Battling the virus

Melissa Oltman (left) and her husband Terry (right) of Grundy Center show off their protective masks. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Oltman)
Seth McDuffee
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER - Melissa Oltman is a Nurse Practitioner with the People’s Clinic in Black Hawk County. She had been working in the Urgent Care unit which was repurposed after the COVID-19 outbreak began, and turned into a respiratory clinic. While there, she encountered what she described as “hundreds of people” who had, or were suspected to have had contracted the virus.


Oltman has also just recovered her own battle with coronavirus.


“I was released yesterday,” she explained in a phone interview, “and I also went back to work yesterday.”


For the last two weeks, Oltman and her husband, retired Grundy Center Police Chief Terry Oltman, have been under quarantine at their home in Grundy Center. As of April 27, 2020, the Grundy County Department of Public Health has cleared her to resume normal activities, which includes getting back into her role on the front lines against this virus.


Around April 12, 2020, Oltman and her husband were out enjoying leisure time in nature, when she began exhibiting a dry cough and extreme tiredness. She asked that they cut their day short so that she could go home and rest. On the morning of April 17, Oltman said she woke up and something was seriously wrong.


“I was real dizzy,” she explained in a phone interview, “I had no sense of smell. None at all. It was so weird. You think to yourself that it is just allergies or congestion, so I was still going to work.”


As her symptoms worsened, Oltman became more concerned that there was a far more serious issue, and thought it best if she and her husband seek medical care. So, on Sunday, April 19, they were both tested for the virus. Four days passed without hearing anything, and Oltman described being so exhausted and sick that she stayed in bed, mostly sleeping, and trying to consume fluids. She described the intensity of her symptoms.


“Getting up to move was hard, as I’d have shortness of breath,” she said, “and I couldn’t smell anything, which meant I couldn’t taste anything—and I’m a huge foodie, so that was rough… but the body aches were the worst part.”


She said it was miserable waiting, but finally, she received the call: she’d tested positive for COVID-19.


“At that point, I had already started to feel a little better,” Oltman said, “it had been almost two weeks since symptoms had started.”


However, that didn’t stop them from playing it safe. She and her husband kept themselves isolated, observing strict self-quarantine rules—in part, Oltman joked, because of the former police chief’s insistence to follow regulations by the book.


“From the time we tested, we were only in the house or in our back yard.” Oltman said, “we didn’t go anywhere else. Our daughter dropped off groceries for us in our garage, and then we’d go out and get it.” She explained that a coworker even delivered food to her from Grundy Center’s Poncho Villa Mexican Restaurant.


Medicine in coronavirus cases in largely non-existent, and medical professionals only advise treating the symptoms unless an individual requires hospitalization. There wasn’t anything that could be prescribed for the Oltmans’ illness except pain reliever for the body aches, plenty of fluids, and lots of rest. Eventually, Oltman indicated that county health officials gave her the green light to return to daily activities.


“Thursday was the day I had my last fever,” she said, “the Department of Public Health guidelines are, that you can go back to work two weeks after symptoms started, if your symptoms are improving, and you haven’t had a fever for three days. But they said I’ll probably have my cough for weeks.”


Oltman returned to work the same day she was cleared. She’s an essential employee in the fight against this virus, and knew she had to get back to work as soon as possible. She offered her opinion on the necessity of adhering to proper methods of quarantine.


“The biggest thing is the greater good,” she said, “you know? I didn’t know if I would end up in the hospital… no one knows how it’s going to affect them until they get it.” She explained that she had underlying health conditions that made her concerned that things would get much worse.


“When I got it, the idea occurred to me that I may not survive this,” she continued, “I would never want to subject anyone else to that. It was a pain to stay home, but it’s not about me.”


In regard to the state’s released data, the numbers are continuing to grow every day by the hundreds, and a portion of the public has reacted as to disregard advice from health professionals about social distancing, to what they perceive as only a small percentage of Iowans becoming affected or succumbing to the virus. Oltman expressed her thoughts on that very succinctly.


“Pretty soon we will all know someone who has died [from COVID-19],” she said, “it’s a small percentage--unless it’s your brother, or your friend.”


The Grundy Register

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