Interview With a Coronavirus Survivor

by Heather Robinson

Shawn Cochran, 44, of Charleston, S.C. is fully recovered from coronavirus, and hopes to share his plasma with patients who have severe or life-threatening cases of Covid19. He is also sharing his story to provide others with hope and information about the illness.

He persevered in getting tested for it twice because he knew – after initially testing negative – that “something just wasn’t right” within his body.

Cochran, who works for the city of Charleston as a golf pro and recreation specialist in golf marketing, tested positive for the virus in late March. He was ultimately diagnosed by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), which conducted his testing, as having Covid19. Because he never had a fever or developed a severe cough or severe difficulty breathing, his case was classified as “mild.” After struggling with symptoms on and off for about three weeks, he says he has felt “perfect” for the past two weeks.

Starting mid-March, he felt something “wasn’t 100 percent” in his body.

“I felt really tired, that’s all, but my work advised me to get tested,” he recalled. He went for a test on Wednesday March 11th—and received the negative result that Saturday.

Cochran was not due in to work until the following Wednesday, but he called his boss to let him know the good news.

“I told him I’d be back in to work Wednesday, that I was fine,” he recalled.

Several hours later, Cochran was eating a piece of “New York style” pizza when he suddenly lost his sense of smell and taste.

“I took another bite –it was a New York style pie—and was like, ‘What the hell?’” he recalled, explaining that he couldn’t taste it. He went to his refrigerator and retrieved a jar of his favorite “hot cherry peppers,” and tried to smell them.

These peppers “normally punch you in the face with smell, and I couldn’t get anything out of it,” he said. “I went to sleep and woke up with no sense of taste or smell, but I didn’t feel sick. I was like, ‘I must be going crazy.’”

He went online, Googled “coronavirus symptoms,” and came across an article in The Drudge Report that described a possible symptom of coronavirus as loss of smell and taste.

Cochran, who is single, was supposed to go horseback riding that Tuesday with a female friend whose elderly father lives with her.

“I had every reason to go, and selfishly, I wanted to,” he recalled. “But this woman’s Dad [who’s very elderly] lives with her, and I’m thinking, ‘If there’s any way I have this thing, that guy could wind up dead.’” So he begged off horseback riding and, “within hours,” Cochran stresses, “of letting everyone know I had tested negative,” he found and took MUSC’s multiple-choice online quiz designed to identify symptoms of coronavirus.

“As I take the test, I’m thinking, ‘This test will probably tell me I’m crazy,’” he said. “When I cough up stuff it’s white, not even yellow, and I have no fever. Anyone who’d look at this would think, ‘Allergies.’”

Cochran received a text within an hour: “‘Confine yourself immediately. You are at high risk of having some virus. Someone will get back to you within 36 hours.’”

That day, someone from the medical center called, and Cochran was able to schedule an appointment to go for drive-thru testing at a local mall that Thursday March 19th.

Because he had already received one negative result, Cochran’s buddies had a field day teasing him as he waited to get his second test.

“People were calling me up, like, ‘Oh Shawn, you’re taking a test from an old person, you wuss! Dude, not more of this corona stuff! Stop!’’” Cochran recalled. Calling him a hypochondriac, one of his female friends made up and recorded a song, “Corona in my Mind,” a parody of James Taylor’s “Carolina in my Mind,” to tease him for “imagining” he had the illness, he says.

Nevertheless, he laid low for the rest of the week, despite friends’ attempts to get him to go out.

“I was the butt of all jokes, self-quarantined while everybody else was having fun.”

That Thursday March 19th, Cochran went for his second test. While he had already experienced the process, he says the protocol surrounding the MUSC’s testing had become more “hard core” and elaborate in the interim.

“They had put up all these tents in the mall parking lot, and it looked like you were going to the circus,” he said.

First he encountered a police officer.

“You’re going in, and the first guy you see is this police officer, and he screams, ‘SIR! Roll up your window! SIR, I said ROLL IT UP!”

Next came a “series of checkpoints” with increasingly elaborate security and regimentation.

“You go through these checkpoints to get to the booth where you can roll your window down, and that’s where it [becomes] like [the ’90’s disaster film] ‘Outbreak,’” he said. “As I’m waiting, I see them in these space suits, finishing up, and the one guy is spraying down the other guy” as the man they tested drove away.

Then they came for him.

“Two more come out of this mobile home type thing in space suits.”

