Q&A With a COVID-19 Survivor

Cassie Pfannenstiel  |   Tuesday Sep. 1st, 2020

America has been facing the global COVID-19 pandemic for several months now, and though it may seem like things are returning to normal again, the threat of the virus is still very real. Even in Montana, local businesses and residents are feeling the continued impact of the pandemic. A local resident anonymously shared her experiences with the virus and the uncertainty that still lies ahead.

Cassie Pfannenstiel: How did you contract the virus?

Anonymous Resident: We have no idea. I wore a mask every time I went out; we weren’t going out to dinner we weren’t going out to bars. The only thing we can think of is my boyfriend is working partly in an office, just a couple hours a day. So he was around people then; otherwise, we’ve been outside keeping distance with small groups of friends. It was definitely a surprise.

CP: Did you believe the virus to be a big threat?

AR: We took it very seriously. In the beginning, we were disinfecting our groceries, we were having things delivered, listening to what the experts and scientists had been saying. We didn’t think that it was really a threat to us because we’re both active and healthy. I’m a hypochondriac, so I just didn’t want anything to do with it. More importantly, I didn’t want to get anyone else sick. So the scariest part for me, was the fear, that I could get somebody sick who would be really negatively impacted. But I was definitely taking the virus very seriously.

CP: How did the virus affect you emotionally and physically?

AR: It started as allergies. I thought I had really bad allergies and everybody else had allergies at that time too; I got sick like right before the 4th of July. Then I got really exhausted, couldn’t leave bed for a few days and was thinking “okay this isn’t normal.” I was finally able to get a test when I lost my sense of smell and taste. Then it took probably like a week or so for me to get my energy back, I felt good for a couple of weeks - had some minor chest pain and shortness of breath. So they gave me an albuterol inhaler and told me to slam ibuprofen every day. That helped. I was feeling good, and then last week I started getting really bad chest pain again. I’m actually waiting on chest x-rays right now from my doctor. So I’m hoping to get more answers soon.

And mentally it’s been awful. Hearing your doctor say that they don’t know answers to your questions, they don’t know how this will affect you long-term or for certain that you’re not contagious anymore; it’s just really stressful. I think that’s something people don’t talk about. And something that needs to be addressed is how this is affecting people mentally.

CP: For how long did you feel the effects of the virus?

AR: As far as fatigue and what I can only relate to mono-type symptoms, like being just stuck in bed. That was probably about a week where I didn’t even have energy to walk my dog or keep my eyes open to watch a movie. After that, it’s just been pretty much a month of the chest pain and shortness of breath. I’m hoping I’m on my way out of it. And I think that’s longer than normal; you hear of people getting over it within a couple of weeks. I’m really grateful that my doctor is still talking to me, but it’s been a month and I’m still not myself.

CP: Were you ever afraid you weren’t going to survive?

AR: One hundred percent. I’m the worst person, mentally, to get this because I am such a hypochondriac. Everyone has reassured me “you’ll be fine,” but the health department [really scared me]. They said that this could come back at any time, we’re seeing young people get really really sick - you need to take this super seriously. Then I lost it and started crying on the phone and they were very kind and reassured me “that won’t happen to you.” But the fact that I feel so sick still, a month later, really scares me. I used to mountain bike and hike every day. And now I can barely do yoga; it’s just really scary not knowing what the future holds.

CP: Did anyone around you contract the virus? How did they handle it?

AR: My boyfriend also had the virus, and he just had a stuffy nose. It’s so strange. He lost his taste and smell and got tested after I did. It was so weird, we were out of quarantine the day he got his test results back because they based it off of when I got sick and exposed him. It felt very strange to go out to the dog park or whatever so shortly after he had tested positive. But he feels 100% normal; he can’t relate to anything I’m going through. It’s just amazing to see how differently it can affect people. He wouldn’t have known that he got it if I hadn’t tested positive; there’s no way, he would have just thought that he had allergies. It makes you think “how many people are running around with a stuffy nose getting other people sick?”

CP: What was your experience going to see a doctor?

AR: I was kind of fortunate in the timing that I got it because it was right when things blew up in Montana. I got my test results within a day; it was super quick. They were able to get me into the Triage clinic very quickly and see me right away. Whereas now, I think people are having to wait a little longer. Going into the viral triage clinic, they wanted to test me for blood clots in my lungs. This was probably a couple of weeks after I got sick, just to kind of rule out that worst-case scenario. And it was really scary. The triage clinic is at the hospital. When they greet you they check your temperature. You just kind of feel like you’re causing problems because you don’t want to be close to anybody. It was a strange experience. And you have to be alone. So I brought my book with me. I Facetimed a friend while I was waiting.

The doctor I saw at the hospital was incredible. She made me feel super comfortable, didn’t have answers to my questions but made me feel like I would get out of this just fine. When I actually went to get my blood drawn, my doctor sent me to one of the labs in town. That was kind of a different story. Because they have the Plexiglas I had to shout to her, “I tested positive for COVID. I need to get tested for blood clots in my lungs” and there’s like twenty people sitting behind me. I had explained that to the person at the door, and they let me in but then it freaked the lady at the counter out, so she had to go check with her boss to make sure it’s okay that I’m there. Meanwhile, all these people are staring at me like I’m some kind of monster because they don’t want to get sick. So that was bizarre, but I totally understand why they have to be super cautious and be on guard. As far as my primary care doctor goes, I haven’t seen them. They’ve just been doing everything over the phone.

CP: Is there any advice you would give to others?

AR: First off, be really kind to each other. I’ve been trying to kind of stay off of social media just because it really breaks my heart to see that people don’t understand how serious this can be. When I’m 27 years old and I’m dealing with this, I really hope that nobody has to go through this after being irresponsible about it. I think wearing masks is really important, and I know that there’s a lot of controversy over that. It’s political and I think that’s ridiculous because we should be listening to scientists and doctors who have devoted their entire lives to studying viruses saying we can keep each other safe - so why not just do it?

For people who have the virus: I think it’s really important to take care of your mental health and to slow down and not push it. I wonder if maybe I hadn’t tried mountain biking two weeks after I got sick or if I hadn’t tried hiking or camping then maybe I would be perfectly healthy right now.

Ultimately, be kind and respectful of one another even if they disagree with you. And wear your mask!   

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