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Looking back on a year of hardship and progress
COVID Catch-up was a weekly column featuring Lansing Journal journalist Carrie Steinweg’s personal experience with COVID-19 and things she learned from others who shared their experiences. The weekly column ran from January through June of this year. One year after first contracting COVID, Carrie Steinweg shares her reflections. Read the full series here.
By Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (November 6, 2021) – Earlier this year, I spent several weeks doing a regular column for The Lansing Journal about my experience with COVID. Since this week marks a year since the time I got sick, I thought I would do a little update about where I am now.
As we moved into November last year, I just wasn’t feeling good. I was very tired and then different symptoms started popping up. At this time there were no vaccines yet available. Many places were still shut down and I was spending almost all my time at home, working entirely remotely and doing curbside pick-up for my groceries.
My symptoms progressed quickly and soon I found myself at the ER all alone and having a hard time breathing. People were being urged to stay home and ride out the symptoms and that’s what I did. Once I got there I was admitted, tested, and diagnosed with pneumonia and spent a few days there among a packed floor of COVID patients. Even though I wasn’t feeling any better and showing little improvement after five days, I was sent home to free up a bed for someone sicker than I was.
It was so strange being there by myself. Any other time I’ve been in the hospital, my husband was with me and sometimes I had other visitors. It was quite lonely. When I was released, I was wheeled down the hall as a couple nurses danced along side me while one of them played “Fight Song” on her phone. They took me to a service entrance in a dark corner to back lot where my husband had been instructed to park and wait for me. COVID patients couldn’t go out the regular entrance of the ER.
The days and weeks afterwards were rough. More symptoms showed up. Some worsened. Weeks later I was still getting winded walking across a room or standing somewhere with a mask on for more than a couple minutes. Once I got sick I was kind of glad I was “getting it over with” and I expected to be back to 100% pretty quickly. That’s not at all what happened.
Battered by the vaccine
It was finally in spring when I started getting a little energy restored. As soon as it began, I was knocked down again. The day I went to get a vaccine, I went completely back to square one. Recovery moved even slower after that. All my symptoms but one came back and other abnormal things occurred. This time around I was having terrible brain fog and extreme exhaustion that was keeping me in bed for most of the day.
When I hit the six month mark, I was still pretty miserable and there were days I was only out of bed for a two or three hours and had to carefully plan the day as one flight of stairs or walking to the bathroom would drain me.
I knew that one thing that likely contributed to the severity of my illness was that I was overweight. I lost a few pounds when I was hospitalized and had eaten almost nothing for two weeks, but it quickly came back on when I got a little bit of an appetite back. Because I couldn’t taste anything anyway, I was eating bland, mild carb-filled foods like crackers, bread and mashed potatoes.
I was frustrated with my weight. That little bit I’d lost being sick was the only time I’d ever lost any weight except after childbirth, even though I’d made attempts earlier at dieting and establishing an exercise routine.
When I did an article in April on a woman who had lost 100 pound in a little over a year, she explained the steps she took to lose weight. She said she had taken her doctor’s advice to limit calories to 1200 a day, exercise for 30 minutes five times a week and drink 64 ounces of water a day. It sounded like something that was doable and that night I stopped for pizza and Pepsi on the way home for one last hoorah and the next day I started her routine.
I just wanted to do something to help myself work toward getting better instead of waiting for it to get better. I was floored when it worked and I started dropping weight. I changed my diet drastically and cut out sugar and most carbs. I started recording every bite into my FitBit app. I kept track of water intake to make sure I was drinking at least 64 ounces. I also increased my exercise after a doctor specializing in weight loss tweaked what I was doing to incorporate more strength training in addition to cardio. I also tried to get on a more regular sleep schedule since there was so much disruption to my sleep when I had COVID.
Slowly I started to finally feel improvement as I lost weight. But I realized how hard I had to work to have a day where I felt maybe 75% of my normal self. If one component of my “magic four” formula was missing, I was back to feeling fatigued, sore, exhausted, foggy and weak. If I kept my calories to 1200, exercised that day, drank at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water and slept at least 7 hours, I felt decent. Since April I have lost 33 pounds and I have 2 more pounds to go to get me to goal of getting out of the “overweight” category and being in the normal weight range for my height.
Feeling nearly normal
I’ve continued to improve gradually. I don’t think I’d be to the point I am at now if I still had that extra 33 pounds on me. On the very best days I feel 90-95 percent of how I did pre-COVID. The most serious and debilitating symptoms have subsided. A few little things are still not quite right: my sense of smell is still not what it was before, I never seem to be at a comfortable temperature and am always freezing, and I sometimes still get intense leg cramps. Those things that are hanging on are mostly mild annoyances.
I know I’m extremely lucky to have survived my ordeal. A lot of people didn’t. One friend of mine lost her grandmother, her father, and her aunt to the virus. And although it was a terrible year of long COVID and it’s been a rough recovery, there are many others who have been battling it longer than I have and who still struggle through it every day without seeing improvement. That’s one thing that makes it so hard to deal with — when you go so long without seeing improvement and you wonder if it will ever improve. It can get you to a point where you wonder if life is worth living when you can barely get out of bed to live it. My heart goes out to the many people who have experienced that. I’m glad it’s behind me.
- Final COVID Catch-up: Eight months in and looking ahead (June 30, 2021)