Alan Wilcher

Alan Wilcher

A Palestine prison employee returned to work last week, after recovering from COVID-19.

Alan Wilcher, 57, of Palestine, who works at the Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 21, after enduring a nagging headache that Tylenol could not fix.

Wilcher has no idea whether he contracted the virus at work or in the community, or whether he can catch it again. He's just glad to be back at work, after a comparatively mild bout of COVID-19.

With his teen-age son at home, Wilcher removes his work clothes as soon as he gets home, and avoids touching anything or anyone, until he’s washed up.

Wilcher's case of COVID felt like the flu or pneumonia. He was tired; his lungs felt like they were filled with fluid, despite x-rays showing they were clear.

Before he could return to work, Wilcher had to re-test negative, enduring the nasal swab twice. The test, done in both nostrils, is uncomfortable, almost to the point of pain.

Fatigue and shortness of breath are the only residual effects from the virus that Wilcher has noticed. He has had to break from activities that never used to bother him.

One of the difficulties prison employees face, he said, is the treatment they’ve received in the

community during the pandemic. Prisons are notorious hot spots for the coronavirus.

“There are businesses that don’t want us in their building and people that look at us funny when they see us around town – that’s uncomfortable,” he said. “But on the opposite side, local churches and community members have tried to uplift us by holding up signs by the road to the unit, and feeding the prison staff meals. That's been much appreciated.”

Wilcher's symptoms went from a headache to flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, sweats, fatigue bone and body aches – but no cough or sore throat.

For the doctor who tested Wilcher, tell-tales signs were his loss of sense of smell or taste. They would become Wilcher's primary symptoms for the three- weeks he battled the coronavirus. Other symptoms he said, mostly faded two or three days after he had the test.

Wilcher had no pre-existing conditions, aside from high blood pressure.

Prior to getting sick, Wilcher, who fixes doors and locks in the unit, worked on one of the cell pods where infected inmates were housed. Wilcher said, however, he was in full personal protective gear, including gown, face mask, face shield, and gloves.

“I feel like the unit has done a real good job of working to ensure the health and safety of both the inmates and employees, said Wilcher, who has worked in emergency and risk management. “They have isolated as much as they can and kept the unit as clean as possible with bleach and disinfectants. Now the government is spending $45 million to get 100 percent testing done for both inmates and employees.”

Inmates also worry about the virus and try to keep a safe distance from prison employees, Wilcher said.

“They are watching and reading the news,” he said. “They know that, if they get the virus, it will most likely come from a guard.”

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