Nicole Boivin of Berwick, Maine. Boivin survived a recent case of COVID-19 that left her extremely ill. Credit: Courtesy of Nicole Boivin

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Nicole Boivin of Berwick has always been a healthy person, and she has taken extra care to keep a safe distance from other people and wash her hands since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Despite all that, she got it — and it was bad.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

“I have just come out of the darkness of this thing after 12 days of the worst illness I have ever experienced in my life and hope to never experience again,” she told her friends on Facebook Wednesday. “If you think the social distancing practices are a joke, if you think the stay-at-home order is bogus, if you cannot appreciate the major risk you are putting yourself, your loved ones, or your neighbors in by not following these parameters, you are so very wrong.”

For Boivin, 45, her ordeal began on March 18. During the workday, she had no symptoms, she said — but when she came home, she had a slight headache. In the night, she woke up with a low fever, which spiked in the morning.

“At that point, the cough also started — the dry cough they talk about,” she said on Friday.

Boivin called her doctor, who told her she should get tested because of her symptoms and because she works with a vulnerable population. The doctor called in an order for a test, and Boivin went to a tent outside of York Hospital. The tent had a special ventilation system, but the health care workers inside didn’t even want Boivin to touch a pen to sign a consent form for fear of contagion.

“I have to say, it was a pretty surreal experience,” she said. “They were very serious and wonderful.”

Within 48 hours, she had the results from her nasal swab test: positive for COVID-19.

Because there is little that can be done, Boivin rode out the course of the sickness at home, where she was quarantined with her partner, who also ended up catching the disease. Their symptoms included continued fever, dry cough and a headache that Boivin described as “excruciating” and worse than a migraine.

“It was the most painful headache I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said.

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Her partner’s headache was so severe that she ended up in the emergency room to seek relief.

“Tylenol was not touching it at all,” Boivin said. “They ended up prescribing her a narcotic. That was one of the worst symptoms.”

It also hurt to breathe.

“The cough was exactly like [health officials] described,” she said.

Dry at the beginning of her illness — but then it “shifted over” to a phlegm-producing cough.

“Clearly, I was trying to clear something out of my lungs,” she said. “But I couldn’t because I couldn’t get a breath deep enough to do that.”

Unlike those with the most serious cases of the disease, Boivin didn’t require medical intervention to help her get oxygen — but riding out the virus at home with her partner wasn’t easy.

When she was first diagnosed, the women found movies they figured they’d have time to watch, and got the guitar out, too.

But that wasn’t the kind of sickness they experienced.

“We barely got out of bed for pretty much the entire 12 days, basically,” Boivin said.

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A good friend called to check on them daily, and brought them supplies when they ran out, dropping things off in the driveway so as to not touch a doorknob or get close to the house. They didn’t need a lot of food because they barely ate anything, Boivin said.

“It was a lot of drinks. Just please bring us drinks, so that we stay hydrated,” she said. “It was so discouraging. I just couldn’t get better. I’d never been sick for so long.”

There were a couple of times when her fever broke and she thought that she was turning a corner, but it always came back.

Finally, on Monday she began to feel better. Her energy started to come back, the fever faded and food started to seem appetizing again. She’s now been cleared by her doctor to return to work. Her partner is about 48 hours behind her, in terms of the illness, and she is feeling better now, too.

Boivin doesn’t have asthma or suffer from other underlying health concerns. She generally goes to the doctor just once a year for her preventative health check up, and rarely gets sick. That’s one reason why she wanted to tell her story to other people. She doesn’t know where she contracted COVID-19, but figures it was somewhere out in the community.

The Maine Center for Disease Control has determined that York County has had community spread of the disease for some time now. That means that there are cases in the county where the source of the infection is unknown. As of Saturday, there were 95 confirmed cases there.

“As a generally healthy person who takes good care of herself and followed all the right protocols and washed my hands — I still got it. I want people to understand that everybody is at risk,” Boivin said. “This illness is very serious. I feel so fortunate to be on the other side of it, but now I will live with the worry of my loved ones coming into contact with it until someone can find a vaccine. Please take it seriously, please be safe. We all have to look out for each other until this ordeal is over.”

Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease