Living through COVID-19 and its aftermath

There is a new demographic in our global society. It is not based on age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic factors. Its only marker is that the person has survived COVID-19, and yet continues to have symptoms. The people in this group have become known as “long-haulers.” 

Vanessa Phillips is a long-hauler. She is over the acute infection, but finds her recovery is taking months.

Phillips contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic. With no testing protocols in place, she was never officially diagnosed. She relied on updates as they were released. When she contacted Health Link, they advised, “If you don’t need the hospital, just isolate.”

In retrospect, Phillips says, “I’m one of the lucky ones because I was able to deal with this at home. I feel sorry for people in the hospital. In my head, the transfer to the hospital was a mental block for me. I was so afraid. I was lucky.”

On March 22, her workplace locked down. “On March 25,” Phillips says, “I got the weirdest sore throat in my life. It felt spikey—like pinpricks of pain—and it got more and more painful.” She explains, “Each symptom on its own was manageable, but it’s a perfect storm with them all together.” She likened the experience to childbirth: “It’s like labour, where you can handle the next contraction, but you’re not sure. You think, ‘Do I have ten more hours of this?’ The unknown is the hardest.”

Vanessa Phillips’ dog, Rick, comforted her during her self-isolation. | Tekla Luchenski

Phillips did “a hard 14 days” of self-isolation in her basement. That was not the end, though. She “didn’t sleep upstairs for months.” Phillips lives with husband, Charlie and son, Gareth. The way things worked out, each more or less had their own floor. Her family would leave food, tea, and whatever else she needed at the top of the basement stairs. Her one comfort was her dog, Rick, who stayed by her side through the entire ordeal. 

Phillips remembers, “I was trying to convince everyone—and myself—that it was OK.”

Her mother, Parkdale resident Valerie Parr, had a hard time knowing her daughter was suffering. Parr said, “When she told me, my blood ran cold. It was horrible. Your daughter is in her unfinished basement by herself. She was alone and scared. The dog didn’t leave her side. That gave me comfort.”

Phillips and Parr could only text because Phillips could not speak. Phillips says, “There is so much anxiety around COVID-19; it’s so new.” 

Early on, her lifeline was a stream of mainly US long-haulers on Reddit. At the time, there was no treatment in Canada. Over time, she distanced from Reddit, as an increase in users darkened the tone of conversation. 

Phillips is back at work now, but reports feeling chest pain and throat pain. Even now, Parr says that Phillips “has functioning days and non-functioning days.” 

“It’s just been a beast,” says Phillips. “It just stays and stays.”

Phillips’ best advice? “Wear your masks. Take this more seriously.”

Featured Image: Vanessa Phillips (front) is grateful to be able to spend time with her mother, Valerie Parr (back), after a long bout of COVID-19. | Tekla Luchenski