Getting divorced isn’t particularly fun. Getting divorced in the middle of a pandemic, while you, your ex, and your shared-custody kids are fighting COVID-19 is… especially not fun. Did I mention my pre-existing condition? Or what it’s been like trying to return to work as a tennis coach when your endurance hasn’t yet rebounded and your word recall is -- what’s the phrase? -- shot?
Let me back up a little...
My name is Stefanie.
I play tennis -- I was ranked maybe 700 about 15 years ago, and I really enjoyed competing until, well, one day I didn’t. So I went to college, had kids, and discovered I had a knack for teaching and coaching this crazy sport. I also have Sjogrens. For those unfamiliar, Sjogrens is an autoimmune disorder that can drain you with exhaustion and achiness, among other things. It took awhile for doctors to figure out what was going on, but once I had a diagnosis, things started looking up. I adjusted my diet and lifestyle, and fortunately, though flare-ups still come and go, they’re not nearly as frequent as they used to be.
I didn’t know whether I was having a flare-up or about to begin a long battle with a nightmare disease when COVID-19 first started sweeping through New York in spring 2020. But on April 12th 2020, just a few days after my children and ex tested positive for the virus, so did I. So much for the flare-up theory.
If you know the feeling of autoimmune exhaustion, you know it can stop you in your tracks. This was worse. I have never felt the kind of exhaustion that COVID-19 brought on -- I could barely do anything. I am used to an active lifestyle. I teach, I coach, I exercise. Sitting on the couch all day has never been the norm, and with COVID-19, I went five weeks without much movement. There were days when I folded laundry and I was done -- sweating, drained as though I’d run a few miles. It was back to the couch, back to Netflix. My kids, fortunately, understood.
I remember my eyes hurting; if you’ve ever had pink eye, it almost felt like that. I had the typical symptoms you hear about in the news: scratchy throat, tightness in my chest, a little congestion. I wrote everything down, keeping a journal of the days because, frankly, the symptoms were odd. For a few days, I’d have headaches, nausea, a low-grade fever, and then, out of the blue a few days in, no sense of taste or smell. Gone! I remember grabbing a nearby bottle of Purell as a sanity check to see if I could smell the alcohol. When I whiffed nothing, I nearly considered tasting it, wondering how it was possible to not have my senses tingle at something so potent.
People talk about how individuals with pre-existing conditions should be especially cautious with this virus. For me, the frightening part was not knowing what was ahead. My body was erupting in a severe rash by the time I tested positive for COVID-19. Considering how alarming the outside of my body looked, I was nervous about what was happening on the inside. I had blisters. Hives. My face was misshapen. I went to the hospital and they loaded me up on a concoction of medicines in an attempt to keep the rash under control. My body was on fire. No prescribed drug felt particularly effective and I began trying more “natural” remedies (much to the dismay of my family members in the medical profession). I found supplements like curcumin and Vitamin C seemed to better bolster my body’s response in fighting off its hostile invaders. At one point I must have had twelve different bottles atop my counter.
It wasn’t glamorous, but slowly, I began recovering.
As the months wore on, my network was invaluable to helping restore my physical and mental health: My family is super, super helpful. My parents live nearby. I have a brother and sister-in-law who are great. I’m dating a guy who’s great. I have friends who are great. They have all been there for me, despite this illness being such a personal process.
It’s late summer now, and while my smell and taste is still only at about 50%, I am OK. I continue to struggle with “covid brain” -- brain fog that makes basic thinking a little tricky sometimes -- but, in general, I can do the things I want to do. I’m not on a ventilator. I’m hopeful that I’ll get back to where I was and believe it will happen with time and patience. In an unexpected way, Sjogrens has actually been a good building block for me to learn how to deal with trying times like this.
I have good days, I have bad days. It’s a process.
Reflecting back on things, I see now that I was in survival mode during the worst of the havoc. This was just one of those things that people don’t face often. I had moments where I broke down, moments where I just needed something to give, moments where the uncertainty felt like it would break me. But it didn’t.
I still hear people say, “it’s just like the flu.” Ehhhhh, there’s no flu in this world that lasts months upon months and is as debilitating as what I’ve experienced. This is a tough one to face. But I got through it -- the body is tough. And I am lucky.
As told to Emily K. Schwartz by Stefanie Davidoff.