WINGHAM, ONT -- Caroline Rathwell knew shortly after returning from a trip to Ireland on March 16 that she had COVID-19.

“I think I started feeling fever, headache, chills on March 18. After that, I got nausea, vomiting, really bad chest and head cold, lost my sense of smell and taste. I knew this was nothing like I’d felt before,” she says.

After pushing the Huron Perth Public Health for a test, the 38-year-old mother of two, who lives in Brucefield, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 26.

“There were days I didn’t get out of bed. I felt just awful. I didn’t want to eat. My head wanted to explode. It was not good. Some nights, I’d go to bed with such chest heaviness, that I’d think, what if this is it, what if I don’t wake up, what if I never see my kids again,” says Rathwell.

After three weeks of feeling absolutely awful, and a week of recovery, Rathwell is almost entirely symptom-free.

The hardest part, she says, was not seeing her kids. They reunited late last week, after five weeks apart, having missed her son’s eighth birthday, and a visit from the tooth fairy.

“We would FaceTime with them, which was a godsend. At first, it was awful because we had to lie to our kids, which we did the whole time, because our kids thought if you got coronavirus, you died. So we just told them we had a really bad cold,” says Rathwell.

While she is feeling better, she is technically still COVID-positive. Two swabs since her symptoms subsided last week, have both come back positive.

She needs two negative swabs to return to work as an X-ray technician at the South Huron Hospital in Exeter.

“I’m still positive. [The health unit] said I could just be shedding dead virus, which is why it might still be showing up in my system. They said I should be OK to return to the community, which I haven’t done yet because I do want to get that negative swab,” she says.

If there’s one thing she wants people to glean from her story, it’s that if it can happen to her, it can happen to you.

“I thought, no way is this COVID-19 thing going to attack me. I’m healthy; I’m exposed to so much in the hospital, thinking I’m immune to anything, which is why we risked going on the holiday. But, no, it really got me down. I really thought sometimes, am I going to beat this?”

Huron County has had eight positive COVID patients as of Monday; seven of them, including Rathwell, have recovered.