Opinion: Covid-19, one woman's journey
Editor’s note: The following is reprinted with permission from the Cut Bank Pioneer Press.
Erin Wahl was born and raised in Scobey and graduated from Montana State University earlier this spring. She is listed as one Montana’s many recovered COVID-19 cases, but if you ask Erin, she is still recovering.
“This is about my own personal experience with having COVID-19,” she shared. “Hopefully, it will shed some light on this virus for those who haven’t had any experiences with it.”
Erin’s goal with sharing her story is simple. “I am hoping to give you a face to put to the virus and a real life story of how ugly it can be. I am a 23-year-old healthy individual with no underlying health issues,” she stresses. Or she was, before COVID-19.
I left for Mexico on March 12 with two of my close friends. I had recently graduated college and was finally taking my first “spring break trip.” Whispers about COVID had begun in the U.S., but no real concern had occurred. We took precautions as we made our way to Mexico but couldn’t wait to get there.
We went to a club downtown the night of March 13 and had a blast living in pure ignorance. By the fifth or sixth day we were exhausted and started showing symptoms of COVID. At the same time, the panic had started in the States.
At this time we weren’t sure if it was COVID, a hangover from the tequila, or allergies. This is when I asked my family and boyfriend, Jared, if we should come home early because the borders could close or stay for the rest of the trip. They all encouraged us to enjoy our time because it was going to be ugly back home. We spent the rest of our time trying to have fun and ignore the fact that the world was in a global pandemic and that we could be contributing to the spread.
We left Mexico on March 19 and had a hard time getting back home.
Two of us had our tickets canceled and rebooked for the 20th. After scrambling and talking to several agents, I was able to get my seat back on the plane. Another flight had been cancelled and others were trying to get on the flight I had to fight to be on, so naturally it was packed. We ended up having to do an emergency landing in Albuquerque, N.M., for gas. Our four-hour flight turned into six hours. We were all stuck on the plane for this detour due to the airport not having customs.
For an hour or two, we sat on a packed, hot, plane where coughs were muffled and anxiety was in the air. It was terrified, not only because I couldn’t breathe, but I could be getting others sick. This anxiety and guilt has consumed me since we had to make our way home.
Finally, we made it to Denver. Our Bozeman flight had been canceled due to weather and we ended up getting a hotel room. This is when I called Jared and asked him if he wanted me to come home or to stay with my friends who had already been exposed. He told me to come home and that he would rearrange with work because he is a saint and wanted to be able to take care of me.
We landed in Bozeman on March 20 and my symptoms were at their highest. We all began self-isolation at this point. We called the COVID hotline trying to get a test because of the symptoms we had been showing. Due to the lack of test kits, I was denied a test even though I had been traveling internationally.
A couple days later, my friend I was traveling with actually ended up in the emergency room due to difficulty breathing. She was tested and it came back positive. She was Case 24 in Montana.
I was able to get a test on March 26 because of my friend and received my positive test results on March 28, which made me case 35 or something close to that. Four days later, my fever broke long enough for me to be “cleared” but because everything was so new I decided to continue my two-week isolation.
Let’s talk about my symptoms, this is a list the CDC has released with common symptoms of COVID:
•Fever or Chills
•Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
•Muscle or body aches
•New loss of taste or smell
•Congestion or runny nose
•Nausea or vomiting
I had every single one of these symptoms.
I would say my symptoms started March 16 or 17. It began with waking up with a scratchy/sore throat and terrible, and I mean terrible, headaches. Soon the fatigue set in and I was taking two to three hour naps a day. Later, being awake for two hours was too much. I would sleep most of the day.
During this time the body aches began and persisted throughout the whole time I was sick. It felt as if my body was going through growing pains while being dehydrated, if that makes sense. At one point it hurt to even lay down and have that pressure on my body, which sucked because I was bed-ridden.
Then my breathing started to deteriorate around day four of showing symptoms. Let me tell you how terrifying this was for me. I have always had strong lungs and never had any issues with breathing. Slowly feeling my ability to breathe decrease caused anxiety, which in turn made breathing even harder. At one point what little breathing I could do my lungs burned with every in and out.
There were two times where Jared looked at me worried and asked if it was time to go to the hospital and I would tell him that I was just going to lay on the couch and try to focus on breathing. I would lay on the couch, close my eyes, and think “breathe in, breathe out.” I couldn’t walk the 15 feet from my couch to the kitchen without having to sit down and catch my breath.