“They tell me I can roll the window down. The one guy says, ‘Blow your nose with this tissue and we’re gonna do this stick test.’ I’m in my car, and he tells me to stick my chin to my chest. They tell me they’ll put the thing up my nose for ten seconds, and it’ll be very uncomfortable.”

Cochran described the experience as “a little like being violated in my face,” adding, “I say that jokingly.” But, he says, “It’s not pleasant. And the whole time I’m thinking, ‘This is probably for no reason.’”

Then, Cochran recalls, “They’re like “Ok, you did that like a pro! You’re good to go! Go back home and quarantine!”

“As I’m riding away, and they’re spraying themselves with disinfectant, I’m thinking, ‘Ok Shawn, people are wearing Hazmat suits around you, go home.’”

“Captain D’s [seafood] won’t be getting my money today.”

Cochran’s older brother and housemate, Bob Cochran, was skeptical that Shawn had the virus, and was completely unconcerned about it in any case. Nevertheless, Shawn quarantined in his bedroom, and contacted MUSC for his results the next day, speaking with a woman over the phone who said they were “backlogged,” and it would take 10 days. He pushed a little to see if there was any way to expedite things. “I remembered they weren’t that busy at the drive-thru,” he says.

“As I’m talking with her she says, “’Yeah, maybe there is something going on.’ It was like she was looking at my file.”

She directed him to MUSC’s app, where he can correspond with his doctors and receive medical information. When he logged into his account, he saw the test result: “Positive, in these big bold letters,” he recalled.

After learning he had tested positive, Cochran went into strict quarantine for a total of 11 days. He experienced symptoms for one week, during which he spent as much time as possible in his room, coming out only for food. The only other person he saw was Bob, who has not developed symptoms. He stayed in quarantine for three days after his symptoms were completely gone.

Cochran characterized the feeling of having Covid19 as not so much horrible as “weird.”

“I was really tired for three days, I just slept a ton,” he said. “[When I was awake, symptoms] would just kind of come in waves. It wasn’t like, when you feel you’re getting sick, and you get really sick.”

Instead, he says, there was an on-and-off, “light switch” quality to the illness.

“The only way I can explain it is, it was different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he said. “It comes and goes … As soon as I felt chills, five seconds later they’d be gone. As soon as I couldn’t taste and smell, then I could, then I couldn’t, like a light switch going on and off.

“Every now and again I’d have a light cough.

“I never got a fever.”

He recalled having strange, vivid dreams, including one in which he was “swimming to Hawaii because plane tickets were too expensive.”

He added, “It felt like my body was battling something alien … I felt there wasn’t a reason to panic. I was like, my body will be all right, I need to rest.”

His road to complete recovery was “two steps forward, one step back,” Cochran recalled. “I was 95 percent one day, and then had two days when I was like, short of breath,” he said.

MUSC’s instructions for Covid19 patients are to quarantine for the duration of symptoms and three days after their fever is gone, then for an additional seven days.

Since he never had a fever or severe cough and was only mildly ill, officials told him that once he felt 100 percent well for three full days, he could leave quarantine.

He left quarantine last Friday April 10th. He has experienced no symptoms in the ten days since, and is back to work, with perfect energy.

Cochran is hoping to donate plasma through the Red Cross.

Contracting Covid19 deepened his compassion for people with various illnesses, including those who struggled with HIV-AIDS in the 1980s, and were stigmatized, Cochran says. For one, he learned that even after he was fully recovered, some people who had formerly teased him for thinking he could have coronavirus now avoid him.

“Now that I’m completely recovered I’m probably less of a threat to anyone than the average person on the street,” he explains, and he is still social distancing, but some people are still freaked out to be around him. “Lack of information scares people,” he said.

He’s grateful he had an understanding boss and a work situation that enabled him to get tested efficiently – and he can understand how younger people who may be carriers or have a mild case of Covid19 could wind up unintentionally infecting others.

“If I’d been younger and been told I had to go to work or else, I would’ve probably assumed I didn’t have it, and just gone in,” he speculated.

While Cochran doesn’t know how he got coronavirus, a friend who works as a registered nurse, with whom he was working closely on a tech project, believes he might have been a carrier.

While that young man had been recently tested, and received a negative result, he told Shawn he remembers feeling under the weather around the time that they were working together on their project earlier in March.

Cochran has no residual symptoms, and his sense of taste and smell have completely returned.

“I’m feeling great; full recovery.”

“Even though I wasn’t that sick, I knew I felt something bizarre, just different from anything in my 44 years, like my body feeling something alien … I just knew it,” he says.