Written late July 2020
The Long Haul
Two of my favorite things in life: Coffee and Chardonnay and for the past two months I haven’t been able to truly enjoy either. I am what they refer to in the COVID world as a “long hauler”. Although I have never officially tested positive, I am 100% certain that this is indeed what I and so many others have been suffering from—and boy has it been miserable.
Back in March, I enjoyed a wonderful week of vacation, cross country skiing and going to yoga. Life was good. I remember driving my daughter back to university after her March break and as we chatted together, we planned the next few months which included a wonderful Easter weekend of good food and company. Little did we know that over the next two weeks, everything would change and she and her older sister would both be back at home, finishing up their semester online.
I work in healthcare and the effects of that wonderful week vacation quickly wore off and I was working very long hours, day in day out, adapting services and creating new protocols in response to the global pandemic.
The next few months went by so quickly and I can remember waking up every morning wanting this to all go away and wishing so desperately that life could just return to “normal”.
The long weekend in May, I started to feel unwell. It started off with a sore throat, aches, headache, and the chills but no fever. Because I work in health care, I went to get tested for COVID about three days after the symptoms started just to be sure that I did not have this virus that I had heard so much about. I was not expecting it to be positive, so not surprised that it was negative, I felt reassured that I could continue to work.
At this time, I was mostly working from home but went in to work occasionally to check in with my team and take care of some administrative tasks. All of my symptoms gradually disappeared, except for this irritating cough that was progressively getting worse. I kept on working as there was so much to do and I am a self proclaimed workaholic and love what I do. A few weeks passed by—and bam, the symptoms came back, only this time more intensified. I started to feel very unwell. I remember thinking to myself and telling my colleagues that I would probably need to consider taking a few days off to allow this bug to clear up once and for all. I worked from home one more week and then had to throw in the towel because I was starting to make mistakes.
I went back to get tested again. I honestly still believed that I did not have it and was not surprised when the test results came back negative for the second time. It was a huge relief to me because again, I could tell everyone that it wasn’t COVID and I should be back to work soon. For me the thought of having this virus was shameful and how could I possibly have it? This was something that older people got or people with prior health conditions which made them more vulnerable, and I didn’t fall into either of these categories.
I finally made an appointment with my physician, as I needed a doctor’s note for work. After speaking with her over the phone, I was again reassured that there was nothing to worry about but that I should self isolate for 14 days just to be on the safe side.
My work occupational health and safety department suggested that I should go see a doctor in person to get a full examination so I went to a COVID clinic. After waiting in line for several hours, I finally found myself sitting in a tiny examining room. The physician came in, looked into my eyes and said to me “Your eyes are red. You have allergies. I will prescribe a nose spray and you should be fine”. Then, she proceeded to talk to me about allergies and how it can affect so many things. I let her do her spiel and then very politely asked her to explain to me how it is someone like myself who, a workaholic and is normally biking, running, and doing yoga on a daily basis is unable to do any of these things. She said that allergies can be debilitating! I told her that I know my body and I do have allergies in the fall and that what I was feeling was anything but. Finally, she agreed to listen to my lungs and heart. I knew by the amount of time it was taking her that things were not sounding normal and feared that her ego was going to get in the way but she finally decided that there was some rattling so I should have a chest x-ray. Wow—progress! The physician took a look at the results and decided that it was not pneumonia but I must have bronchitis. Beautiful. I had a diagnosis and it wasn’t COVID plus I had a prescription for antibiotics which is a rare thing these days. I was already starting to feel better!
I took my medication faithfully and so desperately wanted to feel the effects and convinced myself that I was improving. After my 7 days were up, I was still coughing and was actually starting to feel worse. Then one afternoon, as I was lying on my couch waking up from an afternoon nap (I never nap!), my husband asked me to smell something to see if I thought it was still good or not. I could not smell a thing – like on a scale of 1-10 – zero. My wonderful cup of coffee had started to lose its appeal and I realized that I had lost all sense of taste and smell. I had a strong metallic taste in my mouth and my ears were starting to ring. What the heck was going on?
One of my colleagues who was concerned that I was still off work sent me an article on COVID patients, their symptoms and the fact that not everyone was getting better within the 14 day time period. I called my sister who is a physician and whom I had been consulting with on a regular basis since the beginning of my symptoms, and she told me that I had been in denial for weeks and that she had felt very strongly from the beginning that I was COVID positive, even though my two tests had come back negative. It has taken me weeks to come to terms with it but I finally accepted that I did indeed have COVID.
I decided to start telling people that I had it. I want others to know and understand that if I have it, then anyone can get it. You don’t have to be older and more vulnerable to get the virus. Healthy people can get it and when it hits, it can hit really hard.
I am still recovering and it has been a huge challenge for me both physically and mentaly. For weeks, I woke up in the morning in physical pain. Finally, the headaches have gone away but I am still exhausted and have a persistent ringing in my ears. My taste and smell has gradually started to come back and I have fewer episodes of thinking that there must be something seriously wrong with me and that I am imminently dying. I am far from being 100% better but over the course of several months I have a new appreciation for so many things. My family, friends, and colleagues who have been so very supportive and patient; my dog and loyal steed who suffers from separation anxiety and has loved having me around; my beautiful home with the awesome view and dock on the river. I am grateful for my health and inner strength. I have taken this opportunity to reconnect with myself, truly rest and sit back and enjoy the coffee and hopefully soon, Chardonnay.
I have decided to create a blog to share life experiences and survival tips during these crazy times. Most of all, I want COVID long haulers to know that they are not alone. I’m still a long way off from a full recovery, and I have finally resigned myself to the fact that I do have to take one day at a time. When I am feeling good, I will relish every moment because I’m never too sure how long it will last. You can’t change the past and we don’t know what the future holds but we can appreciate the moment, which is what I have finally learned to do.
Let’s celebrate life and everything it has to offer.
Here’s to coffee and Chardonnay 🙂