Sometimes I feel as low as this cold-early-morning snail on the Richland river path.
June 3 marks a year since COVID-19 blasted through my immune system. I have never figured out how I got it. And my recovery has come in fits and starts. But mostly it’s just been incredibly, snail-slow.
When I stopped having fevers from COVID-19 is when the doctors pronounced me over the disease. I could barely walk down one block and back to the house. Each breath was a gasp for air, heaving. Lungs like concrete. Now, I am able to walk quickly for several miles keeping pace with my friend. But I still huff hard on even the slightest of hills.
Sometimes I get frustrated with myself. I still feel so sluggish and slow. I’ve gained weight from this hard year at home.
But I also have moments of profound gratitude. I am firmly planted on this earth. So many are not with us now. Every time I look in the newspaper, I see another person my age dead. Teachers, health workers, good people. Gone.
When I go for a walk, I notice the flowers in my neighborhood. Last year I spent the summer inside. I missed the roses, the iris, the daphne, the pansies. I hungrily drink them in, making my husband stop while I tiptoe a few steps into neighbors’ yards to smell them. “Leave some for the rest of us,” he teases me.
Last July, when I became fever free, I signed up for yoga lessons on Zoom to help me recover. I started with simple twists and stretches on the floor. I could barely do it. Now, twice a week for a year, I’ve worked slowly with a patient teacher. I can now hold dolphin pose and dancer pose for short periods of time.
A few months ago I was dealing with tight feelings in my chest. I’ve had other long-haul symptoms, too. The exhaustion. The difficulty breathing. Much of my hair fell out.
Sometimes friends of mine call, also long-haulers. They’re struggling, and trying to get into the University of Washington’s COVID long-hauler program. They’ve been trying to find a doctor who’s COVID-literate. I have family and friends struggling with life-and-death long-haul fights of their own, like cancer. I write them letters.
I’m now fully vaccinated. The second shot made me sick for 48 hours. It brought back bad memories of being in the grip of COVID. But I was glad to get it. Now, I find myself worrying about the variants.
But I keep snapping back to this: I’m here. Most of the time, I can work a full day without collapsing. I can hug my family again, feel the little spindly arms of my nieces drape around me.
I can drink in the flowers -- because I can breathe now.
I’m so lucky to be here on earth.
I’m healing. It’s OK to be a snail.
I’m gonna see summer.
During the pandemic, many people took up new pastimes. Anna has been writing poetry. This is what she wrote about her COVID-19 journey:
I thought I shouldn’t have stayed out in the sun so long talking to Mary Beth
I was traveling home
I was too hot
But then, sick
Sicker than the time when I was in the ICU as a girl
Weeks of fighting for my breath
Like keeping my head under the blasting shower too long
Fighting myself to fall asleep and keep breathing
A visit to the ER, then another
Two or three bad days from a long stay in the hospital, maybe intubation
Each time under the street lamps in the emergency lane I would say goodbye to my husband and dog
Wondering if I’d come out again
Then the fever
It wouldn’t leave
Five weeks on the couch trying to get rid of the internal heat
Ice packs, rest, mango lassies
Cards, letters, calls
Texting my husband who was hiding from COVID in our same house
Feeling crappy for days, then weeks, then two months
I’d wake up and think it was gone, the uncertainty
Only to descend again into the fever
When I was finally done, I could hardly walk to the car
The first time it took me about 40 minutes to get to the end of the block
Then, I went around the block
On one walk, I saw a snail crossing the asphalt river path
This last year has moved so slow
My hair fell out
My lungs like concrete
My heart hurt, sharp pains, squeezing
My brain is slow
But I’ve been at work against this virus like the deliberate snail:
Now, I can walk four miles quickly,
I can do dancer pose,
Meditate for one minute,
Write this poem.