Paula’s story: Retired UNF professor didn’t have a fever, but she had COVID-19

Dr. Paula Horvath’s message: ‘Most of us will make it through’

Retired UNF professor Paula Horvath was diagnosed with COVID-19 after visiting her son in Denver.
Retired UNF professor Paula Horvath was diagnosed with COVID-19 after visiting her son in Denver.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dr. Paula Horvath is an inspiration to every student at the University of North Florida who was blessed to learn from her decades of experience in the field of journalism.

That includes me. Rarely do we find a college professor, or anyone for that matter, who is an open book of real-world knowledge -- someone who is relatable, someone who is a friend and whose purpose is to put you on the path and every so often, take the wheel and steer.

That’s Dr. Horvath, or simply, Paula, as she is known to most of us, and she’s one of the greatest writers you’ll ever meet.

Dr. Paula Horvath (Photo: University of North Florida)

As fears grow about the novel coronavirus, she wants everyone to know how lucky she was.

After sharing her knowledge for 25 years, she retired from the University of North Florida in 2018. Since then, as her LinkedIn profile puts it, she’s traveling her way across North America and beyond. Her travels have taken her north to Indianapolis, Indiana.

About a month ago, she made plans to visit her youngest son, who is living in Denver, Colorado.

“When I flew out, it was before the WHO (World Health Organization) had declared a pandemic,” Paula said, with a raspy cough. “I was there about two days. All of a sudden, WHO said it was a pandemic. Everything started moving more quickly. So, that being said, I guess that was kind of a way to tell you, oops, I probably shouldn’t have traveled, but I did.”

During her trip home, Paula landed in Chicago O’Hare International Airport, where she then drove back to Indianapolis.

She doesn’t know exactly where she got it, or how she got it, but she got it. A “mild case” of COVID-19, as she put it. A day after she flew home, she began to feel ill.

“Mind you, I wore an N95 mask on the airplane, so it wasn’t that I was being incautious,” Paula said. “Initially, I was just fatigued.”

Then, she developed a cough, but it wasn’t like she thought it would be.

“Everything said, ‘You’ll have a dry cough, and you’ll have a fever,’” Paula said.

“I never had a fever,” she continued. “And it wasn’t a dry cough.”

At first, Paula, who is over age 65, thought it was nothing more than a bad cold. But due to her age and because she also has coronary artery disease and diabetes, she decided to get tested.

It took her nine days to get her results back, due in part, she discovered, to an earthquake in Utah, which affected the lab where her results were sent.

Although her fatigue and cough worsened, by the time she realized she had tested positive, Paula was starting to get better.

“Luckily, I convinced myself that is was a cold. I didn’t know I was positive through the worst of it. I think I would have been worrying a lot more," Paula said.

She said it was a shock to receive those results, and Paula considers herself “incredibly lucky.” She had an important message for anyone battling the virus:

“Throughout this thing, people over 65 have been so worried, and we should be. Especially those of us who have risk factors, and I do want to tell people that, you know, most of us will make it through this,” Paula said. “Sadly, there will be people, many thousands, who don’t make it through.

“But I want to underscore for people that you’re not staring death in the face, necessarily," she continued. “Even if we have risk factors.”

Paula’s message echoes that of health care providers, who say the vast majority of people will have mild or moderate symptoms of the virus, much like she did. Most of those people will not need to go to the hospital, and they will stay at home and avoid contact with others.

Paula still wears a mask, just to be safe. She’s still a bit tired and feels nauseous at times, but she’s well on the road to a full recovery. During an interview on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross on WJCT-FM, Paula said social media has helped her through this difficult time, and she’s heard from many of her friends who have all been very supportive.

Her family has been a big help too. Here’s a photo she sent with her oldest son who paid her a visit in Indianapolis. Note the social distancing.

By the way, Monday marked the first day Paula was able to leave the house, and she said the one mistake she made -- she never stocked up on any treats. Bad move, Paula.

“I’m off quarantine. I did celebrate," she said, laughing. “By going to Dunkin’ Donuts. That was my first stop.”

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