Earlier this week I started sharing stories of athlete friends who’ve come down with COVID-19
I wrote, “Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.
What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.
At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.
Personally, for me, I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.
Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Here’s the blog we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19.”
Here’s the three more voices. I know Michael through the Ontario cycling community. I met Barrett and Brandon on the Friends for Life Bike Rally. Speaking of which, you can sponsor me here!
Sport: Masters track cyclist
I held the Canadian Hour Record for Masters Men 65-69. That record was eclipsed by my friend, Peter Leiss, in 2019. I also hold the record for the most kilometers/laps on the Milton track. When the Milton Velodrome closed Mar 14, because of the pandemic, I had cycled 208000 laps or 52000 kms on the track since it opened in 2015.
I contracted the Coronavirus in March. We found out by email, after the fact, that I most likely came in contact with an employee of Fortino’s Grocery Store in Oakville on or around Mar 20. The employee had tested positive and was in the store at the same time as I was. Although my wife and I were being careful, going out as little as possible, except for shopping, observing the standard protocols at the time, masks had not been standard, and I was not wearing one.
On April 3, a Friday, I woke feeling out of sorts. By this I mean very angry. Everything was irritating. I remember going out to do a bit of shopping in the morning. Friday evening, I had a burning sensation, at the back of my throat. This is usually a sign that I’m coming down with a cold. Mind you, I rarely get sick, rarely get colds. This back of throat irritation rapidly escalated. I was tired and still very irritated. I went to bed. Next morning, I awoke to the feeling that I had been hit by a runaway train. My entire upper body was in pain – back, chest, shoulders, everything, It was painful to breath. I was short of breath because of this. I was coughing. This caused extreme pain. I could barely move. Going to the bathroom, a few steps was very difficult. Lying down was difficult. In fact for most of 12-14 days that I was really ill, I slept sitting up in an easy chair, with a heating pad on my back, and an humidifier going in the room.
This continued through Saturday and Sunday. My breathing became more laboured as time wore on. Sunday, we decided I should take Tylenol for the pain. This seemed to help, as least to make it bearable. Please note that I neve ran a fever the whole time I was sick. My temperature average about 36 degrees. We tried calling Public Health to see about getting tested. In April, they asked you if you were running a fever, and if you had traveled out of the country. Since the answer to both questions was no, I did not qualify to be tested. Please isolate, get lots of rest, and fluids. If we had known about the email from Fortino’s, (we did not see it until mid April. For some reason we were distracted), the contact would have meant I could get tested.
The pain and shortness of breath, etc, continued through Sunday. Monday morning, I woke up and the pain was all but gone! However, I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air. Any kind of activity, for example, going up stairs to take a shower, would leave me gasping for air. It would take at least 20 minutes for this to calm down enough for me to breathe at a normal pace. I was still coughing. Any effort, change positions on the couch, could trigger a coughing fit. That would be excruciating because it felt like a knife in the diaphragm. And contracting ribs was very painful. I took Manuka Honey to calm these fits. We tried contacting the authorities again Monday with the same result. Monday afternoon, I was so short of breath I was getting very frightened. We actually contemplated calling an ambulance and going to the ER. But the thought of being isolated at the hospital, away from my wife was even more terrifying. So we decided to see if I could calm down enough, sitting still, to get by until the next day. This worked. I got through the night. And each subsequent day. As the days progressed, I felt less pain, except for coughing. The shortness of breath continued. I couldn’t speak. I did not have enough air to form words. This would get worse the more I tried and then start a coughing fit.
I gradually improved over the course of 12 days. By the 14th day of quarantine, I felt like I was over it. We even went for a little walk in the neighbourhood. I could not speak for long. And I was still sort of breath, but I felt much better. We started going for walks each day. I think I even went to a store. About the fifth day, I relapsed. Coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and back pains. This lasted almost a week. When I ‘recovered’, we went for a walk to test the waters etc. Back pains and pain though my shoulders persisted. This continued off and on for a month. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the coronavirus and I was getting very concerned about the constant shortness of breath. I was concerned that Covid19 was doing damage that I was unaware of to my organs. So at six weeks I spoke with my doctor. He said go to emergency and get a chest x-ray.
