SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — For two days, Derek Fraser had a runny nose and a scratchy throat, but otherwise he felt fine.
The 21-year-old travel healthcare provider who has been living in South Lake Tahoe since December while on a temporary work assignment for Barton Health, chalked it up to seasonal allergies.
On the third day, a slight fever entered the mix, he said on 10-minute video he posted to Facebook. He shivered, he was cold and said there wasn’t much he could do to get comfortably warm. He thought he might be “coming down with something.”
But he wasn’t thinking he had the coronavirus because there weren’t many cases in the area at the time and he hadn’t done anything “activity-wise” that he thought would have exposed him.
He knew something was wrong when he woke up on Day 4.
He had tightness in his chest, shortness of breath, a bad headache, dry cough, his body and joints ached and his fever jumped.
“I was freezing cold, sitting in front of the fireplace trying to stay warm … at that point I knew I was sick,” he said.
He called Barton Health’s COVID-19 hotline and was quickly brought in to get “screened and swabbed.”
He went home self isolated and fell asleep.
He woke up at 2 p.m. on Day 5 to someone loudly banging on his front door. Fraser sleeps during the day and works at night.
He cracked open the door and was greeted by someone dressed from head-to-toe in protective gear.
“He said, ‘Don’t open the door, or come closer, I just want to let you know you are positive for covid and this is a wellness check since you were not answering your phone,’” Fraser said.
Fraser said he had 32 missed calls from the hospital.
He called back Barton and the hospital confirmed the positive test result and told him to stay hydrated, drink hot tea and take hot showers to help with the shortness of breath.
“It seemed like when I found out I had a positive result, I got the sickest,” Fraser said.
Days 6 through 9, Fraser would not like to relive again.
He said he’d never been so sick and everything was a challenge, including breathing. The symptoms he felt a couple of days prior had magnified. Added to the list was the loss of taste and smell.
He got winded standing up, walking to the bathroom and trying to eat.
“I had horrible tightness, pressure on my chest, I couldn’t lay down flat because of chest pain,” Fraser said. “At my lowest point, I did have some concern that this may get very serious or I may even die. Because there isn’t a lot known about the virus, I started to get scared. I was worried that my symptoms may worsen rather than improve.”
The anxiety alone caused his blood to pump, stealing even more air from his shortness of breath.
But Fraser never returned to the hospital.
He started feeling better on the 10th day after symptoms began.
“It was scary, rough, it took longer than I anticipated to get better,” he said. “There is a lot of unknown, there’s nothing anybody else can do other than to say get rest and stay hydrated.”
Fraser slowly began to feel more like himself and by Day 13, he still wasn’t better but was improving to the point where he said he might be allowed to return to work in a few days, with continued improvement.
As of Day 15, Monday, April 6, Fraser has unofficially become the first El Dorado County resident to recover from the coronavirus and is returning to his job.
El Dorado County as of Monday had 25 positive coronavirus cases, up from 22 when the count was last updated.
“I am feeling better than I have in many days,” Fraser said in an email Monday. “I am looking forward to returning to work and assisting my team in these uncertain times. I started my career to help patients, and this is a time patients need healthcare workers. So I want to get back to work to help, especially now that I understand what patients with COVID-19 may be experiencing.”
Fraser, who is a permanent resident of Phoenix, Arizona, said looking back he likely contracted the virus while gathering with friends right before the shelter in place orders were issued. Another attendee of that gathering also contracted the virus.
Fraser said if he could give any advice it would be to call Barton’s covid health line (530-600-1999) right away and then quarantine from friends and loved ones until cleared by a professional.
“As soon as I felt any symptoms, I acted, and was taken care of and given the right instructions by Barton,” Fraser said. “I am grateful I was able to be tested quickly and then cared for and checked in on from a medical professional while I was recovering.”