Calkins: My friend tested positive for COVID-19 — but she went all over Memphis first

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 31, 2020 4:12 PM CT | Published: March 31, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Geoff Calkins
Daily Memphian

Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins has been chronicling Memphis and Memphis sports for more than two decades. He is host of "The Geoff Calkins Show" from 9-11 a.m. M-F on 92.9 FM. Calkins has been named the best sports columnist in the country five times by the Associated Press sports editors, but still figures his best columns are about the people who make Memphis what it is.

My friend would like you to take COVID-19 seriously. She would like you to stop gathering in groups in the neighborhood. She would like you to be careful to wash your hands after going to the grocery store. She would like you, frankly, to just stay home.


Because my friend recently tested positive for COVID-19. She walked around Memphis for the better part of a week before she knew she had it. So if you weren’t careful, she may have given it to you.

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“The psychological weight has been wearing on me,” she said. “You can’t help but think, 'I could have killed somebody.’ ”

I’m not going to tell you my friend’s name because it’s not important. The health department knows. They have interviewed her and done their best to figure out who she might have exposed. 

But her story is important. Especially for those who aren’t taking the social distancing limitations seriously. You think this whole thing is overblown? You think you’re safe in your neighborhood?

Not if you crossed paths with my friend — or any of the thousands of people just like her walking around Memphis right now. 

“I went to the grocery store,” my friend said. “I volunteered with my church. I didn’t have any of the respiratory symptoms so I didn’t know I had it at the time.”

She had it.

She was tested at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital and received her positive test Monday, March 23.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I kept thinking about all the people I came in contact with.”

My friend had returned from a trip to Louisiana to visit her brother the previous Monday, March 16. That’s where she figured she contracted the virus in the first place.

“He had just come back from a conference,” she said. “He works with the oil and gas industry. There were people from all over the country at the conference and we’re pretty sure he got it from there. He woke up that Sunday and said, ‘I think I had a fever last night.’ We kind of dismissed it. He never took his actual temperature.”

Remember, COVID-19 seemed like a distant threat back then. Something they were dealing with in Washington State. My friend returned to Memphis that Monday and set about living her life. 

Tuesday, March 17

“I actually did a lot,” my friend said. “I got my car worked on. I had to get my windshield replaced. I took it for a tuneup. And I did some charity work for my church. I went to the grocery store to get groceries for the food drive. You know, to get baskets. I probably came in a contact with a lot of people.”

Wednesday, March 18

“I went to work. I’m a registered nurse at a surgical practice. I worked the whole day. And I went to dinner at (here she names a restaurant). I love that place. Me and my roommate and my roommate’s fiance.”

Thursday, March 19

This is when my friend started to feel sick. 

“Headache, fever, chills and body aches,” she said. “I woke up and felt awful with horrible back pain and still with the headache that made my eyes hurt to even move.”

So Thursday and Friday, my friend mostly napped. But Saturday, she felt better. And she had never had a cough. That’s supposed to be the identifying symptom, right? Remember, my friend is a nurse. She didn’t have any respiratory issues. Not then and not since. There were only 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Shelby County at the time.

My friend walked to a nearby food truck and even accepted a ride back to her house from two friends. She never suspected she was endangering them.

“That was a mistake,” she said. “I feel terrible about that.”

Finally, that weekend, my friend was able to get the test.

“I think it helped that I worked in healthcare,” she said. “I had the golden ticket. I was able to get it quicker than most.”

But it was still eight days after her brother woke up with a fever. Eight days of living, breathing, and infecting who knows how many people along the way.

When the test finally came back positive, everyone scrambled to react.

The surgical practice where my friend works shut down for the better part of a week, so everyone could get tested. All tests came back negative.

The people who gave my friend a lift are self-isolating.

One of my friend’s roommates has symptoms and an appointment to be tested. The other was told she couldn’t get tested because she isn’t symptomatic. She, too, is self-isolating. 

“My roommates have been incredibly kind,” my friend said. “They say, ‘You didn’t know!' ”

And she didn’t know. That’s really the point. That’s why my friend thought it was important for me to tell this story. Because there are a lot of people out there, right this moment, who do not know. Who are going to their office (it’s “essential”) and shopping for groceries and getting their car tuned up and accepting your offer of a lift. 

That is why the economy is shuttered. That is why the mayor is limiting access to the parks. That is why the best thing you can do — for yourself, for your family, for Memphis, for everyone — is to stay at home. 

“It makes me angry when I see how some people are acting,” said my friend. “I want to tell them, ‘You better take this seriously. By the time you get it, the hospitals are going to be full.' This is coming and it’s going to get worse. It’s real. I know.”


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