It’s been six months since Charlotte Sauder contracted COVID-19. She is the first to tell you she has lingering health effects.
"My sleep and physical activities have been impacted."
When she sleeps, "that’s when I feel like there are books on my chest. The doctor says my chest is clear, though. ... Sometimes it wakes me up."
She used to swim laps at 6 a.m. every morning. She doesn’t do that anymore. Or hike. Or bike.
"I can’t exert myself like I used to," the mother of five said by phone from her office in Swan River.
"I would consider myself a healthy, middle-aged woman who was active."
That was, before COVID.
Sauder is a social worker in the community. She was at home when she got the call indicating she may have been exposed to the virus.
She was asymptomatic. So was her husband.
But, they needed to be tested.
The following day, she was notified that she had tested positive. Her husband tested negative a few days later.
Then began the 14 days of isolation.
"A couple of days went by and I got a runny nose," she said, which was followed by various COVID-19 symptoms.
She lost her sense of taste and smell. She had nausea and vomiting. Gastro issues. A slight headache. Fever.
It was when her breathing became difficult that she headed to the emergency room.
"There was a heaviness to my chest like somebody was holding me underwater and I was trying to breathe," she said.
Her cough was dry, hacky and wheezing. There was hoarseness to her voice.
"I was out of breath. I spent a lot of time not moving."
Sauder was out for three weeks.
There are other health-related issues that surfaced since contracting the virus, which she and her doctor are monitoring closely.
Sauder said her community and friends rallied around them in a socially distant way, too. They dropped off bottles of Pinesol and food in the driveway to keep her and her husband going.
"We were lucky," she said. "I get to still live and there are others who didn’t. ... People don’t realize your life can be taken. It’s very humbling because you realize how close you came."
The brush with COVID opened Sauder’s eyes to the complexity of the impact of the disease.
After she returned to her job, she chose to work in hot zones in three long-term care homes as a support health worker on weekends.
"After I recovered, I felt like it was my responsibility to help."
Sure, she’s scared, but said, "I try not to let the fear impact the opportunity to help."
That help may be something as simple as holding someone’s hand who is extremely sick so they don’t die alone. Or, holding a phone to a loved one’s ear as they look through a window at their family.
"I feel really bad for the families of the ones who don’t make it."
She helps staff clean a room after someone has died and prepares the body so the family can see their loved one through a window.
"You can’t not be humbled by that," she said.
Sauder’s message is pretty basic: Wear a mask, wash your hands and get a vaccine. If not for yourself, do it for those around you.
"I respect people’s choices. But if you had polio, mumps and measles vaccines when you were little, then what’s the problem?"
BUYING INTO THE REALITY OF COVID
Lance Melnick is originally from Virden and now lives in Moose Jaw, Sask., with his wife and two children. He didn’t buy into the seriousness of COVID at first.
That was until he and his family contracted it.
He believes he was exposed to the virus at work and brought it home unknowingly.
His experience with the virus is a little more extreme than Sauder’s.
It started near the end of March.
"I had a dry, hacking cough," he said. "In the following days, it became worse."
Melnick’s symptoms included a headache, body aches, and a stuffy nose, not plugged like a sinus infection.
On March 31 he developed a mild case of shortness of breath and suffered fatigue.
For a week, he and his wife could barely move from their bed. His 17-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son also got sick. She lost her sense of taste, which he said was more than six weeks ago. His son bounced back.
"I didn’t believe what I had heard about the virus," he said, adding it was the combination of lost time at work, the financial impact and how the virus affected him that converted Melnick.
"Now that I have had the virus I will be getting my vaccine. COVID is not something to play with. It’s very dangerous and can kill you if you get symptoms that put you in the hospital."
This is what happened to Melnick’s father-in-law, who was admitted to the Brandon Regional Health Centre with the virus after being exposed to it from an unknowing family member — Melnick’s daughter. At the time, the borders were open between the two provinces.
Melnick has endured the blame game from his extended family.
But, there isn’t much you can do when you don’t know you’re a carrier except stay home, he said.
Melnick and his immediate family appear to have largely recovered from COVID, although his daughter still has no sense of taste.