“I would extend my arms into the air and beg, ‘Please God, just take me.’” These are the words my friend and “rural neighbor” Elizabeth Downey (past president of the Pennsylvania Grange) shared with me to describe her experience as a COVID survivor.
“I guess I was one of the earliest survivors of the COVID virus. It was the end of February 2020, the very beginning of the pandemic when I started to feel sick – miserably sick. I’ve been really sick before, but this was not like anything I had ever had.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with what contracting COVID is like, let me tell you about that month. Excruciating head and body aches. Endless sleep cycles extending into days. Incredible fatigue and muscle weakness. Terrible nausea. Difficulty breathing. Loss of taste and smell. Inability to walk. Inability to speak coherently.
And that was just the first month.
As the pandemic surged through 2020, so did the side effects of the virus I contracted. And, as the medical and scientific communities learned, the COVID virus is not an over and done thing. Many of us who survived COVID have serious medical consequences that have lasted for months. In my case, over a year later, I still suffer and know there is a good chance these effects are both damaging and permanent.
I am a long hauler.
I had to learn to walk again. For months I stumbled and fell. Two months of therapy later I was still avoiding steps, opting for ramps, and was very unsteady.
My speech was affected. The brain fog was astronomical. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around speech. Three months of cognitive therapy later I still have problems with words coming out that have nothing to do with what I want to say. At times I feared I was developing dementia but no, it is an effect of COVID.
I have heard the mental effects of COVID are comparable to traumatic brain injury and as I had such an injury yeas ago, COVID intensified the condition.
COVID almost put me on dialysis and on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. My doctor was sure it would happen. I was in the end stage of kidney failure.
And I am still fatigued.
But my story does not end here.
When I was finally able to return to church it was around the time that masking became mandatory to prevent COVID spread. Both my husband and I were masked. I was appalled when I saw that no one in the congregation was wearing a mask, with the exception of one older couple. When I spoke with our pastor afterwards he informed me that both he and the deacons decided that masks were optional. So I shared with him my story, hoping to impress upon him how masking could save members of our congregation from the death or near death trauma of contracting the virus. Yet the policy did not change.
It was the last time I attended the service. My involvement with the church remains but on a virtual basis.
Suffering through COVID challenged me mentally and physically but it was my faith that saved me and continues to strengthen me through this horrible ordeal. But I soon found that another challenge awaited me – convincing fellow parishioners and rural friends and family that COVID is real.
Their excuses for not masking and not getting the vaccine?
‘My faith tells me I don’t need the vaccine.’
‘I pray and trust in God.’
‘My Savior will not let me get COVID.’
My response? God blessed us with the ability to think and learn, which is how a knowledge of effective preventive measures – like masking, social distancing, sanitizing and now the vaccine – were developed. We know these measures work – like seatbelts, helmets and smoke alarms – all developed through science and all developed to save lives.
So why the hesitancy with saving lives by preventing COVID?
When I was growing up in rural Lycoming County my family instilled in me a Christian faith that taught me that Christ tells us to love our neighbor. And that we did, regularly helping our neighbors through good times and bad.
We need to think beyond ourselves and understand that COVID safety is not just about you. It is about taking precautions that go beyond our own resistance to minor lifestyle adjustments to save lives. Getting the vaccine is not just about you – it’s about protecting those around you from becoming infected by a life threatening virus.
So that you and your loved ones may never have to raise your arms and beg God to take you.”
Elizabeth Downey is past president of the Pennsylvania Grange and a COVID survivor. She shared her experience with Chris Smith of Let’s end COVID. Elizabeth’s Story will also be published in the PA and the National Grange magazines.
Publish date: 7/31/21