Given all that had taken place in the first three months, 2020 was shaping up to be one spectacular year for Geranda Turner, who had recently started a new job, gotten engaged and celebrated her 26th birthday.
So when news about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak hit and concern grew over how the pandemic would affect The Bahamas, never in her wildest dream did she imagine she would remotely be affected by it, let alone be diagnosed as the first case in Grand Bahama.
As to how and where she contracted the virus is still unknown, but she distinctly remembers waking up one Monday morning in early March, going to work as usual, returning home that evening and not feeling well.
By Wednesday, she began to notice a spike in her temperature and was sweating profusely.
“I was having this dizzy, light-headed feeling. But I was able to pick up on the fact that I was getting this fever, but only late at night,” Turner said.
When the bank teller returned to work the next morning and was headed to her station, her supervisor remarked that she didn’t look so good and after telling her that she didn’t feel good either, her supervisor then told her to turn around and go back home.
The certified medical lab technician knew that a fever meant she had an infection and she began to get concerned.
The following day, when her breathing became laboured, a family member decided to contact the COVID-19 Medical Hotline — not because they suspected she had the virus, but they had heard of all of the safety protocols in place at the Rand Memorial Hospital and health officials were advising members of the public to phone in first with their symptoms, so as to get an assessment before visiting the hospital.
That was fine by her, if it meant she simply needed to be prescribed some over-the-counter medication and not have to sit up in the hospital for hours.
They were also questioned about how the other occupants of the home — four in total — were feeling, one of which was experiencing flu-like symptoms, but nothing compared to what Turner was suffering.
After providing them with everyone’s temperature readings and specifically what Turner was experiencing, for how long and her travel history, the COVID-19 consultant requested that she come in.
The screening and treatment process was a lengthy one, Turner admits.
“When I breathed in, my breath was cut. I couldn’t take a deep breath in. It was painful, it felt like something was sitting on my chest,” Turner said, “and it was followed by a cough. My chest and back would begin to hurt if I would breathe in too heavily, so my breaths were short.”
She was kept in isolation and two days later learned that the X-ray had revealed she had pneumonia. She was also tested for COVID-19 and eventually released.
Four days later, she learned that she was positive.
Turner said she immediately deactivated her Facebook account and it wasn’t long before her fiancé received a message circulating on social media stating that a lady who just started working at Commonwealth Bank has contracted the novel coronavirus.
Strangely enough, she wasn’t initially shaken on hearing she had been infected by this new deadly virus that had thrown the entire world into a dreaded tailspin, but it was what transpired after word had gotten out — the vicious rumors.
“I’m a firm believer in God and everything that He does is well done with me. The peace of God just came upon me. I didn’t worry, I didn’t fret… nothing,” Turner said.
She believes it affected her father, who is a pastor, more as he wanted to protect her.
Calls started flooding in to her family, just moments after she received confirmation and not long afterwards, her photo started circulating in multiple chat groups and on social media platforms.
Turner had gotten engaged only days earlier and there was chatter about growing concern about those who attended her engagement party, worshiped at her father’s church, her co-workers and any customer she may have came in contact with days before.
Then, her engagement video resurfaced and there was fake news about her fiancé’s place of employment.
Turner said she had detached herself from all social media platforms and news outlets and she thanks God for a strong support system that kept her from seeing all of the negative comments that were circulating.
“When I tell you that my family are A-1 and they have been the best… them, along with my job, my fiancé and my church family have been the best from the start. My inner circle was not allowing that negativity to get to me,” she said.
By this time, she is still plagued with fever and the aches are picking up. Later that day, she had another of her private moments with God and told God that she knew that there had to be a higher power and a purpose in all that was taking place with her being the first person to contract the virus.
“I began to tell the devil ‘you have no control here. I see what you’re doing; you have a job to do, but God has one to do too,’” she remembered telling the devil moments later while in the shower. “I was not worried, my body was in pain, but mentally I was still fine. It was not affecting me.”
Just after 10:00 that night, Turner said she could not breathe. She was, however, able to make it out of the room and almost found herself lying on the front porch gasping for air. Her parents came out after hearing her, but could not touch her.
“The breeze outside was blowing and I couldn’t catch a breath. It was cutting my breath,” she recalled. “My lungs weren’t strong enough to withstand what was happening. My daddy was like, ‘you’ve got to breathe’. The only thing I could say in my mind was, ‘Jesus.’ Then I actually felt when my chest lifted and I started to breathe.
“I was able to take my first breath and that felt like that lasted for a good 10-15 minutes. Then I was able to get up and make it to my room.”
She said she realized then that it was not only a physical battle, but a spiritual one.
Every morning after, it was a push and her father would coax her out of bed each day. Her fiancé would come over and walk her around the house.
And as for her employment at Commonwealth Bank, she is thankful that she has been given their full support.
“They stuck by their word and they have gone above and beyond what they should have done for me as a new employee who is still on probation. I was so thankful that they took away the ease of me fearing I would be terminated,” Turner said.
At the end of the 14-day quarantine period, Turner was on her fifth round of antibiotics, but still in pain and it seemed like nothing was working. So she returned to the hospital for a follow-up X-ray.
Her mom, a dialysis patient, also had to alter her treatment measures as a result of being in the same home of a COVID-19 patient and thankfully, all three of her COVID-19 tests came back negative each time.
Turner’s new norm was having to communicate with her family members while in the same house via cellphone. But all that changed after she tested negative for COVID-19.
She also learned that the body pains could last up to six months. Compared to being isolated from loved ones, she could certainly live with that.
Early on, she had to battle anxiety attacks each time she left the house, fearful of the unknown — if she would be recognized as “that girl with COVID-19” and how people would react.
