COVID 19 vs. Chronic Lung Disease & Panic Disorder

The Corona Times – April 5, 2020

by Becky Burleson

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are sharing the stories of Mitchell County residents and how COVID-19 is affecting their daily lives. Today, Bakersville resident Becky Burleson tells her poignant story of dealing with the virus while battling other medical issues.

Hi I am Becky, and I live within the town limits of Bakersville. I also go to the clinic in town for my health care where the first positive test results have been confirmed. I also have very complicated health issues I’m going to share with you.

Photo of the empty interior of the Bakersville Clinic

Becky waits in the empty waiting room of the Bakersville Clinic

In June, 2017, I was diagnosed with Cryptogenic Organizing Pneumonia after having a lung biopsy, which was a horrible surgery, but that’s a totally different and long story so I will just focus on what happened after that diagnosis. You probably thought the same thing I did. What in the heck is Cryptogenic Organizing Pneumonia? I was a registered nurse at this time, and I never even heard of this disease.

It was explained to me that I actually had Rheumatoid Arthritis (It should be renamed Rheumatoid Disease because it does a lot more then just attack joints as you will find out). RA is an autoimmune disease, which means my body mistakes normal tissue as foreign matter and attacks its with my immune system response. My body attacks itself. Stupid huh? So the treatment for this autoimmune disease is to lessen my immune response so it will stop attacking and damaging my lungs and other areas, but the lungs are the most important of course.

I get prescribed a “miracle drug” called prednisone. At first I was amazed. I could actually breathe for the first time in months. I was also prescribed an antibiotic called bactrim to take on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to prevent any infections by bacteria since the prednisone had wiped out my immune system to the point I almost didn’t have one. I did really well for about two weeks into taking these medications. Then the side effects hit.

Prednisone made me swell up like a balloon by making me retain water. I got the moon face you hear about. The steroids made me so hungry that I could have ate bark off a tree. My face broke out in acne, which I had never had in my life until then. Also they kept me wired up and so anxious I couldn’t sleep. I shook all the time. I was basically a walking panic attack. I had panic disorder before all this happened, but it was very well managed by medication before the prednisone.

Photo of the entrance to the Bakersville Clinic with a warning up about COVID-19

The warnings outside the Bakersville Clinic

So the world today is facing a pandemic that we have not seen the like of in about 101-102 years when the Spanish Flu circled the globe. The news keeps saying hey 80% of people who get it have very mild symptoms. Those people are healthy with no underlying diseases! I am a very high-risk person that if I contract COVID-19 I most likely will need hospitalization.

What is COVID-19? A respiratory infection! What do I have? A chronic lung disease! It will attack basically the weakest part of my body. Here is just the cherry on top; I am taking a medication that has killed my immune system response to infections to save my lungs, but now my body has nothing to help me fight this virus if I get it. Some people may be thinking, but I am taking an antibiotic. I am, but antibiotics do NOTHING to viruses like COVID-19. Antibiotics are great for bacterial infections, but not viruses. So a “specialist” would give me a very high chance of DYING if I contract it. I have a chronic lung disease, and I also have a severely weakened immune system. In other words, I’m immunocompromised. Staying away from people is vital to my survival, but I do not like to be alone because then they lovely panic disorder shows up. It will convince me that this is doomsday, and I’m going to get the virus and die so full blown panic attack happens. The medicine I take for it doesn’t work as well as used to.

So, the anxiety is always present along with lung issues, and most days I feel like I’m going crazy. Writing down in a journal how I feel helps some, but I’m scared. Years from now when this is just a memory people will be amazed at all of our stories. That’s why I chose to share my experience so far, and maybe someone will read this and get some comfort knowing they aren’t alone in feeling scared. Reach out to people over the phone. Call, text, message people on Facebook, tell them how you are feeling. You will be surprised by how many people feel the same as you. We will get through this together, but 6 feet apart per CDC guidelines :).

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About the Numbers

You will note a series of numbers contained in the blog. They document the spread of virus through confirmed cases by the federal Centers for Disease Control and by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. These are the official totals provided by state and local government at the date of the post and do not include estimates or cases not confirmed by these agencies. This is our effort to provide an accurate gauge of confirmed virus spread as it continues during the pandemic.


Cases in North Carolina


Deaths in North Carolina


Current Hospitalizations
in North Carolina


Cases in Western North Carolina


Deaths in
Western North Carolina


Cases in the United States


Deaths in the United States

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