Two years later: A COVID Catch-up

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Looking back on a year of hardship and progress

COVID
Carrie Steinweg (photo provided)

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 2021. Two years after first contracting COVID, Carrie Steinweg shares her reflections. Read the full series here.

By Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (November 19, 2022) – It’s been a long couple of years. Of course, the years had the same number of months, days, hours, and minutes, but for many of us, the overall circumstances of the pandemic have skewed our sense of time or left us feeling like the weight of that time frame has changed us or maybe aged us in a way it wouldn’t have prior to 2020.

This month marks two years since I was first diagnosed with COVID and since I had written a column about my experiences for several months last year, I thought it might be time for a little update and reflection.

Where are we now?

We’re now about 2 1/2 years in. As I started typing that sentence, I paused. I don’t really even know how to complete it. Are we still in the midst of a pandemic? Have we hit a point where it could be considered over? What defines an end to the pandemic?

I stopped and Googled “Is the pandemic over?” And I realized I’m not the only one asking that question. I found numerous recent articles and reports offering varying information from a diverse number of sources and experts. The fact that there is no clear cut answer seems to hint at or confirm that we’re in a phase of a “new normal” — one where life will never quite be the same as it was in 2019. I can’t imagine there’s anyone on the planet living their life entirely the same as they were three years ago — even if they somehow escaped the virus themselves, they’ve most likely known several people who have had it or they’ve seen how it has altered their job or community or they’ve felt the economic impact.

The effect of the pandemic has been so completely different from person to person. For some, it brought about immense gratitude. For others, it left them restless and ready to move in a different direction. Some have been devastated or left bitter by loss. Divides in personal and political beliefs have fractured relationships. There are some who have experienced all of the above and then some, but everyone has been affected in some way. It has been one of those rare, collective, and widespread experiences where for many of us, we now look back at past events as happening before or after March 2020. It’s become a marker of time and an indicator of changed lives.

The first year

As a recap of 2020, I spent those early quarantined months following all the guidelines and mandates. I was fortunate to be someone who could do my job from home (and had already been largely working from home as a freelance writer and social media manager for years). I was barely leaving the house and when I did there was little or no interaction with others — I was taking walks alone, doing curbside grocery pick-up directly into my trunk and not much more than that. However, I was married to a first responder who was back and forth doing his job and being exposed to COVID patients and that’s likely how it made its way into our home.

At first I just noticed that I was tired and then more and more symptoms popped up. I got pretty sick and eventually went to the hospital after having trouble breathing. I got dropped off since no one could accompany patients and because I had developed pneumonia, I was admitted. I spent five days there with no visitors. I left feeling no better than when I went in and continued to feel that way for a while. As I was slowly starting to improve several months later in the spring of 2021, I got vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and had a terrible reaction. Almost all the symptoms returned with full force along with some additional ones and they hung on for quite some time.

During that period, I decided that I’d use what energy I did have each day to work toward helping myself heal and get better. It led to a weight loss journey over the next 8 months or so where I would lose close to 37 pounds and get myself out of the “overweight” category that increased one’s risk of severe COVID effects.

The Long COVID went on for a long time and it was a full year before I was feeling normal again.

Moving into year two

I moved into late 2021 close to reaching my weight loss goal and feeling much better. I had a lot more energy and it seemed to finally be behind me. As weather got colder and everyone was back indoors, I was hearing of more and more people I knew getting sick with COVID. For some it was the first time. For others they were getting it again. And some I knew were in the same boat I’d been in or worse — still fighting symptoms months later.

In early December of 2021, my sister notified me that my dad’s caregiver, who spent several afternoons a week at my dad’s place, had been hospitalized with COVID. He lived in an apartment adjoining her house in central Illinois. A few days later my dad’s caregiver passed away and my dad tested positive for COVID.

A week later I tested positive for COVID a second time. (Just to clarify, we hadn’t been together since November 21, so our cases were not related). We talked on the phone a few days before Christmas about our symptoms. His main symptom seemed to be fatigue. He said he was sleeping a lot. “I’m so tired,” he said. “I’m COVID tired.”

I was tired, too, with several other symptoms. I felt pretty cruddy for Christmas and tried to stay away from the kids as much as possible so they wouldn’t get it, too. It lasted about a week and I recovered much better this time. Dad passed away the day after Christmas about two weeks after testing positive for COVID. He would have celebrated his 86th birthday the following week.

Losing a parent is always a difficult thing to go through. I’ve lost both my parents during the pandemic. My mom died following a stroke in October 2020, but in her final months there were no visitors allowed at the nursing home she resided in, so we lost so much time with her because of COVID, too. The virus has robbed so many people of so much. Unfortunately, my story isn’t unusual or uncommon.

COVID for a third time

In August, 2022, I got COVID for a third time. This time, it was milder and lasted four days. Now I just expect that it will be returning again and hope that it will be a while before it revisits and that it will be mild again.

Remarkably, I still know a few people who have managed to escape it for the past 2 1/2 years. And I know a few who have just recently been hit with it for the first time. When I was hospitalized in November 2020, with COVID pneumonia, it was still so new and constantly changing. I remember a doctor telling me that the “good news” was that I had gotten it over with and probably wouldn’t get it again (like Chicken Pox) and that I would probably be all better in a couple weeks. How I wish that had been true.

For someone who has always been an optimist and who looks for silver linings, it’s been pretty hard to see the good that’s come through among all the suffering and loss. Early on, I focused on all the positives, but as its lingered on, it’s ravaged more of our world. And I’m not just talking about me and my circumstances. Across the board and across the world, there’s been so much heartbreak, so much anguish, so much upheaval, so much despair and it’s not completely over yet. But I’m still here and for that I’m grateful.

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