Back in March, I booked a public use cabin outside of Homer for the end of August. I figured the pandemic would be over by then, we’d be free from lockdown, and I could gather a bunch of my friends together for a weekend cabin getaway.
But here we are in September, and COVID-19 is still a part of our lives. When I went to the cabin last month with two friends in my bubble — my small group of friends that limit social interactions with others and take COVID-19 safety precautions — I figured I’d be OK. I work from home, wear a mask when I go out, don’t eat in restaurants, don’t go to bars and limit my interactions with others. My bubble friends did the same.
But we didn’t know one person had been exposed to the virus before we left. By the end of the weekend, they were coughing. By the next week I would be, too.
In some ways, coughing was the least of it. My lungs literally ached. My throat was raw. My energy was so low that getting up to go to the bathroom left me lightheaded and winded. I lost my sense of taste and smell. I lost my appetite and gained nausea instead. I developed a pounding headache that lasted for days.
I’m 32 years old. I’m healthy and an avid runner, biker and skier. I run marathons. I spent most of my summer biking through mountain passes on the Kenai Peninsula and hiking peaks in the Chugach front range. This virus still knocked me out.
I was alone for two weeks while I was sick, with no one but my dog to keep me company. I am lucky that I had friends and family checking in on me daily. I had so many people bring me groceries or offer to deliver food. I was overwhelmed by kindness.
But I also sat on my couch and cried when a headache that lingered for days sucked the last bit of energy from me. I cried in the doctor’s office when they told me they’d be monitoring me closely for blood clots and to prepare myself for a visit to the emergency room if things didn’t get better. I was scared. I was angered to come home to see people post on social media how they were annoyed that public health officials are just “overreacting” or proclaim that their freedom had been violated by mask mandates. While some gathered en masse to protest the idea of taking precautions, I struggled to fall asleep, wondering if a rogue blood clot would kill me in the middle of the night.
My symptoms are gone now and my energy is coming back, but I still have more recovery ahead of me after two weeks of being bedridden. After 20 minutes of walking my dog on the Chester Creek trail, I find myself exhausted and ready to collapse on the couch.
Although I can trace my infection back to the cabin, what I can’t trace back is how it managed to infiltrate my small social bubble. So please be careful, wear a mask and keep your circles small. If you have any symptoms, stay home and isolate.
Remember that testing alone is not enough, nor should it be considered a pass for all of the other protective measures we must take in order to keep others safe. My first test, even after I had some symptoms, came back negative. A second test, unsurprisingly, came back positive. The first person in my bubble to get COVID-19 experienced the same; a false negative later followed by a positive. If you are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone who is positive, isolate yourself from others and monitor for symptoms for 14 days, even if your test comes back negative.
I hope by sharing my story that people who have been fighting the reality of this take a quick pause and check themselves. This pandemic has been devastating for everyone, and it will not be getting better anytime soon. We are all making sacrifices, but we can all do better. This virus has no mercy. It doesn’t care if you are young and healthy. Please take it seriously.
Suzanna Caldwell is an outdoor enthusiast; she works as the recycling coordinator for Municipality of Anchorage Solid Waste Services. She was formerly a reporter with the ADN.
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