Body Aches, Headaches Were Excruciating: Vegas Reporter Shares COVID-19 Experience

May 7, 2020

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

“Everyone’s a health reporter now: covering COVID-19 on other beats.” That was the headline of a March article written by David Maas for the International Journalists’ Network website. In the piece, he explains how the novel coronavirus pandemic has shifted the work of journalists nationwide.

It’s not just health reporters and primarily health-focused news agencies providing news about COVID-19. Rather, regardless of the beats they cover, most journalists are reporting on a variety of stories through the lens of the pandemic.

Rio Lacanlale is a criminal justice and legal affairs reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and she, too, had to shift gears in her reporting assignments. Her usual stories included coverage of criminal indictments or racketeering trials in Nevada, but her more recent ones provide stories about the toll of the pandemic on Nevadans. She, too, became part of the patchwork of COVID-19 stories when she was diagnosed with the virus.

Lacanlale was already working from home for about a month with minimal exposure to others before the onset of her symptoms began on April 9.

“In the days leading up to that, I felt completely fine and overnight probably around 3 AM I woke up and I was shivering and I thought it was just because I had the fan on,” Lacanlale said. “And about three hours later, I woke up and I was feverish and I had this really deep cough, and I was struggling to breathe a little bit.”

Lacanlale is in her twenties and aside from intermittent asthma, which she experienced primarily in childhood, she said she viewed herself as a healthy adult. As her symptoms worsened to include chills and a fever of 103 degrees, she opted for a consultation with a nurse over telehealth as a precaution. The nurse advised her to seek medical attention, so Lacanlale visited a hospital in Las Vegas.

“I was in the ER and my symptoms weren't enough that they were going to admit me, but they did take me in to do a chest x-ray. My chest x-ray came back and ‘it was highly suspicious,’ in the doctor's words ‘for coronavirus.’ The thing is, they didn't have enough tests to test everyone and they were only reserving their test kits. For those being admitted, they diagnosed me with atypical pneumonia.”

Lacanlale was tested three days later. The results eventually confirmed what she already suspected by that time: she tested positive for COVID-19. She described her symptoms, which were similar to what many throughout the world have also experienced: high fever, coughing, fatigue, and a loss of taste and smell.

“I've had the flu before, and this felt like nothing that I've ever really gone through, and I don't know if maybe my asthma kind of exacerbated the symptoms, but I felt very, very weak, especially for the first three to four days; I was dealing with these bouts of exhaustion.”

The body aches and headaches, she said, were the most difficult symptoms she experienced.

“So, on top of that, the body aches and the headaches were just excruciating, probably one of the worst symptoms and it was really hard to even get to sleep, or sometimes I [would] jolt awake just because the body aches were so painful.”

Lacanlale has now recovered from COVID-19, but she said that throughout her illness, she often replayed in her mind the places she visited prior to knowing she was sick. She had gone to the grocery stores a few times, and was worried that someone had picked up the produce she had sorted through or touched the shopping cart she had used. She admits that being a reporter, covering stories about people affected by the pandemic, has made her think about those in high risk categories.

“I guess, just writing all of these stories about how this virus has affected everyone, I guess, I just am grappling with the guilt of possibly inflicting that on someone else, who might be in the high risk population,” she reflected.

Lacanlale said that while she was initially eager to resume going out with friends or going to the gym when the shutdown orders were first issued, she’s planning on staying home a little longer, even after stay-at-home restrictions are relaxed.