Salem Sellars is used to being the caregiver, not the patient – so when COVID-19 hit her hard, she was understandably frightened.

She says the care she received at Regional One Health not only helped her get well, it put her mind at ease and made her feel supported and comforted.

Now, Salem wants others to know that even young, healthy people like herself can become seriously ill from the virus, which highlights the need to wear masks, socially distance and practice good hand hygiene.

As a trauma intensive care nurse at Regional One Health, Salem Sellars knows how to care for seriously ill patients with skill, empathy and confidence. When COVID-19 put her on the other side of that relationship, her place of work became her place of comfort and healing.

“Everybody was knowledgeable, competent and compassionate. I really had a positive experience, considering what was happening,” she said. “These doctors and nurses deserve to be recognized. I know how hard it is, and they are doing a wonderful job in a scary situation.”

Sellars’ COVID-19 experience began in June, and it hit fast. “I got sick so quickly,” she said. “I woke up one day and could not get out of bed.”

By the time she tested positive a few days later, she was so short of breath she could barely walk. Within days, Sellars knew she needed help: “My son was with me, and I told him I was going to go to the hospital. He said, ‘Which one?’ and I said, ‘Take me to work.’”

It’s a decision she is grateful for.

After notifying the doctors and nurses of her positive test so they could protect themselves, she quickly learned she was being admitted. “I apparently looked very bad,” she said. “They took me to the emergency room and triaged me, put me on oxygen and brought me to a room.”

Salem Sellars said the doctors and nurses who cared for her showed both expertise and compassion. I know how hard it is, and they are doing a wonderful job in a scary situation.”

Her blood oxygen level was an alarming 78, far below the normal range of 95-100.

Sellars recalls how her 22 years of nursing experience made the situation even more frightening: “It’s scary because you know too much. When I looked at that monitor, I was terrified I was going to be intubated.”

But her sense of alarm was eased by knowing she was receiving exceptional care.

“From that moment forward, I could not have asked for better care,” she said. “They were confident and comfortable with what they were doing. As a nurse, when you see that, you know they’ve done this before, and they know what they’re doing.”

Regional One Health had built a second-to-none COVID-19 unit thanks systemwide leadership, dedicated clinicians and patient care staff, and professional and personal support provided by the Regional One Health Foundation.

Sellars commended hospitalist Dr. Amber Thacker, COVID-19 Unit leader, and her team for putting her at ease by explaining what was happening.

When she worried about intubation, they explained the other steps they would take first, like putting her on a higher flow of oxygen. Every new medication, every treatment, every potential side effect was presented with information and reassurance.

“I’m not used to being sick, so it was very scary,” Sellars said. “They eased my mind and told me I was going to be OK. They were nice and funny and positive, and that really helped me. No one acted like they were scared to be around me.”

Her team even made up for the fact that she couldn’t have visitors. While Sellars acknowledges that was hard, her priority was to protect her loved ones.

Fortunately, she felt surrounded by support from her health care providers. “They asked me about my life and work and kids and husband, and they shared their lives with me too,” she said. “They really worked with me on a personal level, and they were so accommodating. They even let me wear my own pajamas!”

As a COVID-19 survivor, Sellars wants to serve as a good example to others, and encourages masks, social distancing and hand-washing. “I hope people take this seriously and take care of themselves and each other,” she said.

Sellars ended up spending seven days in the hospital, and two months later she still has lingering shortness of breath, an elevated heart rate and fatigue; and her liver enzymes must be monitored.

But she’s grateful to be back to work and moving forward. Once she is completely better, she hopes to donate convalescent plasma to help other patients.

She also hopes to serve as a good example for others.

Sellars says her story shows exactly why people must take COVID-19 seriously. She is just 43 years old and a nonsmoker. She does not have asthma, diabetes, hypertension or any preexisting conditions considered risk factors.

She implores everyone to follow basic safety guidelines: wear facemasks, keep a social distance of 6 feet from others, and wash hands frequently.

And when she hears people argue that a low percentage of the population gets seriously ill with COVID-19, she hopes they’ll consider another angle.

“When your loved one is part of that percentage, it makes all the difference,” Sellars said. “Or when you’re the one who winds up in the hospital not knowing what’s going to happen to you, it really does make you think about your mortality. I hope people take this seriously and take care of themselves and each other.”

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