Turner admits that wearing a head covering, face mask and sunglasses did help to take off the edge.
She is, however, also grateful for the outpouring of love from the Grand Bahama community that outweighed the negative comments that took on a life of its own on social media.
One Facebook post that stood out to her and touched her was by Tiffany Meadows, who apologized on behalf of the Bahamian people for being ignorant and acting out of fear on account of her being the first COVID-19 infected person.
“She said ‘sorry if we put your family through anything, sorry if we put you through anything. We’re just afraid and we were never taught who how to deal with certain situations,’” Turner remembered.
“That brought tears to my eyes because I don’t know her and she don’t know me but the mere fact that she took the time out to say this could be affecting me mentally, different from physically and everything I’m going through.”
Turner said a relative forwarded the post and then others followed suit. She made several attempts to reach Meadows, but was unsuccessful.
“I just wish there was some way I could let her know. I had so many people send this to me and my heart became heavy and I [realized] not everybody in the world is small-minded and that did something to me. That gave me hope. It let me know that there are some people out there you don’t even know who are praying for you,” she said.
When The Compass contacted Meadows to inform her of Turner’s request, she was elated and expressed why it was important for her to send the message.
“We were all waiting for it to happen. We were told to expect someone or some people to get it (COVID-19) and I guess people were just kinda on edge and then all of a sudden, it was here. Somebody had it and I was just really disappointed in the way people responded and I felt like out of fear and concern for their own selves people were trying to get her information,” Meadows recalled.
She said at the time she didn’t know who the woman was and, up until The Compass reached out to her, she still didn’t know. The educator said she simply put herself in the young woman’s shoe and imagined how scared she must be and how disappointing it must be to have that type of response from the community.
“It just really bothered me,” she said.
Her initial reaction as a Christian was to pray for the woman.
“But I just couldn’t get her out of my mind and I just felt like people need prayers, but sometimes God knows that they need a little bit more and so He’ll prompt us to do something and so I just wanted some way to reach her because I wanted to kind of shift the narrative,” she revealed.
Meadows said she didn’t want Turner to feel like her community had come up against her, but rather it came together to encourage her when she needed them most.
“When I found out from you this morning that she had gotten it, it was actually kind of an emotional moment because I had really put it out of my mind and didn’t think I’d ever know whether she had gotten it and I just prayed and had faith that she would,” she said.
“I never knew who she was until you told me. I was just pleased to know and was thankful that God had allowed her to receive it and that it did bring her some sort of comfort for her and her family and in speaking with her, I realized how much it meant to her and her family to have that support.”
Meadows said she is delighted with how it evolved and the fact that Turner was well and back to work.
“I think the beautiful thing about it was when I did it, it was just a message, but people joined in, not just in sharing it to get it to her, but people started adding to the message. They added their own message of encouragement. They also added prayers for her and so by the time she saw it, she didn’t only see what came from me but she saw what came from the community and I am really grateful that people didn’t just ignore my post, but that they joined in and I think it became a more beautiful thing for her.”
She used it as an opportunity to shift people’s minds and thinks that there were possibly others who wanted to reach her but just didn’t know how to and eventually they jumped onboard.
“I just give God thanks for it because in my own humanness I would never have even known to do that; or to even make it where other people would join in and I’m just really grateful to have found out and to have been connected to her. And now to find out that she is fine and she’s doing well because at the end of the day, that’s what’s important,” she said.
The two were finally able to connect that day.
Meadows said she was honoured to have been that vessel that God used to bring Turner and her family comfort and grateful that He used The Compass to connect them.
“God uses different pieces to put it all together. It came back full circle,” an elated Meadows said.
Turner’s co-workers had also been placed in quarantine, however, she was the only one who contracted the virus. She admits she was nervous to return to work, but her co-workers have been nothing short of amazing.
To-date, there have been seven additional cases confirmed in Grand Bahama.
Turner is singing the praises of Dr. Erica Cooper, Dr. Hector Singson and another healthcare professional whom she only knows as Nurse Thompson at the Rand who all kept a close monitor on her and her family’s progress and stayed on top of her with her medication.
She is and will be forever grateful to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Andria Spyridou who guided her through the entire process of transitioning back into “the real world.”
“She helped me realized that I had been subconsciously masking my fears. I would begin shaking and sweating profusely when it was time for me to leave the house and I learned that each time I was having an anxiety attack. She taught me that it was up to me to take the narrative back from what people were saying about me,” Turner added.
Ten weeks out and Turner admits that contracting the virus and having no control over what has happened to her afterwards has been a struggle and a teaching experience.
“This whole situation changed my outlook on how I think of things, it changed my outlook on what people may say about me to a point now that it doesn’t bother me so much as it would before,” she said.
“With all of this, it may have been a negative thing, but it came for a positive thing and maturity came with it for me. That was my blessing in disguise out of all of this.”
Now she has a deeper relationship with God and knows that it was the prayers of her family and even those she didn’t know that took her through her ordeal.
She remembers one incident when a family friend had approached her about what he had heard. Turner said she confirmed to him that she did have the virus and have since tested negative.
“I was tested for the anti-bodies; I have those but I can’t give anything to anybody and no one can give anything to me,” she told him. “So next year I’ll be tested again to see if I still have these anti-bodies and if it’s the same, you can’t give nothing to me and I can’t give nothing to you.”
While she wishes there was more education on the topic, Turner wants others to know that it is not a death sentence. She knows that as long as she has that support system and prayer, she will get through this.
Turner said she never questioned God and had only one belief throughout the whole process, “No matter what happens to me, 2020 is still my year and I put that out into the atmosphere.”