It started with exhaustion and quickly proceeded with agonizing headaches and laboured breathing; following an emergency visit to the hospital, an X-ray even revealed one spot of pneumonia on the lungs.
For Comox Valley resident Natalee Liesel (name changed due to sensitivity around her workplace) catching COVID-19 was not only an incredibly exhausting and painful experience but one she’s using to try and help others take the virus seriously and encourage those who may be unsure to get vaccinated.
“When it’s in your face, raw, real, people might be able to see that this can happen to someone who lives down the street, someone in your family, it could be somebody’s mom,” she explains from her home.
Liesel first came across the virus after her son was exposed at his workplace and eventually tested positive. She made the decision to stay home from work as a precautionary measure while her son self-isolated. He had general ‘achiness’ for about 24 hours in addition to a fever, cough and a runny nose. She describes his symptoms as mild, and while he had a cough for about a week, he didn’t lose his appetite and returned to work following time at home.
Knowing it was best to stay within her home, Liesel asked friends to drop off disinfectant wipes and “constantly” sanitized surfaces around their home.
“I thought I might get it, but I’m only 50 and pretty healthy, so I thought it would be okay. Once my son got it, I got it too.”
Within the first few days of being infected, Liesel describes the symptoms “as being hit by a truck. I thought, ‘if this isn’t COVID, then I’ve got a new plague.’ ”
By the time she received her positive test result, the battle against the virus was raging in her body. She struggled standing up, was in pain, had consistently low energy, laboured breathing and a throbbing headache.
“I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without catching my breath … I didn’t eat for two-and-a-half weeks. I survived on baby rice cakes and biscuits. I lost my sense of smell and taste - everything tasted alkaline and metallic. The nausea came partway too; I was all about the water and electrolyte powder.”
Liesel made several trips to the emergency room where the pneumonia was detected and she was put on intensive home monitoring to ensure her oxygen levels remained stable.
All the while, friends and family were checking in and wanted to assist in any way. For many, Liesel was the first person to catch COVID-19 within their circle of family and friends. Her mom, sister and a couple of friends initially wanted regular updates to ensure she was doing okay. If she didn’t check-in, they would call right away.
“I didn’t have the energy to talk on the phone. I began writing everything down and started sending out texts instead. I copy-and-pasted what I wrote in an email to my stepdad, and some I sent via Facebook Messenger.”
As more of those close to her wanted to check in on how she was progressing, Liesel copied all of her journal entries into one document and continued to send it in an email. She had friends and family ask if they could share the blog-style journal, which described her symptoms daily in detail.
Many people told her that her entries were “raw and real,” and would help those who didn’t believe in getting a vaccine.
“I’ve heard from several people who said ‘I’ve changed my mind (after reading the journal).’ It’s been shared and shared. I don’t want to take credit for it, but if I change these people’s minds, then it might make a difference. It even affected change within me - I wasn’t extremely worried about getting (COVID-19) and thought I would probably get the vaccine, but I wouldn’t rush out for it. Now I would go to the front of the line.”
Nearly a month since she contracted the virus, Liesel has now slowly regained some energy, and outside of occasional nausea, she does not have many lasting effects.
“I went down two pants sizes … but I’m slowly building my endurance again. I used to be able to garden for eight hours, and yesterday I made it for two-and-a-half. Hopefully, (my story) can show that someone you love can go through (COVID) and it is real and close to home.”
The vaccine rollout continues in B.C. Seniors age 76 can begin booking vaccinations on March 24 at noon; those 75 years old can do so March 25 at noon and those 74 years old can do so on March 26 at noon.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed that, as she warned people to stay vigilant with COVID-19 cases on the rise within the province.
“We ask about whether we’re in the third wave, it really is,” Henry said. “We’ve come down from the peak of our second wave, but we have levelled out for many weeks now and it’s a slow and steady increase.”
As of Monday, just over 10 per cent of the B.C. population has been vaccinated with the first dose.