BERLIN (AP) — On the fifth day after she fell ill with COVID-19 respiratory disease, Karoline Preisler could breathe again without wincing through severe pain in her chest.
But the 48-year-old from a small town in northeastern Germany was still sick and very weak. She had slept only three hours the night before in a hospital isolation ward. She worried constantly about her husband and three children.
“I miss my children so badly. They miss me, and we all miss that we can’t hug each other anymore,” Preisler said in a phone interview on Monday.
Preisler, who practices law and is a local politician in the Baltic Sea town of Barth, started experiencing symptoms a few hours after she tested positive for the new coronavirus last week. Her husband, a federal lawmaker, had tested positive earlier and been told to remain isolated in Berlin, a 299-kilometer drive (186 miles) away,
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The couple’s 9-year-old twins and 11-year-old tested negative, but health authorities ordered the children quarantined at home with their mother. When Preisler’s symptoms worsened and she needed to be hospitalized on Saturday, her husband was permitted to go back to Barth to care for the children.
Lonely, frightened and unwell, Preisler turned to the internet for information from other patients but didn’t find many first-hand accounts of living with and fighting the virus. So she decided to share her experience on Twitter, where she had about 5,000 followers.
Using the hashtag #coronatagebuch, German for #coronadiary, Preisler has given frequent updates on her condition. She posted photos of herself with hollow eyes and her lower face masked., images of cleaning staff in protective gear removing contaminated clothes from her hospital room and another selfie showing her receiving oxygen through thin tubes in her nose.
She also wrote intimate tweets about how she was doing emotionally – sometimes well, sometimes not so well – at a time when people around the world worry about the virus but know so little about how COVID-19 can play out on a personal level for someone who has it.
“Dear #coronadiary, today is my second day … I am ill, the lung is like a big lump. I am whimpering like a whelp. The father will take over family life long-distance via Videochat. Corona is mean, bye,” Preisler said in one tweet.
Preisler is one of some 7,300 people who have tested positive in Germany, a country with a population of 83 million, She has not contracted pneumonia, an illness seen in people with severe forms of COVID-19. But due to a preexisting health condition, the virus made her more sick than is typical for someone her age.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with underlying health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks.
On the day after she tested positive, Preisler suffered from shortness of breath. She and her children marked off areas of their home with tape to create a makeshift isolation ward for mom while leaving the rest of the house to the healthy kids.
Preisler was too sick to cook so the children took over the kitchen, making waffles topped with lots of powdered sugar and browsing cookbooks for recipes.
Friends went grocery shopping and dropped the bags off in front of the family’s home since none of them were supposed to go inside.
“They brought us lots of potatoes,” Preisler said. “So right now, the kids are into making potato chips.”
On Twitter, she sometimes relayed the latest developments with a grim sense of humor.
“Dear corona diary, here’s a positive approach … somebody who cannot breathe well saves food. It’s too exhausting (to eat). My fitness tracker is proud of my weight loss. Welcome hip bones, that I could live to see you again,” she wrote on Day 2 of her illness.
While trying to cheer up her followers with cheeky tweets, Preisler felt progressively worse. She didn’t go to the hospital because she couldn’t leave her quarantined children alone.
Her husband, who exhibited mild symptoms, got permission Friday night to drive home from the German capital – wearing full protective gear and without stopping even once for gas. The next morning, Preisler was admitted to the Krankenhaus am Sund hospital in the city of Stralsund. She started getting oxygen and inhaled medications that alleviated her shortness of breath. It’s not clear when doctors will release her.
With new infections dwindling in Asia, Europe has become the main front line of the pandemic that has infected over 190,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7,500 as of Tuesday. More than 80,000 people with the virus have already recovered.
Preisler said she received positive and encouraging responses to her social media posts from all over Germany and Europe and from as far away as Winnipeg, Canada. There have also been hateful and negative reactions from people who called her stupid and worse for coming out in public as a COVID-19 patient.
“Some people have really gone after us. It’s horrible,” Preisler said. “People are so afraid and insecure, especially those who don’t inform themselves about the virus.”
Thomas Sattelberger, a 70-year-old German lawmaker who tested positive for the virus on Saturday, said he had not received any negative responses after he posted videos on Twitter about his situation.
Sattelberger, Preisler and her husband all belong to the Free Democrats party. They are not sure where they picked up the virus, if they were infected by the same source or whether they passed the virus among each other.
Sattelberger said in an interview a main concern has been making sure health authorities inform people he might have had contact with that they could be infected.
“It’s been 30 hours and I still haven’t been able to make a contact with the health authorities,” he said. “I’m worried because I have been in touch with so many people.”
Virus hotlines were busy or went unanswered when he tried calling over the weekend, he said. So instead of relying on overwhelmed officials, Sattelberger reached out to contacts himself to warn them.
Sattelberger, who is self-isolated at his home in Starnberg, has not suffered from symptoms. He said he feels dazed and weak, has headaches and experienced chills on Friday.
“My first response after the doctor called me with the results was shock,” Sattelberger said. “And from time to time, I still have to think about the fragility of humanity, as this virus is basically conquering the world.”
Like Preisler, he has taken to Twitter to inform and encourage his 12,300 followers, hoping that a sense of humor may allay some of their fears.
In one of his videos, he held up a candy bar and flashed a big smile, saying his partner bought him chocolates and not “rice and peas,” which might have been a healthier choice but did not have the curative powers he craved under his current circumstances.
“The overwhelming majority of people will go through this crisis well,” Sattelberger reminded viewers. “It will be difficult. It will stress us, but the majority will overcome all of this in a good way.”
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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