COVID annniversary offers perspective

We didn’t have a cake, but nonetheless, we did celebrate my one-year anniversary — of surviving COVID.

I will never again think of December as the month to celebrate just Christmas. For me, it is also when I dodged the virus’s very big bullet. I am one of the lucky ones. I was able to avoid the ventilator, and home from the hospital on the sixth day.

I wrote about it in this space, mostly because no one locally had written an account of being hospitalized with COVID. The situation was so strange, so very different from a typical hospital stay, that the story needed to be told. I wrote a few columns here, and then a 6-month review. The 1-year recap seems timely.

The other reason for writing then, and now, is to convince people that this virus is indeed, a very big deal if you get it. It was for me. COVID changes lives.

The first few months after I came home, I was often in a brain fog — if I was awake. I fell asleep in the morning reading the newspaper. I zonked out in the afternoon working on the computer… sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for two hours. And I fought the sandman from my recliner while watching Jeopardy. I remember Dear Richard waking me up so I could go to bed.

The wintry months of last year are pretty much a blur. This year I hope the only blur is snowy whiteouts from my living room window.

Finally, after more than a year, I have some taste and smell back. Sadly, the first thing I smelled was rotten. When we walked into the house after being away for Thanksgiving, I got a whiff of something BAD. It wasn’t until I tried to describe it to Richard that we both realized I had actually smelled something — for the first time in 11 months.

Turns out I left a sack of lemons unrefrigerated and the dead one was easy to spot — an allover greenish gray instead of yellow. I had no idea that one of my favorite aromas, lovely lemon, could produce such a rotter.

Gradually, I have re-acquired the aromas of chocolate, bacon, and roasting chicken. Still stuck in the loss column are coffee, garlic, spaghetti sauce and perfume.

I find myself continuing to eat for texture and temperature with an occasional surprise of flavor. I had a piece of pizza recently that tasted all warm, chewy and creamy. It was pretty good, just not cheesy. The pepperoni? Fuggedaboudit.

In March and April, I experienced hair loss. Then, thankfully, it came to a screeching halt. That was scary.

With lingering symptoms persisting into May, it was determined that I had Long COVID. More tests revealed breathing problems and diminished lung capacity.

Then in early June, I received diagnosis of another of COVID’s lasting gifts: COPD. That was a blow. It is manageable, but not curable.

It was hard to accept, because I had never smoked or had emphysema. My doctor told me that among Long COVID patients, testing has revealed a high number of COPD diagnoses.

This week I am facing two challenges of having COPD. I am making a speech – something I’ve been doing comfortably for years. I’m not nervous, but I am anxious. I’m wondering how much voice projection, raspy-ness and breath I’m going to have. I need enough wind for a 20-minute speech. Fingers crossed.

My second concern is about supplemental oxygen. I’m waiting for the doctor’s latest test results to determine how much, where, when and how. Whatever the decision, a significant change is in the offing.

I’m marking this anniversary because over a year later I’m still dealing with covid’s aftermath. It is not as simple as recovering from the cold or flu. COVID can leave you with permanent conditions you did nothing to cause, and cannot change. Or — it can kill you.

I contracted COVID before the protection of vaccine was available. I do have trouble understanding why people will not vaccinate when there is a safe and effective way to avoid the worst of this life-changing virus.

To me, it’s like standing on the railroad tracks waiting for the train to come. It’s a choice: you can either safely move off the tracks, or wait for the locomotive to clobber you.

I was lucky enough to survive the head-on collision, but I was mostly repairable. I’m not taking any chances if I can avoid another encounter. I have been vaccinated and boosted and I will continue to do whatever it takes to protect what I have left.

Let’s be smart and take care of each other. We are all important enough to deserve good health.

Stay safe, friend.

Marcy O’Brien writes from her home in Warren, Pa. She is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.


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