My job is located Downtown. I was taking the train there. The possibilities are almost endless,” he said.
Now that he’s on the other side of it, Williams-Rolle has shared his experiences with friends and family and on Facebook to dispel misinformation.
“I’m 30 and I’m a very active person. I’ve done half marathons. I work out very often. So one big thing, and I told my friends this, age clearly doesn’t matter, and activity and health level doesn’t particularly matter, either,” he said. “I still ended up very sick.”
Besides medicine for the pneumonia, Williams-Rolle said the only things that eased his symptoms were an inhaler — he had asthma as a child — and a humidifier from Walgreens.
“I found this little steaming device that I had delivered from Walgreens that worked miracles in terms of loosening things up,” he said.
He also did “light yoga activities” like meditation when he could.
“You can’t leave your house, but I think it’s important not to lay down for the entire duration of the illness,” he said. “It helped mentally.”
One thing people may not realize about the virus, Williams-Rolle said, is once you have it, time moves “as slow as molasses” and “nothing helps to speed it up.”
Williams-Rolle lives with one roommate. Despite their close proximity, his roommate managed to not get sick.
He said that’s likely because she was adamant about disinfecting and because they have a large apartment with two bathrooms.
“That second bathroom was life-saving,” he said.
Williams-Rolle said it was what happened outside of his apartment that was particularly challenging. Trying to get tested twice before before doctors agreed to screen him for the disease took a physical and emotional toll.
“That was toward the beginning when I was watching the news a lot,” he said. “It was just really getting to me mentally and thinking about the shortness of breath. ‘Am I going to end up on a ventilator? What’s that going to be like?’ Coupled with the fact that you can’t have family with you if you do end up in the emergency room. It’s a horrible feeling thinking about what all could go wrong with this.”
Since Williams-Rolle was sick, testing has dramatically increased in Illinois.
But he fears there still may be gaps in testing throughout the Black community.
“I would definitely urge more testing, more education in minority communities,” he said.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.