International runway model turned biology professor details how COVID-19 has changed her life

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As an entomologist who dabbles as an international runway model, Susan Finkbeiner is no stranger to getting sick due to her heavy travel load. Despite testing negative for COVID-19, the Pepperdine University biology professor said her recent sickness is worse than anything she's ever experienced.

"I've had bad flus before, and I’ve had weird tropical diseases including a suspected case of Zika from field work in Ecuador during February 2016," Finkbeiner told Fox News. "This felt worse than that."

Finkbeiner outlined a near month-long battle in which she experienced symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19, including extreme fatigue, body aches, difficulty breathing and fever. As a result, she believes it's likely she contracted the virus that has affected more than 2.6 million people around the world.

(Credit: Minha Aamer)

(Credit: Minha Aamer)

At the onset, she, like many others, had a runny nose, extreme tiredness and a bad headache, but by the sixth day, her situation had got markedly worse, to the point she sought medical attention.

"I called the ER [at the time] because I was scared and concerned," Finkbeiner said, a call that occurred in mid-March. "They told me I would be turned away without a COVID-19 test unless I was showing life-threatening symptoms when I arrived."

After being "delirious" for a couple of days, she was able to speak with her doctor who prescribed her a Z-pack. She would feel better in the mornings, but by the afternoon, the symptoms returned and she eventually went to the emergency room at a local hospital, fearful for her life.

"I took a nap in the afternoon and woke up from the nap with gasping for air," she explained, saying she had to "work" to breathe, calling the experience terrifying.

"I went to the ER, afraid symptoms would return. I was brought to a medical tent specifically for patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, but again sent home without a test because my vitals were OK when I arrived and my fever wasn’t high enough."

After finally getting approval to take a test, she was told it would still take several days to take the test because of a backlog in appointments. Thirteen days after first experiencing symptoms, Finkbeiner was tested via a nasal swab and her results came back negative, which she believes may be the result of a surfing accident suffered in January.

"[The] test results turned out negative though, to my surprise," she said. "I had broken my nose in January in a surfing accident and wonder if that might have affected the ability for a proper sample to be taken."

Twenty-four days after her first symptom, Finkbeiner said she felt fully recovered. She eventually returned to her day job as a biology professor at Pepperdine University, albeit to a completely different situation than the one she had prior to the pandemic.

Finkbeiner shared how her routine has changed as a result of the novel coronavirus and what she's doing to pass the time.

(Answers have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)

Fox News: How has your daily routine changed since social distancing measures began?

Susan Finkbeiner: At first, things were pretty busy as I was scrambling to figure out how to provide quality education to my students remotely, whether it be through virtual reality labs, changes in student projects, new ways to administer lectures and exams, etc. Once I became familiarized with new remote teaching software, I started to have fun with it. I’ve joked more with my students, used fun Zoom backgrounds, and even dressed up in costumes. My pet cat has also become a member of the class!

Using virtual teaching software has its perks – I am able to have guest speakers and guest lectures from other professors around the world who are able to share their expertise with my students. Last week, I had a professor from the University of Puerto Rico speak to my class about how his research studying butterfly wing patterns and genetics has led to a current project he is undertaking with COVID-19 spread and genetics.

FN: What are the biggest challenges in doing your job during this crisis?

SF: A big challenge is not being able to see my students in person and interact with them. Although virtual teaching is so much better than not having classes at all, I do miss the campus atmosphere and the overall university community.

FN: What do you miss the most about how you did your job before this began?

SF: Before the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing guidelines, many of the laboratories for my classes were outdoors. They would involve projects done in tidepools, lagoons, or hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains looking for cool plants and animals. I miss the outdoor components of my biology courses and I’m sure the students miss that, too!

FN: What surprised you most about how life has changed?

SF: I am most surprised with no traffic in Los Angeles; supermarket shelves being empty of paper goods; how Tylenol and Thermometers are out of stock on Amazon for over a month; and the closure of public access areas like hiking trails, and beaches, has been tough. The closure of ski resorts was also difficult to endure.

I’m an outdoors person who loves to hike, surf, and snowboard, none of which I am allowed to do right now.

FN: How do you blow off steam?

SF: The best way for me to calm my stress levels are to do yoga in my living room, or spend time in my backyard. Being able to be outdoors right now is important, even if I’m not leaving home! I also play piano and keeping up with my artistic side by making music, helps with stress, too.

I have also been FaceTiming more with my family which is a nice way to feel connected and supported during this time.


As of Friday morning, more than 2.72 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 869,000 of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.