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Young, healthy, and floored by COVID-19 for days on end

  • Sean Connolly (left) and his husband, Steven. Sean recently battled COVID-19. Sean Connolly

Monitor staff
Published: 3/28/2020 5:27:45 PM

On Tuesday, Sean Connolly of Manchester received news that all of us are dreading these days: He had tested positive for COVID-19.

The diagnosis wasn’t entirely a surprise, as the 31-year-old had been self-isolating for days after a family member came down with symptoms and he had a fever and cough, which is why his physician told him to go to the Armory in Manchester and get tested.

But it was sobering nonetheless, especially since his husband, Steven, is diabetic and thus at high risk of complications from the novel coronavirus. The question immediately arose: Should they split up until he was symptom-free?

“That was a conversation we had together, whether he should stay,” Connolly said Friday. “He  made a point he was not going to do that. … We’ve been together for 8 years, have  known each other for 17 years.”

“I myself was in shock. I believed it was the flu – that’s what it looked like, a cold,” said Steven, who is deaf and answered questions through Connolly’s translation. He asked that his last name not be used.

“When we had that conversation I thought about maybe going somewhere else but I wanted to be here, wanted to make sure my husband was taken care of, that I was with him,” Steven said. “I decided to put my mask on, clean more, be careful. … I double checked that we had supplies, that we had gloves, tried to take care of him as best I can.”

Connolly is a Manchester native and 2008 graduate of Central High School who works as a clinical secretary at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Manchester. He says it’s not clear how the got COVID-19 – he had not been at work for many days before symptoms started and says Dartmouth-Hitchcock as well as Elliott Hospital “are both taking multiple precautions to ensure safety not only to employees but also to the patients. Both hospitals have been on top of everything since before anything started.”  He is putting together a timeline of his actions to try to pin down the cause.

Course of the disease

For the first three days after symptoms began Connolly said he had “minimal” problems, but as time went on he got worse.

“Days 4, 5, 6, 7 were my worst days, where I was coughing constantly and had a fever that peaked at 103.9.”  He described it as being like a bad case of the flu but with more breathing problems.

The novel coronavirus attacks tissue in the lungs, making it harder to breathe. In most fatal cases, the patient basically suffocates.

Connolly took acetaminophen to hold down the fever, drank lots of liquids, rested, and carefully monitored his own symptoms.

“We have a double living room so I staying in my side, in my half. We were cautionary – with masks, gloves, Lysol, wiping down everything every day,” Connolly said. They kept windows open, despite the cold, so airflow might dissipate any virus that Connolly was breathing out.

“Fortunately I wasn’t doing it alone,” he said. “Steven would throw a tissue to me when I needed it. If I needed a bottle of water and was too weak to get up he would kindly drop it off.”

Thankfully, by Day 8 be began to feel better.

“I had minimal fever. On Day 9, I felt good, I had my voice back, wasn’t so weak. Today is Day 10, I’m waking up just fine, I’ve got a little bit of a raspy voice but otherwise I’m fine.”

He’ll wait out the 14-day quarantine and, if he has no fever for 72 consecutive hours, will be able to return to work, he said. Steven, of course, is now in isolation because of exposure to Connolly and will have to stay symptom free for 14 days before he life can return to normal.

Don’t panic, but don’t beless cautious

Connolly is one of scores, perhaps hundreds, of people in New Hampshire who have come through a bout with coronavirus relatively unscathed. But he says that does not reduce the severity of the problem or the need for people take what can seem like extreme precautions.

“I wouldn’t want anybody to panic but I also don’t want them to be less cautious,” he said.

For one thing, his experience reflects that COVID-19 is not just a disease that affects older people, as was sometimes thought at first. It can take down a young, healthy adult. For another, he doesn’t have high blood pressure or extreme obesity, which are risk factors in COVID-19. Importantly, he was able to get tested quickly so he could double down on taking care of himself. Not everybody is in that position, as a lack of supplies continues to limit the availability of tests.

Another important factor is his job. “I’m fortunate enough where I can take the time off work, I wasn’t stressed out about that,” he said. That helped him keep a positive outlook: “A negative mindset will never get you through anything.”

Many who get the disease are not so lucky. The United States had an official COVID-19 death count of 1,307 as of Friday, and the number is rising at a rapid rate. Epidemiologists say that tens of thousands of Americans are likely to die from COVID-19 over the next month or two. Some estimates say it could be hundreds of thousands.

As for Steven, he is of course relieved that his husband seems safe. And eager to get back to a normal life.

“Taking care, it’s like a full time job,” he said through Connolly’s translation. “I’m sure when Sean’s feeling better he’ll make me a real nice dinner. I miss his cooking so much!”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.) 

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