Kate Benge: ‘COVID-19 is more haunting than any horror story’

Kate Benge, RN
Benge, RN, took every precaution to avoid getting COVID-19. She says it takes just one careless person to infect many others. In her case, she believes it was one of her mother’s co-workers.

Kate Benge was a standout high school and collegiate athlete. She’s always loved running, playing soccer, staying active, and keeping fit. Healthy at age 29, this conscientious UI Health Care nurse never imagined she’d become infected with COVID-19.

“This virus doesn’t discriminate against age or gender,” says Benge, RN. “It’s very real when it hits home; you realize how scary it can be. Even as a nurse, I don’t think there’s any way you can prepare for it.”

Benge—who followed every protocol and took every precaution—believes she was exposed to the virus at home, after her mom fell ill.

“We’re almost sure my mom was exposed at work,” she says. “A lot of the people there were not taking the pandemic seriously. They didn’t always wear masks. One person had symptoms, but she delayed telling other people.”

In late September, Benge’s mom began showing symptoms, her dad developed the same symptoms 48 hours later, and a week later, Benge succumbed. All three ultimately tested positive for COVID-19.

“We had all been so diligent and it was so frustrating,” she says. “My dad had been working from home, my mom was cautious, and I had stopped all my outside activities.”

News reports indicate that many people still don’t take COVID-19 seriously. This is what Kate Benge would tell those people:

When symptoms struck

On Oct. 6, Benge woke up and knew something was wrong. She immediately phoned University Employee Health Clinic to learn proper steps for quarantinewhere to get tested, and proper care.

“I had the worst headache, the worst sinus pressure, worse than a cold, any flu, anything that I’ve ever had,” she says. “My headache was relentless and went on for three days. The loss of taste and my sense of smell was also very unsettling for me.”

In addition to her physical pain, Benge experienced what she describes as severe brain fog.

“I thought, ‘I’m 29 and I feel like I have memory problems,’” she says. “It took away some part of me.”

Benge was in isolation for several weeks. While she was home, she wanted people to know the truth, so she turned to Facebook to share her journey.

“So many people are not taking COVID-19 seriously,” she says. “That frustrates me and angers me, and I thought, ‘What’s the best way to inform people?’ and I realized, ‘Social media, because we’re all socially distanced.’”

What does the future hold?

As a nurse, as a daughter of survivors, and as a survivor herself, Benge is concerned about the future of COVID-19.

“People’s lives are at stake and there is so much uncertainty. Even though you’ve had COVD-19, we’re finding that you can get it again. People my age are in ICU’s; we just can’t have people flooding the ICUs right now,” she says. “And even if people survive, we don’t know what kind of lasting damage this will cause, mentally or physically.”

Benge hears from many people who want to return to some kind of normalcy. She understands that.

Kate Benge running in a race at Augustana College
Athletics have always been an important part of Kate Benge’s life. Benge is shown here competing for Augustana College, several years ago.

“But we must be patient. We need to follow the precautions put in place,” she says. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Though her parents and she have improved, Benge still worries.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future and there’s anxiety about that,” she says. “To this day, my dad has not regained his sense of taste. Even though we’re all doing better, none of us know the long-term effects of this virus.”