My Covid Story

Jill B speaks from the experience of recovering from COVID-19, running a local retail shop, and developing a pandemic phone-pal. Read through to learn some unique and uplifting ways that Jill has learned to cope.

Interviewer (JH): Jill thank you for taking the time to share your story. Do you want to start from the beginning and walk us through what you experienced?

JB: While I live in Vermont, I travelled to New York in mid-March to celebrate my son’s 25th birthday. A few days later, when I was back at home, I had a sore throat and then lost my ability to taste and smell. Each of my family members quickly self-isolated, all of which happened about a week before the mandatory quarantines. We all developed symptoms including headache, dry cough, nasal congestion, and exhaustion. The symptoms lasted about two weeks. Each of us stayed isolated for another two weeks after that.

JH: Did you have any other symptoms like fever?

JB: I never really got a fever; I’m not sure why, although my temp tends to run on the low side The highest my temperature got was 99.8ο [Farhenheit (=37.7ο Celsius)]. And I developed chest pain; because I have a history of asthma, I was worried and I went to see my doctor who did a chest xray, EKG, and blood work.

JH: Blood work? Did they test for antibodies? Did you have a nasal swab for the virus?

JB: No. I wasn’t tested for COVID because they said then that I didn’t meet the criteria. Maybe because I didn’t have a fever and there were so few tests at that time?

JH: Are you sorry about that? Would you have wanted a test?

JB: Yes; I really wish I had had it confirmed and not just a presumed diagnosis based on my symptoms. It also kind of makes me mad that I haven’t been able to get my antibodies checked because I feel like I could maybe have my plasma donated or something to help solve the problem.

JH: I understand that you own a retail store? What ramifications have there been in terms of your business?

JB: I own a clothing store where we also sell jewelry and lots of other accessories. We’ve largely switched to selling online. But, it’s really a struggle. I generally don’t have fulltime employees. So, I haven’t applied for federal PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] because it wouldn’t function as a grant for me. I’d have to take it as a loan since I can’t really pay employees beyond my manager, and I don’t want to incur debt because I’m not certain what will be happen for my business. My manager goes into the store to package items that we sell online. I haven’t gone yet since I had the virus and I’m being overly cautious about protecting customers. My manager wears a mask and gloves and has not been sick. I haven’t seen her since I was symptomatic more than a month ago. We installed a sneeze guard by the register. And technically, based on rules in our area, we could open at this point; but, we have decided for the time being to open only by appointment. So, it’s essentially one person at a time in the shop.

It’s been extremely tough. Since we are a small, local, boutique shop, we have some very loyal, regular customers. But, revenue is way down.

JH: Sounds like your taking very good precautions for yourself and your customers. How has it impacted business for you?

JB: It’s been extremely tough. Since we are a small, local, boutique shop, we have some very loyal, regular customers. But, revenue is way down. My landlord has been extremely understanding about not being able to pay rent for now. And many local businesses on my block have already closed which means even after things open up, there will be much less walking traffic near the store. It feels lonely. There are empty storefronts all along the block. Before, there were lots of independent businesses. And now it’s mostly large chains.

Plus, I’m in a college town, where much of the business happens toward the end of the year, when families come for graduation and helping to move students out. None of that is happening this year. And there aren’t students around for summer internships and such. I’m very nervous about what this will mean financially.

JH: Any unusual things that have happened since you developed the symptoms of COVID-19 and were presumed to have the illness?

JB: The strangest thing is the reaction of some neighbors and others who knew that I likely had the virus. It carried a kind-of stigma, honestly, which I wasn’t really expecting. I understand people needing and wanting to protect themselves. Like recently, I hadn’t had symptoms in at least 3 or 4 weeks; I was out walking my dog with a mask on, and my neighbor seemed so nervous. It makes me realize that even once we do open the store again, the mood and the environment has shifted. People may not want to go out and go to stores.

JH: Any particular insights that you’ve noticed for yourself or others that you’d like to share?

JB: A few things, I guess. One is the weird feelings of losing our sense of self, in some odd ways. Like you still want to be the person you are. In my business, shopping is an experience. It can be a stress reliever; there’s a joy in touching the objects and trying them on. I’m looking forward to the day that we can do that again.

Another is that I really want to encourage people to shop locally. For the reasons I mentioned, those of us who run local businesses face particular challenges like not qualifying for PPP or it being too big a risk. The sadness, too, of losing unique local businesses if all that is left are large chains. I’m trying to hang on and ride through as best I can.

JH: What types of things have you done for yourself personally or professionally to try to ease the stress of this experience?

JB: This may sound strange, but I’ve been recommending to some of my older clients who live alone, to hug pillows and blankets. It’s not a substitute for the human touch, but it’s a tiny bit comforting.

Also, my way of giving back which has been helping my psyche, helping me emotionally is that we dress victims of domestic violence with clothes from our store; and I give what I’m able to the local food bank.

Oh, oh; there is also a really odd but uplifting experience that I’ve had since the start of the pandemic. I asked Siri to call a friend of mine – like I said “hey Siri, please call [Jane Doe].” Siri called the wrong number. It turned out to be an 81 year old woman who lives alone. We discovered that she has the same name as my friend. We got into a long conversation and now we have stayed in touch. I’ve called her back a number of times.

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