When it came to climbing the stairs to get to my bedroom, I had to take two to three breaks before I reached the top.
Then I lost my sense of smell and taste. This was incredibly weird and led to me not really having an appetite. Jared would make me food and made sure I ate something. Honestly, he could have made me liver and onions and I wouldn’t have had a reaction to it because I literally didn’t have these senses anymore.
My symptoms persisted heavily until March 31 or April 1. That is 17 days of hell. There were times where I was OK with my lungs stopping because being alive hurt so much. I would ask Jared if we could just end it. It was a good run, and I was tired of feeling
I have recently been following stories of other individuals who are still having symptoms months later. I have to say I haven’t felt normal or healthy since my bout of heavy symptoms. My lungs are not at 100% and I have been facing fatigue, GI problems (diarrhea and acid reflux), insomnia, and brain fog. I have also felt that breathing is weird. Sometimes I wake up and it feels like I have “crinkling plastic in my chest,” which is how one of my friends who also tested positive for COVID put it.
It has been four months and I am ready to feel normal again, but I don’t know when that will be or if it’ll ever happen.
This is where this could get a little political, but I mean it with respect and love.
I have heard that people have only had a fever and others were asymptomatic. I am so happy for them and thankful their symptoms weren’t to the point mine were.
I wish this was the case for everyone, but there are people dying painful and terrifying deaths.
I put countless humans at risk. As a human, I would be pissed–and am pissed–that people who are ignorant (as I was at one point) and careless could be putting others at danger.
I exposed Jared to COVID when I returned and was consumed with guilt and so scared that he would show symptoms like I had. I don’t want anyone to feel like I did even when I was at my best during this. Thankfully the best-case scenario happened and he never showed any symptoms but we were sure he was just asymptomatic. We weren’t able to get him a test to confirm this or not due to lack of supplies.
Recently he has been showing symptoms of COVID-19 after being exposed by someone at work. We waited this week for a test but the results came back inconclusive due to the sample not being good enough. We just drove to get him another test and now we have to wait a couple days for results.
I am terrified. I was OK with it when I had COVID, but seeing someone you love starting to show symptoms of a virus that kicked your butt — it hits home so hard.
This anxiety is also confounded with the idea that others believe masks do not prevent COVID. The science has shown that masks can prevent the spread of the virus along with social distancing.
This is where I want you to take a couple minutes, if you reached this point in this article, to think of three people in your life that are health compromised individuals. I’ll give you a few examples of my loved ones that are health compromised and wouldn’t be able to fight this virus the way I did.
My sister Paige, who is my best friend and closest confidant, has terrible asthma. It is to the point where she uses an inhaler if she is exposed too long to any number of things she is allergic to (which is grass, wheat, cats, etc.). Her lungs are not fit to fight a virus that directly affects this area. She is also a mother to my three favorite humans that are ages 2, 4, and 7.
My Mom, Michelle, is a survivor of breast cancer. She has been cancer-free for 12 years. She also has smoked most of her life. She is compromised in multiple ways and wouldn’t be able to fight this virus.
My Dad, Brian, had a heart attack last year in January right after I turned 22. He will not be able to fight off this virus.
This is what I think about every single time I step foot into public and put on my mask. It isn’t about me at this point. It is about the other individuals that are health compromised and wouldn’t be able to fight the virus.
This virus is so new and scary. We don’t know a lot of information about it for certain. We may not know, but why wouldn’t we want to take any possible opportunity to protect ourselves and the countless others that don’t have equipped immune systems?
My sister Paige said it perfectly. “Maybe masks don’t work, maybe social distancing doesn’t either, but we need to try everything we can to keep our family, friends, and economy alive.”
So this is my plea as someone who has experienced how ugly and terrifying this virus can be and someone who has been responsible for the spread. COVID isn’t political, wearing a mask could save a life, and this virus is so very real.
Growing up in Montana, I grew up knowing the sense of community. The idea where, if someone is sick, a loved one dies, or just a hard time falls on someone, their community is there for them and helps them in anyway they can. There’s nothing more that Montanans love than being a Montanan.
So let’s do that.
Let’s be the Montanans that mask up and social distance for our communities and loved ones. These times are new, trying, and scary but we can get through this together. Stay safe and have empathy for each other.