'I felt like a truck hit me': Red Wings dietitian Lisa McDowell overcomes coronavirus

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lisa McDowell awoke one March morning and immediately knew something wasn’t right.

McDowell couldn’t taste the tea she drinks every morning. She had no appetite. She simply wasn’t feeling well, after feeling really tired the day before.

“I woke up and I felt like a truck hit me,” McDowell said. "I had a 105-degree fever. I never had that.”

Lisa McDowell

McDowell is the Red Wings’ team dietician and is also director of clinical nutrition and wellness at Ann Arbor St. Joseph Mercy Health System. She’s an avid runner. Active, always on the move.

But in March, McDowell came down with the coronavirus, leading to three weeks of feeling as bad as she had ever felt.

An unrelenting fever, difficulty breathing, she was forcing herself to get up and do simple tasks.

“I was very sick for at least three weeks,” McDowell said. “I would say during that time I was very very, very sick and I thought, ‘My God, am I going to die sick?’ for about 10 days.”

Three weeks of agony, pure and simple.

“I had a fever, like about 104.7, for over a week, the fever would not relent,” McDowell said. “I came in (to the hospital) and got tested and it came back positive. It was scary.

“It was a tough go.”

The symptom that bothered McDowell most was the difficulty breathing.

McDowell is an accomplished runner, she’s run in the Grand Canyon, a 50-mile run with many elevation changes, and monitors her breathing and sleeping regularly.

But this was so different.

“It was real weird for me to have this (virus), where at night, I would be counting my breath,” McDowell said. “Am I getting a deep enough breath? And what’s my oxygen saturation? That’s what was so scary.”

The breathing difficulties weren’t all her problems.

“I also had easy bleeding,” McDowell said. “I noticed it when I brushed my teeth. I was just so nervous. It’s such a problematic virus and then it can attack systems.

“But I just tried to do what the doctors instructed me to do that was to make myself eat and get out of bed and try to move around.

“But, again, it was a rough go.”

McDowell was rarely around the Red Wings leading up to the NHL season being paused March 12.

McDowell wasn’t on the road trip to Washington the day the season was halted and had only been at Little Caesars Arena three days before.

But there was a huge difference in her health earlier that week.

“I was OK at that point, so I didn’t expose anybody,” McDowell said. “I wasn’t sick yet.”

But there were coronavirus cases at St. Joseph, and colleagues of McDowell’s were tested for COVID when she was beginning to feel ill.

“I was sick right when it was kind of hitting Michigan (in March),” McDowell said. “I was probably one of the earliest cases.”

During the time McDowell was sick at home, interaction with other people was obviously prohibited.

“I didn’t want to expose people, and I have elderly parents and I didn’t want them to be sick, so I kind of stayed tucked away for a month.

“The only person home with me was my son (Connery),” McDowell said. “He was great. I had a lot of wonderful people offer to help me. I had a lot of support. That was really meaningful.”

McDowell finally got a sense of relief on April 6.

“I was starting to feel OK and I tested negative that day,” McDowell said. “I’m gritty and tough, we have a rigorous travel schedule (with the Wings), and I’m working at the hospital. But I just couldn’t believe I was taken down so hard.”

McDowell has begun her running regimen but it’s not close to her usual routine.

McDowell is back at work and feels stronger every day. But the thought of where she was a few months ago and how she felt, that hasn’t left.

“I’m doing a mile of running, then I walk a mile, then I’ll run a mile,” McDowell said. “I can’t go out and run 20 (miles) like I could before.

“It was scary. I’m happy I'm doing better. But it’s not like I’m 100 percent.”