Kim Reuther returned to work at Alpha Opportunities on July 2, about a month after being diagnosed with COVID-19. But she remains affected by the disease today, she said.
“Smell and taste have not totally come back and they say it may not,” she said.
On June 1, Kim and her husband, Jim, the chief for the Jamestown Fire Department, hosted a small birthday party for one of their daughters with immediate family. Jim said about eight to 10 people attended. The next day Kim learned she had potentially been exposed to the coronavirus.
“I got a phone call stating that I had been around a certain worker that tested positive,” she said. “Then I went ahead and got tested right away and sure enough, it was positive.”
Kim said she hadn’t been feeling well before she learned she had COVID-19.
“I felt nauseous, abdominal pain, I guess, but I guess I didn’t really think too much of that at the start,” she said.
Learning Kim was ill was of concern to Alpha Opportunities, said Brian Veil, executive director.
"Kim is a very valuable member of our team," Veil said. "Any time an employee becomes ill it's a concern for Alpha. Direct support professionals are essentially frontline workers. They put themselves at risk, their families at risk, to take care of our vulnerable population."
Direct support professionals are employees who love what they do, he said. He said Alpha checks on any employee who becomes ill or is exposed to make sure they're doing OK and to see if they need anything.
"We were very sad to learn that Kim became ill and some of her coworkers, so we do everything we can for the folks that work for us," he said.
After testing positive, Kim had to quarantine for 14 days. Jim and the rest of the family at the birthday party also had to self-quarantine.
Kim said she had body aches, fever, a sore throat and a loss of taste and smell. She had the cold sweats, so bad at times, she said she “put on a winter coat to warm up.” She was not hospitalized.
Jim said on one occasion Kim experienced breathing issues. He said she was worn out and had no energy, sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day.
“You just ache so bad,” Kim said.
Kim said she was a little scared when she tested positive for COVID-19. She and Jim both have underlying health conditions. All but three of the 90 deaths reported in North Dakota as of Friday, July 17, related to COVID-19 have occurred in people with underlying health conditions, according to Nicole Peske, chief communications officer for the North Dakota Department of Health. In the most recent death reported Friday, whether there was an underlying health condition is not yet known, the department said. Kim said she also knew someone who died from the disease.
“I was worried for him, he has health issues, too, you know,” she said of Jim. She sprayed Lysol and disinfected surfaces continually at home.
Jim ultimately had to self-quarantine for 28 days because he was considered a household contact with Kim and because of the time it could take to potentially contract the virus after being exposed to it. But although he was tested twice for coronavirus, he did not test positive. Neither did the rest of their family.
Being in quarantine, Jim learned to order groceries online. They could go outside but not anywhere that other people were, so they’d take a drive, if Kim was up to it. Most of the time, she was too sick, he said.
“I got a lot of things done (at home) but it was a long day if you think about it,” Jim said.
The routine parts of life - going to a store, going to work, being with family - were disrupted. He did some work from home.
“I’m so glad it was not in the winter,” he said. “That would have been much tougher.”
Every day, Kim would get a call from a person working for the North Dakota Department of Health through Central Valley Health District to check on her, asking about her symptoms.
“She was amazing,” Kim said. “My work was amazing too. They were so understanding.”
They’re grateful for the help that their friends gave them, too.
“We had friends drop stuff off for us,” Jim said. “We had friends that were checking on us, always wondering if we need something, need to go to the grocery store. We had an amazing group of friends. They’re another bunch that we can’t thank enough for being there for us.”
For the couple who are close to their two grown daughters and six grandchildren, though, the quarantine period was difficult.
“I’ll tell you one of the toughest things … was watching my grandson at the end of the driveway crying because he couldn’t come to Grandpa and Grandma’s house,” Jim said. “That was tough. That was really, really tough. And he’s pretty tight with us. He just loves being at our house … he just turned 3.”
Due to her underlying health conditions and not feeling completely well, Kim’s doctor extended the time before she could return to work and released her on July 2. She spent 26 days at home. She returned to work on the day she was released.
“I still get tired easily,” she said. “Of course, my smell and taste is not back. I still have a little bit of a sore throat. Otherwise, I think I’m OK.”
They’re both happy to be back at work. Jim said he’s almost caught up, “pretty darn close.”
Kim said she wears a mask when out in public.
“You know, they don’t know if you can get it again or not,” she said.
As coronavirus cases increase across the country, the two say people need to take it seriously.
“This is something that’s not going to go away until they get a vaccine for it,” Jim said.
He’s not sure some people will take it seriously until they or a family member is personally affected by it.
“It’s a serious situation that we have, this pandemic,” he said.
“It’s definitely not fake,” Kim said. “No. It’s just - be careful and wear your mask.”