I presented at the ER. The triage nurse, took down the particulars, checked my pulse and blood pressure and then sent me for an EKG. It spiked! 20 minutes later, I was in a bed, connected to monitors, with an IV line in. They took blood. Then came back later and took more. Next thing I knew I was getting a CT instead of an x-ray. I had suffered from pulmonary embolisms, and my lungs were chocked full of little blood clots. They put me on blood thinners. It’s now almost 7 months since the CT. I have permanent lung damage. I just had another CT to see if there was improvement. The ‘vampire’ my hematologist, took a lot of blood for specialized testing and I will have the results of blood analysis and the CT next week.
I have not been able to return to the level of exercise I was used to before Covid-19. I have suffered from a rotating cycle of back pains, chest pains, shortness of breath, and fatigue since April. My balance was off. My ability to grasp things, to gauge distance was off, meaning I dropped or knocked things over. I had proximity issues. That imaginary space that you observe round yourself that allows you to walk through spaces or around obstacles, was way off. I had to double it. I would wait until my wife moved out of the way before I did anything. I was forever banging into things. Any extended effort, I tried cycling after the vampire felt that I had improved in July, (an echocardiogram had shown no damage to my heart). I took it very easy, riding around the block (an oval similar to riding the track). I built up slowly. But any kind of extended cardiovascular effort resulted in a flare-up of symptoms. After two weeks, I suffered from sore back and shoulders, and major chills. I was cold all the time. Three sweaters cold, even outside on a warm day. This lasted about three weeks. I have not tried cycling again. But assuming a good result from the CT, I plan to put the bike on the trainer, and start perhaps just 15 minutes twice a day to see if I can begin to get back to my former fitness level. I have spent the last five months doing daily walks. That seems to be fine. I can walk several kilometers but I’m not physically taxing my body in the same way that I would cycling. I’m not sustaining a 130 heartrate for any length of time. But before Covid19, I could do that for 5 hours or more. I could ride the track for 3 ½ hours non stop at that rate.
Another problem – I have memory problems. I forget things right after I do them. And I have a very quick trigger on my state of mind. I can go from calm, cool and collected to rage in the blink of an eye, for the slightest of reasons. This is not normal for me. For the longest time, after the initial illness, I was an emotional mess, depressed, and extremely angry that Covid-19 had robbed me of my fitness and good health.
So, the long and the short of it is Covid-19 really messed me up. I am slowly recovering. The issues today are a fraction of what they were in the first three months. But I’m not the person I was. I do intend to get back to that level. But it will take time and patience.
A final note, my wife, who is 75, remained symptom free the whole time. We remain vigilant and we isolated in a very tight circle. I do not consider myself immune. I have tested negative, but that was after the fact. I never tested positive! I am very certain I suffered from Covid19 and the doctors agree. But without that test, or an antibody test, there is no way to be certain. So we remain cautious.
Sport: Weight Training/Cycling
When: Got Covid mid-October, had very mild symptoms, lost smell, some lethargy and felt run down. Otherwise, fine.
How long it took you to get well and whether you’re back to your former activity levels and athletic performance: Took about ten days to feel myself again, but smell has not returned fully. The pandemic situation has definitely impacted my athletic performance in general, I spent most of my days moving and walking, now mostly sitting. In terms of recovery from the virus, I feel that it took another ten days after I’d recovered from my symptoms that I felt I could do the same amount of work during exercise routines that I had before. And sometimes still feel that my energy levels are not quite the same. I did two exercise classes two days in a row and was exhausted by 8pm on the second day.
Barret is part of Bionic Fitness based in Toronto.
Sports: Water polo, cycling, weightlifting
I contracted it on October 5th, symptoms arose mildly on October 9th, more seriously on the 10th and I got tested on the 12th. Positive results came back on the 14th I think. It was awful, I’ve never been that sick in my life. It started with muscle aches which at first I attributed to DOMS (post workout muscle pain) but then it got so bad that I couldn’t be touched. Then I started coughing, getting a tight chest, and headaches. Then I started getting fevers that progressed so badly that I was constantly sweating, I was dehydrated and became delusional. Barrett afterwards told me about things that happened during the worst 4 days and I didn’t remember a few things. If my fever didn’t get better by the 5th day of bad fevers I was going to go to the hospital but luckily I started to recover. I couldn’t eat much during this time because of nausea and I found things tasted very bad, any kind of spice, lemon, ginger, sweetness etc. tasted like metal to me. I lived off of just bread for a few days. Recovery was slow. I’d say I’m not fully recovered yet, my right bronchial tube feels hardened and I still have very mild congestion/post nasal drip. I’m able to exercise and do cardio again but it comes with mild discomfort. I can tell I am improving but it’s very slow. My doctor is sending me for an ECG test.