Heather Gibson is grateful she had COVID-19.
The Cleveland resident fought the virus for 40 days — a span when her fever spiked as high as 104 degrees, resulting in hallucinations, difficulty breathing, as well as bone pain so severe she wondered if she also had bone cancer, which had taken her father's life several years ago.
Yet Gibson, whose husband Stan is the pastor of Candies Creek Baptist Church, said she beat the illness through her will to survive and through the help of her Christian faith and her family. Miraculously, neither her husband nor her seven children were infected.
Now, she can use her experience as a way to witness to others.
“I believed I was supposed to have COVID,” she said.
But those 40 days battling the virus were spent alone in her bedroom after being sent home from the hospital.
She initially regretted not insisting that she be admitted, but resisted returning because she knew she would be placed on a ventilator.
“I was afraid if I went back to the hospital, I would not come back,” she said.
The illness began as an annoyance in late March.
At first, Gibson thought she was just sore from doing chores around the house, as well as from her active lifestyle, which included running. But as the virus tightened its grip, she suspected she had pneumonia, which she has previously had in combination with the flu.
She visited a clinic. She tested positive for the virus.
Later, the breathing problems began.
“I started having lung problems when fluid began building up,” she said.
Later, her temperature reached 101, then climbed to 104.
“I was sweating and having hallucinations,” she said.
She isolated herself in her room.
“No one saw me,” she said.
During that time, her husband and children had to assume her responsibilities.
There were times she coughed up blood, days that passed in a pain-filled haze.
Getting out of bed was a struggle.
“I don’t think my family knew how sick I was,” she said. “I would wake up on the bathroom floor. I would just pass out there.”
She remembers trying to stay awake just to remember to breathe.
The bone pain was agonizing. Tortuous, burning aches pulsed through her spine, rib cage, pelvis and legs.
“I could have taken all the symptoms of COVID, minus the bone pain," she said. “I would cry out in pain.”
She attributes the bone pain to her low ferritin levels.
Part of COVID’s insidiousness is its ability to seek out underlying conditions and exploit them. The virus seem to revel in raging through her bones.
The pain became so extreme, she would cry out to God.
“God, I need you to take something,” she recalled praying.
Days later, the symptoms began to subside, yet she still tested positive for the virus.
“I had eight positive tests,” she said. “Long story short, I tested positive for 40 days.”
As a Christian, Gibson said scripture she had memorized years before provided comfort.
“I've always read the Psalms, but I've never understood the phrase 'song in the night,'" she said. “I don't know if I should call it a vision or a dream, but I started sleeping with the light on at night in the bathroom because I just felt really alone.”
One anguished night, she heard a noise, followed by a flowing stream of light.
“It sounded like rushing water, and when I looked to my left and to my right, I saw a light, and I looked up at the light and I could tell that it was flowing like a river toward me," she recalled.
As the light approached her, she could see that it contained all of the scripture she had memorized over the years.
“It was like the roar of His word coming at me,” she said. “He sustained me with His Word. It still gives me chills when I think about it.”
Although Gibson does not know how she contracted COVID-19, as a Christian, she said she is grateful for the experience, since it will enable her to witness to others.
“To me, if the Lord gave me COVID just to open up some ears that weren't listening before, then I'm glad to have suffered like I suffered,” she said. “I kind of think that the Lord gave me opportunities to talk to people about how I had it, and that we can live in a world where it exists and we can protect ourselves and protect others, but we don't have to be fearful.”