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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

‘I can’t see with my right eye. They said it damaged your brain, and maybe the damage is going to stay there’

A nursing home worker recounts the devastating toll of COVID-19

Maria Correia's case of COVID-19 caused a stroke that left her blind in one eye and struggling to walk.
Maria Correia's case of COVID-19 caused a stroke that left her blind in one eye and struggling to walk.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

When the deadly virus finally arrived at her workplace, Maria José Correia said she wanted to stay to help.

Correia, a housekeeper at Genesis Greenville Center in Smithfield for the past 15 years, ended up as much on the frontlines at the nursing home as the nurses and CNAs. And so she contracted the coronavirus at the job she loves, caring for people she loves. Doctors told her she suffered a stroke as a result.

It’s commonly understood that the disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, can lead to respiratory illness. However, a new survey has found that it also can causes a wide range of serious psychiatric and neurological complications, including stroke, psychosis, and a dementia-like syndrome.

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Correia, a 58-year-old immigrant from Cape Verde and the mother of three adult daughters, says she is still struggling to regain her health more than three months after falling ill.

All she wants is to go back to work. She says she still wants to help people -- if her body will let her.

This is her story, in her own words.

* * *

I do a lot of kind of stuff, because I like to help. In the pandemic, I was doing more than three jobs because of people calling out. We are short in CNAs, and we are short in the kitchen, we are short in the porter. If I see they need me, I help.

Because I did more than my job, I had more opportunities to get sick. I was fast to get this. They tell me ‘you shouldn’t do that,’ but when you are short and people call out, because they are sick ... you have to stay.

I’m positive I got it from my job. I blame myself. If I see you need my help, I’m going to help. I was feeding people, washing people, helping everybody who needs help. Why? It’s because you need help. I gave them a bath …. After I got sick, they died. It was a person I loved.

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I got sick on April 23. The day before, a Wednesday, I had a little bit cough. The next day, I had a 100.7 fever. I don’t work Thursday, that’s my only day off. I tell my girls I don’t feel good. They said, “Mommy, don’t say that.” I was talking with my first girl [daughter Solange]. I said, “Talk to me very loud, because I can’t hear and I can’t see.” My other girls said, “Look at Mommy, her mouth is not in a good position.”

When I go to Miriam Hospital, they tell me if you was in your house 20 more minutes, you could be paralyzed. My right side was heavy, numb, and I have beginning of stroke. I can’t hear or see in my right side. … I don’t remember if I stayed five days or seven days. I remember when I wake up [in the hospital], because when you have problems with migraines, it sometimes made me confused.

If you don’t suffer with respiration [from the coronavirus], you will have some problems that will make more problems. It damaged my brain and affected a lot of stuff. A doctor said some vessel broke.

My two girls [Valerie, 29, and Adriana, 21] had the coronavirus because of me. Because we had coronavirus, people were putting food on the porch [at their home in Pawtucket]. I have a lot of friends, good friends, so many friends.

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That thing damaged my brain. They tell me I will be walking with a cane, they said a wheelchair. I said, “You don’t know the kind of person I am. In two weeks, I’m going to be walking.”

They tell me I’m going to use a cane for a while. I was so frustrated that I was walking with my cane in the cemetery. They said I’d be walking with my cane forever. I threw away my cane in the cemetery and broke it. Then, I picked up the pieces and put it in the recycle. I cleaned it up, because it’s part of my job to recycle.

Sometimes, when I’m walking, I cry. One day was very bad, because my doctor said, “In two weeks, if you feel any pressure like that [in your head], you have to go to emergency, because it could be two eyes, not one eye to go blind.” I couldn’t even pray. It was so bad.

I’m still in physical therapy. I go three times a week. I walk two hours every single day in the morning. Sometimes I limp a little bit, but not too much. I went to another doctor, who said “Wow, you are unbelievable.” Now if you see me walking, if you see me doing things, you would think this lady never had problems from stroke.

But I can’t see with the right eye. I had another appointment. I don’t know what they’re going to do. I want them to do an operation. They said, “That damaged your brain, damaged your eye, and maybe the damage is going to stay there.” I don’t want to go to work with one eye, because I don’t know what will happen. I told my doctor, “When can I go back to work?” My doctor said, “I know you like to be there. Don’t talk about it, the job is going to wait for you.”

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I have to get ready, because I want to go to Greenville. I love Greenville, because it’s a place where I do what I love to do. I like to be with the people. Fifteen years, I love to be with them. That place is so good to work. I like that place like I like my house.

They love me the way I treat people. I treat people with kindness, even sometimes when you deal with people who don’t value what you do or appreciate what you do.

Now I’m going to work very hard and go back. I hope God’s going to help me with that wish.

My faith is very important. I pray every morning. When I don’t pray one day, I feel like I have something I didn’t do. And I trust in God. I ask him because he provides me. I’m telling you, soon I’m going to be at Greenville. God is going to help me to be there.

Sometimes, when I’m walking, I cry. One day was very bad, because my doctor said, “In two weeks, if you feel any pressure like that [in your head], you have to go to emergency, because it could be two eyes, not one eye to go blind.” I couldn’t even pray. It was so bad.

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People have to worry more about this disease, because it is no joke. It is very dangerous. If you have complications, it can be your life. Coronavirus is different for everybody. I don’t think people are thinking it is dangerous, but it is getting worse. I have masks no matter what. We have to protect ourselves.

Going back to Greenville, I’m very worried [about the coronavirus]. I’m still going to go, because I want to work. I love to be there. That is the place that brings me a lot of happiness. Let me tell you, I’m very scared, but I want to go, and I hope soon.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.