They call themselves the “COVID couple.”
For nearly three weeks, Dan and Michelle Negri have been fighting the dreaded disease caused by the new coronavirus while trapped inside their Brentwood home.
Their battle has been physically and mentally draining — and it’s one they hoped they would never have to face.
“It’s emotionally wrecking us,” said Dan, 41.
While their infection hasn’t left them hospitalized and dependent on a ventilator to survive, it’s been the worst few weeks of their lives.
“I feel like I’ve fallen from an 11-story building onto concrete,” said Michelle, who is 39 and feels the experience has been worse than other health scares she’s had in the past, including spinal bacterial meningitis and pneumonia.
As a way to cope with the day-to-day struggle, Michelle started a now widely read blog at www.apeaceofthought.com called “The COVID Couple” in which she chronicles their misery and urges everyone to do their part and wear a face mask in public.
The virus and masks have been divisive issues, but she’s heard enough.
As Walmart and numerous other national retail chains announced last week that all customers will now be required to wear masks to slow the spread, Michelle said it’s time for people to stop politicizing the safety measure that’s been recommended by state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Nobody likes to wear a mask, but it’s the responsible thing to do. It’s the right thing to do. Anyone without a mask on in public is basically playing a very dangerous game of Russian roulette. They’re just pointing the pistol at everybody else,” she said.
The Negris’ war with COVID-19 began when Dan was exposed to the virus at work.
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Michelle, who owns Bombshell’s Salon and Spa in Epping, had just reopened on June 2 after being forced to shut down on March 19. Before opening her doors again, she had expressed her concerns to the New Hampshire Union Leader about safety and how she felt the state had ignored some of the recommendations from salon owners when it announced they could begin reopening in May.
While back at the salon on June 24, Michelle got a call that her husband may have been exposed to a confirmed positive case.
Fearing that she, too, may have been exposed through him, Michelle immediately cleared her appointments, closed up the salon and began quarantining at home as a precaution.
The next day, the couple got tested, but those tests were negative, or possibly a false negative.
Five days later, Dan experienced his first symptoms.
“I woke up with a fever and knew right away that I had it,” he said.
The fever sent him and his wife back to a COVID-19 respiratory care unit to get another test. This time their tests came back positive.
While her salon has reopened and is being run by her coworkers, Michelle isn’t sure when she’ll be able to return. She said that fortunately it doesn’t appear that any of her clients were exposed because it’s believed she contracted the virus after she was already in quarantine, but more than two dozen were notified as a precaution.
The diagnosis was something Dan had not been expecting as the pandemic was beginning to grip the country and he and his wife seemed to be taking all the right precautions.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. We were the most careful people you’ll ever know. We were staying away from everybody. We do drive-thru only for coffee once a day. We go through so much hand sanitizer every day,” he said.
Dan described his experience as an “emotional roller coaster.”
One day he feels better, but the next he’s in pain from walking outside to their garden.
He feels weak, has dizzy spells, and some days can barely lift his arms.
As his body tries to fight off the virus, anxiety has made it even worse and has sent him to the hospital.
“It’s absolutely crazy how this has beat me down. If I exert myself at all, I get so fatigued so fast and you start feeling your heart rate go up,” he said.
A few days after her husband began showing symptoms, Michelle experienced her first sign of trouble. Her eyes burned. With every blink, she said she could feel a hot flash of burn.
Soon she began feeling like she had cobwebs in her chest, and then the headaches started. Michelle described them as “paralyzing” headaches that would happen several times a day and last for hours.
The headaches reminded her of the ones she had 10 years ago when she was diagnosed with meningitis.
By the third day, she had lost her sense of taste and smell and her entire body ached.
“I didn’t get out of bed for four days. I was so weak,” she said, adding that she couldn’t even get up to hit the bathroom.
Being isolated from family and friends has also been hard.
Michelle said her 16-year-old daughter, Madelyn, relocated to an in-law apartment at their home in hopes of avoiding the virus, but she developed mild symptoms as well.
As she searches for a light at the end of a dark tunnel, Michelle said she hopes more people will start to take the virus seriously.
She’s frustrated by some of the commentary flying around on social media and elsewhere as people weigh in on COVID-19.
“It hurts to see people be so mean and so thoughtless about it,” she said.