Coronavirus, as we know, can be a serious, and sometimes fatal illness. There are a growing number of people who have survived COVID-19, but still feel lingering symptoms, like Falmouth resident Genie Stevens. She fell ill in March and landed in the emergency room. Nearly 10 months later, she says she's still not back to 100%.
CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Stevens about her experience with COVID-19, from dealing with ongoing symptoms, to finding a COVID support group, to the insights the 63-year-old has gained into herself and nature.
Eident When did you first get COVID and how did you figure it out?
Stevens Well, I got it in March. I typically live in New Mexico, but I'd come out to visit. I don't know how I could contracted it.
How did I know I had it? It was like an unbelievable event. A strange headache in the back of my head. I felt really exhausted, chest inflammation. It felt like a blowtorch on my chest and [the symptoms] kept coming in waves. So, just as I had get my head around one, another one would show up.
And, I called the emergency room at that point. And then, I realized when I got off the phone that I couldn't get there because there was no way I could get in a car and drive. And I didn't—actually it didn't occur to me to call an ambulance. It was like all the freight trains coming together and they got into the same hub and crashed. That's what it felt like.
Eident It sounds like it was such a long, scary night. What happened next? What happened when you woke up?
Stevens I had set a telemedicine appointment with my doctor the next day and I felt quite a bit better by the next morning, weirdly enough. She said, oh, she just looked at me and said, "You absolutely do not have COVID." (laughs) And I said, "Well, what do I have? That was just the most incredible thing." And she said, "I don't know, but you don't have COVID, and you can't get tested."
Eident How did this make you feel to have your doctor tell you that she didn't think you had COVID?
Stevens I felt completely unheard, and actually, I couldn't believe it because no one could make up those symptoms. And, but I also couldn't believe that I felt better. And so, I knew she was wrong. So, she told me to go ahead and live my life. [Later] I was with my mother, and that night I was in the emergency room. The variations of COVID can be extreme, to mellow, to kicking in again.
Eident Were you able to get a test at the hospital?
Stevens They put me to every other test they could possibly think of and they said, "We don't have the test." You know, it was early days. The doctor was very kind and he said, "I can't tell you that you have coronavirus because I can't give you the test. But I'm telling you, you are really ill and you have to go home and quarantine."
Eident So you're wracked by these physical symptoms. How did you feel emotionally; was it scary?
Stevens The version I had is extremely scary, and I found that the illness was frightening because I couldn't tell what was going to happen next. There's so many different variations. It was so intense.
But also, there's a psychological, emotional, mental component, especially at night, where your brain can go into very strange places. You can feel very anxious and depressed. Instead of dreams, it was like being in a video game all night, like just nightmares, almost always nightmares. And, it didn't really feel like you were sleeping.
Eident We are now many months away from March. Are you still feeling symptoms?
Stevens I actually am still feeling symptoms. I tell people I'm probably 80% better, but, you know, it's nine months out. What seems to affect the coronavirus symptoms is stress of any kind can set you back. And, I'm at this place where I actually can pretty much live my life. I do work. If I don't keep balance, then I get set back just the way that one does when they're sick.
Eident It sounds to me like this experience was pretty lonely at the beginning, when none of us really had an understanding of this illness. Now, you've found a group who've also had a long journey.
Stevens Those of us who've been in this this long are able to at least compare notes and to realize that other people are going through the same thing and to expect that we all will have to take extra care.
I learned to listen to my body and my wellness, and I think most other people have to do the same thing. So, it's extra to work to just kind of monitor that, and go through my day. And, I just want to make a pitch for being on Cape Cod and having coronavirus; I had a lot of nerve pain in my leg and swimming was just was extraordinarily helpful. To the point where I'm still swimming! I bought a wetsuit and still go in the ocean every day.
Eident It really sounds like you've maintained hope and really drawn from a deep reserve within you of strength.
Stevens It was lonely in the early days, and so I had to drop into myself and get to know myself even more. And, I would say that the most important thing that came out for me is this awareness of the depths of space and wellness that I actually had inside myself.
We're surrounded by so much nature here. And I was able to really just sit and look out the window at a lot of nature and take the time to just keep quiet. Even though it was crucible, and continues to be a crucible, I seem to have community and communion around it.
Eident What would you like people to know about this illness? Those who have not, you know, had to suffer through like you have.
Stevens They really have to wear a mask and not for themselves necessarily, but for other people. It's a very serious illness and it's not fooling around. There's no way of knowing what version you're going to get.
Eident Well, Genie, thank you. I appreciate you're talking about your experience with COVID up until this point.
Stevens Thank you.
Eident Best of luck.
This transcript was edited lightly for grammar and clarity.