One Nurse’s Journey Back to Health After COVID-19

March 16, 2021 5:00 AM

In May, the Michigan Health blog told the story of Michelle Davis’s COVID hospitalization. A year later, her return to work, and life, fills her with gratitude.

nurse in maroon scrubs and light blue mask smiling at camera
Credit: Michigan Medicine

This article is part of a series marking one year since the COVID-19 and pandemic began. Read more articles on the coronavirus from the Michigan Health and Michigan Health Lab blogs.

The last time you read Michelle Davis’s story, the Michigan Medicine nurse had recently been discharged from the hospital after two weeks of treatment for COVID-19. She was still winded and weak, still terrified of getting the disease again and still raw from the nightmarish toll of it all.

Now, many months later, Davis is breathless again—though now in the best possible way. She shares her story in excited bursts.

A look back

“I’ve been doing really, really well. It took me a long time. I was on oxygen until the beginning of July, and I didn’t come back to work until the end of July,” says Davis, an educational nurse coordinator in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “I wondered a lot if this was my new baseline, that I just wasn’t going to get better. But then I would look back a few weeks and could tell I was getting better.”

Early in the summer, she couldn’t climb the stairs at her cottage in northern Michigan. Then she could do two stairs without stopping, then a few more, until finally, in late July, she could climb all 25 stairs without taking a break. “I remember that day so clearly,” she says.

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Her return to work marked a reunion with her second family. Davis, who has worked at Michigan Medicine since 1995, was touched by her colleagues’ outreach to her while she was recovering and their open-armed welcome when she returned part-time in late July.

“They’re remarkable. They always make sure I don’t go near the COVID rooms,” Davis says. “I’ve lost five immediate family members in the last five years, so these people really are like family.”

SEE ALSO: Seeking Medical Care During COVID-19

Her immediate family also helped her through the journey. Her husband had COVID-19 but never had symptoms, so he was able to care for her. Both adult daughters were also supportive, she says. Her oldest daughter, Courtney Davis, is a registered nurse who works in the Emergency Department for Michigan Medicine. “That sweet girl. She took such good care of me,” Michelle Davis says.

Courtney Davis says it was an honor to care for the woman who has always cared for her.

“What probably stood out the most was that she felt like she was a burden. She was still trying to take care of me, even at her sickest. I said ‘it’s OK to have other people take care of you.’ I told her I wouldn’t want it to be anyone else but me,” Courtney recalls.

SEE ALSO: Keeping Our Patients Safe During COVID-19

At the time Michelle was in the hospital and for a while after she was discharged, Courtney was planning an October 2020 wedding (which has since been postponed to give the pandemic time to subside.) “I told her, ‘I don’t want to get married without you. I’m here to get you better,’” Courtney says.

A new beginning, COVID-free

These days, Michelle Davis walks 8,000 steps a day while working and regularly tackles two-mile walks. She recently hiked a largely uphill two-mile path, after which “I was a little winded. But I could do it.”

She continues to be cared for by Benjamin Singer, M.D., a pulmonologist who also treated her when she was a patient last April in the hospital’s Regional Infectious Containment Unit. She also was vaccinated against COVID-19, which helped to ease her anxiety about a recurrence.

“I feel really good,” she says. “I’m so blessed that I didn’t get worse. I also think I had really good people praying for me and caring for me, and it made a difference.”

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