Note: The Lawrence Times is running this series written by a community member who caught COVID-19 around the beginning of the pandemic in spring of 2020. Sydney Studer is reflecting, documenting and sharing her experience with what has come to be known as “long COVID.”
Chapters 1 and 2 of this series are being published together. Look for future chapters in the coming days and weeks.
1: The ‘Tiger King’ era
I stared up at my ceiling many nights last summer and cried. I wondered if I would feel like this forever. I wondered how things had even escalated to that point. One day I was fine, and the next I wasn’t.
So many thoughts crowded my head. “Will I ever get to run again? Will I ever actually reach my goal of running a half-marathon in less than two hours? Will I get to be able to hang out with friends and actually enjoy myself? Am I always going to be this damn tired?”
I’d like to say all of those thoughts were momentary, fleeting. They weren’t. They lingered and kept me up at night — well, so did my sickness and insomnia.
I had what we now know as long COVID. And I wasn’t getting any better.
When the novel coronavirus began sweeping the country a year ago, I didn’t think too much about it. The first episode of the docu-series “Tiger King” had just come out. Life seemed so normal. Oh, how little we knew.
I had heard there was a new virus, that it was very contagious, and that if you caught it, you’d be sick for a couple of weeks. I had been chronically ill for years before being diagnosed with various food allergies, so a couple of weeks feeling sick wasn’t really bothersome to me. I didn’t think I was invincible; I simply didn’t realize the magnitude of what was happening.
I had just taken the bar exam and started my first post-law-school job at a law firm in Johnson County. I was living with my parents, but I had an apartment lined up. I was ready to start the rest of my life.
Sometime around the middle of March, the partners at my firm sent an email letting everyone know that Johnson County was likely going to be enacting its stay-at-home order soon, and we should be prepared to work from home. I was out sick part of that week with a cold, so I had already been working from home for a few days.
The Johnson County stay-at-home order went into effect on Tuesday, March 24. My first question was whether liquor stores would be permitted to stay open. At the time the announcement was published, COVID still seemed relatively under control: The county had recorded only 26 positive cases and one death from COVID-19.
I gathered my things from the office and worked from my parents’ kitchen table. To be honest, I was doing fine. I had adopted a dog (a 9-year-old rescued Greyhound, Tinkerbell) the month before, and I was enjoying spending time with her. She was also enjoying having someone home all day. Win-win.
The last couple of weeks I spent at my parents’ house were filled with a lot of anxiety-inducing news: toilet paper was flying off the shelves faster than it could be produced and stores were having to set limits. Disinfectant wipes and cleaners were the same. Grocery stores were running out of staples like milk and eggs.
On March 28, I moved into my apartment as planned. I felt tired and a little “off,” but I didn’t think much about it. I figured it was from moving, the stress of a new job and the cold I was getting over.
My mom, a registered nurse working in a clinic, called me a few days later, on April 5. She had tested positive for COVID-19.
The next day, I stood up to go have lunch and felt the same “off” feeling I’d had about a week before. I also had body chills, aches and felt dizzy. I called my doctor’s office and told them what I was experiencing, and that I had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive. They told me to come to the office as soon as I could that afternoon.
I did not have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath (yet). I got in my car, drove to my doctor’s office and pulled up to the back door as instructed. My doctor came out wearing booties over her shoes, a yellow paper gown with the arm sleeves tucked into blue rubber gloves, a face mask, face shield and goggles. It looked like something out of one of those end-of-the-world virus movies.
She stuck a very long Q-tip-like stick so far up my nose, I swear it scraped my brain. She tested me for strep throat, the flu and COVID-19.
On the drive home, I became absolutely exhausted. It felt sudden and slow all at once. My stomach was nauseous and I felt like I could nap for hours. When I got home, that’s exactly what I did.
Two days later, on April 8, my COVID-19 test came back positive. The doctors were unsure if I had COVID that week in March when I was home with a cold. We won’t ever know, and it really doesn’t matter.
Looking back, it seems so obvious. It always does.
The truth is, I didn’t know what was coming until it hit me upside the head and knocked me down for the next year. The “off” feeling I had was the beginning of a sickness that, at times, I did not think I would ever overcome.
— Sydney Studer (she/her) lives in the Kansas City metro with her two rescue greyhounds and fiancé. She is a runner who loves game nights with her friends and sitting by the fire pit on a cool night. Long COVID derailed her running, but she is getting back to it, one day at a time.