Diagnosed with coronavirus, Southold woman improving after frightening ordeal

From her hospital bed at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, there’s not much for Jill Johnson to do.

The Southold resident has a television with no remote control. Her cell phone is at her side, but the conditions aren’t ideal for gabbing. The only visitors she’s allowed are doctors and nurses, who take extreme precautions before entering her room.

Most of the time, “it’s just me looking at a brick wall,” she said.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, she said, going out of her way to note that she’s grateful to even have the television. And the hospital has given her magazines, newspapers, her tablet and a coloring book from a friend.

This is the new, albeit temporary, reality for one of Suffolk County’s first positively diagnosed COVID-19 coronavirus patients. Ms. Johnson, a 54-year-old part-time copy editor for Times Review Media Group, received her diagnosis Thursday, March 12, after being tested for the illness three days earlier. She had entered the hospital with pneumonia last Sunday, March 8.

“I just kind of knew I had it,” she said in a telephone interview from her isolation room Saturday. “I was just so out of breath. The shortness of breath scared me like you wouldn’t believe.”

Ms. Johnson said a doctor believes she contracted the illness at some point during a recent trip to Tallahassee, Fla. She flew out of John F. Kennedy Airport on Feb. 21 and returned home from Jacksonville International Airport four days later. She said she first felt sick on Monday, March 2, though she and her husband had both just recovered from colds they treated with antibiotics before their flight.

“[The doctor] believes it had to do with travel,” she said. “It could have been on the way down or on the way back … we just don’t know.”

Ms. Johnson said she has not exhibited all of the symptoms being associated with the virus. She’s had no headaches and has felt mostly pain free.

I think about my family and ‘Who did I give this to?’

Jill Johnson

Speaking Saturday after using an inhaler, her voice was strained but not hoarse. A recurring fever, which leads to shortness of breath, is the most problematic symptom for her.

“I call those my episodes,” she said.

The “episodes” have slowed down for Ms. Johnson since Thursday, though they do still occur.

It’s been a scary ordeal for her.

“I was very frightened,” Ms. Johnson said. “I think about my family and ‘Who did I give this to?’ ”

Doctors have reminded her not to beat herself up for it, saying that none of the first patients diagnosed in Suffolk deserve to feel shame for suffering from what the World Health Organization has classified a global pandemic.

The doctors and nurses try their best to limit how often they enter Ms. Johnson’s room, she said. They step into a cordoned off area to prepare before continuing to her room with head-to-toe protective gear.

She needs to be fever free without taking Tylenol for 48 hours and show two negative test results before being released from the hospital. The swab cannot be taken until at least one week has passed from the positive test, she was told.

Ms. Johnson’s husband, Bob, has been at home under mandatory quarantine along with their 22-year-old son, Shayne, who is not experiencing symptoms and has not taken the COVID-19 test.

Mr. Johnson was directed to take the test Thursday — driving to ELIH where a staff member wearing a mask and other protective gear reached through the rolled down window with a swab and collected a sample. He is awaiting those results. He expects to test positive.

Though his symptoms have been milder than his wife’s, Mr. Johnson, a 57-year-old retired corrections officer who works part-time as a security guard for St. Joseph’s College, began to feel ill on the same day as her. His health is also improving.

Forced to stay in a different part of the house as his son, he said he mostly passes the time sleeping, his energy drained from what he believes is the virus.

“Yesterday I paid some bills,” he said. “We can’t even watch sports anymore.”

If Mr. Johnson’s test comes back positive, he’ll be quarantined even longer and his wife would not be able to come home, he said.

Ms. Johnson is anxious to get back to her family, but understands the importance of isolation. So until she gets clearance, she waits in her room with the brick wall and the television with no remote.

“I do get HGTV,” she said. “That’s my favorite.”

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, are awaiting results or are having trouble getting tested, we want to tell your stories. It is our goal to use this website to better inform the public about how this virus has spread, how individual cases are being handled and how we can work together to become a healthier community. Email [email protected] if you have a story to tell.