My COVID-19 Experience

Hear from Anita Elder, Mountaineers Super Volunteer, on her first account of symptoms and experience with the coronavirus while day-hiking in another country.
Anita Elder Anita Elder
Photography Committee Chair & Super Volunteer
May 27, 2020
My COVID-19 Experience

On February 26, 2020, I hopped on a plane and flew to Australia. I was a tad nervous about the flights because of the news I kept hearing about a new coronavirus, but I also heard that Australia had stopped all flights departing from China and southeast Asia. International travel was not yet restricted, and at the time there was no reason to delay my trip. Little did I know what was in store for me.

The main reason I was going to Australia was because my youngest son was getting married in Melbourne. His bride-to-be was from there and her family wanted to throw a big wedding.

The second reason I was going was to hike various trails around Tasmania, so I was flying there first.

When I got to SEATAC, it was practically empty. There were only two only people going through security!

The flight from Seattle to LAX arrived 30 minutes early. The airport is a mess due to construction, making it necessary to take a shuttle to the once joined terminals. It was quite the trudge and I had only an hour layover.

The long-haul plane to Brisbane was packed. I had upgraded my seat to have more leg room and extra amenities for the 12 hour flight. We crossed the international date line, so when we landed in Brisbane I was now a day ahead. I cleared customs, and got through security again for my flight to Hobart, Tasmania. Security was fairly crowded with no social distancing in place.

By the time I arrived in Hobart I was exhausted. I hopped on the sky bus from airport to Hobart Central Youth Hostel, and only as I was exciting the shuttle to cross the street did I realize that I'd never picked my bag up from baggage claim at the airport! I caught an Uber back, picked up my bag, and got back on the sky bus, adding another hour to my already very long journey. And about $52 Aussie dollars, it was an expensive lesson I won't soon repeat!

Once back, I lugged my suitcase up three flights of stairs to my room at the hostel and passed out.

I joined a hiking tour on February 29. The tour was a total of 15 people, plus the tour guide. One couple was from the U.S. like me, four were from Germany, one from Switzerland, one from New Zealand, and the rest from Australia.

That day, I hiked several trails in Mount Fields National Park. The weather was lovely and not too hot. Giant ferns, palm trees, and many varieties of eucalyptuses were all around me as I hiked. I even saw a pademelon (very small marsupial similar to wallabies).


After the hikes, we stopped at Lake St. Claire for lunch, then another hike to Donaghys Hill Lookout. It was only a short hike, but the view was spectacular!


We spent the night at the Backpackers Hostel in Strahan. It ended up being my favorite hostel on the entire trip.

On March 1, I opted to go on a World Heritage Cruise instead of hiking sand dunes. The cruise went to Sarah Island, a former penal colony, and to Franklin-Gordon Wild River National Park. Ever the naturalist, I found myself taking a lot of close-up photos of the various mosses and lichens.


After spending a second night at the Backpackers Hostel, we drove to Cradle Mountain for a hike around Dove Lake. The was tea tree in full bloom everywhere! The park was breathtaking, though rainy, but the high winds drove a bitter cold that had us scrambling for something to put on our heads and hands. Many used socks on their hands. I had brought gloves with me on a whim and I was glad to have them. I didn’t have a warm hat, though, so I pulled my buff up over my head to try and protect my ears. 

After about a mile, I was miserable with an earache and my nose was getting congested. I went back and waited in a shelter for the others to return from their hike.


Back on the van, I felt something weird in my left nostril. I had tissues with me and was grossed out by the large blood clot that I blew into one of the tissues.

By evening, I had a high fever, was coughing, and had chills. I also felt fatigued. As soon as we got to the hostel in Launceston, I headed to bed (around 6:30pm). Around 8pm, the tour guide woke me up, made me eat some wonton soup (the only soup he could find), and gave me some paracetamol (their version of Tylenol).

I was feeling much better in the morning, but I still had a stuffy nose. I had some toast with jam, then was out in the van, ready for our next adventure.

We stopped to hike to another lookout, but I was too weak and dizzy to walk more than a mile. I was still getting some chills, so after the hike, the tour guide took me to a hospital to get checked out (after he dropped off the rest at the beach). My fever was worrisome, because of the coronavirus.

Two hours and $800 AUD later, I got the all clear from ER in St. Helens. They suspected a 24-hour bug. What was disconcerting was that they did no more than check my temp and BP and listen to my lungs. Since I had taken the paracetamol about an hour before the ER visit, I wasn’t running a fever when they checked it. They didn't have any testing for the virus, like many places didn’t early in the pandemic.

I was sick for the rest of my trip, including my son’s wedding. Though the temperature was in the low 70s, I was shivering due to my fever. I went back to my AirBnB in Melbourne before the wedding reception was over and took more paracetamol. I spent the next two days on the couch, sleeping a lot, getting a fever every time the medicine wore off, and only able to each chicken soup.

As soon as I got on the plane to fly home on March 10, I started feeling better and my fever didn’t return. At both airports, not once was I asked if I was feeling sick or had a fever. People were still bunched up in the airport security at LAX. My flight from LAX to SEATAC was almost empty. I slept stretched across the three seats in my row.

For another week when I was home, my nose stayed stuffy and would bleed a lot. I contacted my primary care doctor and told her my symptoms over the past three weeks, but she brushed it off and didn't think I needed to worry (there still wasn't a lot of testing at this point).

I didn't go anywhere until the beginning of April. When I went out, I wore a face mask to the store (and gloves), wiping down everything I touched with antibacterial wipes once in the car. When I got home, I washed my hands for good measure.


Throughout March and April, I still didn’t feel 100%. I had no appetite and could barely tolerate more than a few bites of food at a time. Sometimes I vomited or had dry heaves. By early May, I had dropped 10 lbs and was starting to feel short of breath. I suspected that the new diabetes drug I was on since the side effects matched.

Because the symptoms overlap with those of COVID-19, my doctor had me get a nasal swab. I was negative for COVID-19 and my meds were adjusted. I started feeling better within a few days.

I still had the nagging feeling that I may have had the coronavirus while in Australia, so I paid $130 out of pocket to get the antibody test through Quest Diagnostics. I had an appointment at their lab in Tacoma (Seattle and Renton were booked out for weeks).

I got my result the next morning and I was positive for the antibody! I'm sure I contracted it in an airport or crowded plane.

The result really doesn't mean much, since, from what we know right now at least, it's possible to get the virus again. But I like knowing the result of my own antibody test - it makes me feel like I wasn't crazy when I wasn't listened to in Australia or by my doctor in Seattle.

I'm one of the lucky ones - I'm 61, I have diabetes and high blood pressure, and I survived this.

I thought to share my story so that others hear a personal account and not just antidotes and statistics from news sources.

I feel terrible knowing that I may have exposed others to the virus, especially since the ER in Tasmania cleared me. I have kept in contact with the 14 others on my tour. One thought she had it after I left, but tested negative for COVID-19. My daughter-in-law's father and aunt were sick after the wedding, but were never tested (they are fine now). 

Take precautions to keep yourself safe and don't be too quick to relax and go back to normal. While we all can’t wait to get back outside and do what we love, follow the recommendations of the CDC, our governor,  and The Mountaineers - it’s the wise approach! I love my Mountaineers community and don't wish to lose anyone!

NOTE: For those who wish to pay out of pocket ($130) to have the antibody testing done, you can purchase it through Quest Diagnostics and schedule an appointment here.

All photo by Anita Elder.

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Thomas Bancroft
Thomas Bancroft says:
May 30, 2020 09:11 AM

I hope you recover quickly and completely. It sounds like an awful experience. I was at Crater Lake in late January and we had snow and sleet. I understand your cold there very well.
Thanks for sharing.