Stephe Lawson of Innisfil is a “long-hauler.”
The name has been given to people who continue to experience chronic effects of COVID-19 weeks and months after testing negative for the virus.
Lawson’s journey began in late May when a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19. He and several colleagues went to get tested.
“I decided to give my wife a call and let her know. Christie made the decision that just to be safe she would pack me a little bag and some food for me. After being tested I picked it up from the doorstep of our house and went to our trailer on Lake Dalyrmple.” said Lawson
While at the trailer Lawson got a phone call that he had tested negative for the virus. He contacted his wife to let her know he was going to stay up at the lake to get the trailer ready for the season.
By the next evening, Lawson said his health spiraled downhill. He was struggling for air. Lawson contacted Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in Orillia and he was taken there by ambulance.
Doctors and nurses at the hospital told Lawson they were pretty sure based on his symptoms that he had COVID-19. A blood test revealed an infection. A nasal swab came back negative, yet his symptoms continued to worsen.
“My fever broke at 105 (40.5 Cel). The sore throat was a big indication that something was wrong because I haven’t had a sore throat in 25 years since my tonsils were removed.”
Lawson also developed a rash. An examination ruled out shingles.
“The rash was all over my face, my neck, my chest and under my arms. It was a blistering and burning rash.”
After the negative test came back the doctors did another nasal swab which came back positive.
Lawson said he had no energy and he felt like he was going to pass out.
“The best way to describe it would be like having a migraine, strep throat, pneumonia and mono all at the same time.”
After the positive test, Lawson returned to the trailer where he remained for nearly a month, with visits to the Orillia hospital for treatment.
Lawson was finally able to return to his family in late June when two nasal swabs came back negative.
Some of the symptoms he had – fever and sore throat – disappeared. But the tightness in his chest and shortness of breath did not. He was tired and really weak.
Prior to COVID-19, Lawson was an active 50-year-old. A hereditary heart issue was controlled by medication.
COVID-19 caused scarring to Lawson’s lungs and the lining of his heart. He has about 40 per cent of his lung capacity. Lawson just wants to get back to the way he felt before the virus. He has started to exercise by taking walks. Lawson finds it less of a struggle in the early morning and late evening when it is cooler.
Three weeks ago some of the other symptoms he experienced with COVID-19 returned including the blistering and burning rash. Lawson was again tested for the illness and the result was negative. Doctors chalked up the relapse to overexertion.
Lawson hopes by sharing his story more people will become aware of COVID-19 “long-haulers.”
He wants to get back to work and to do all those things he used to do with his family.
“It’s one of those things I ask by GP and specialist. When will I be back to myself? Because that’s all I really want. I don’t even feel like I am myself. I don’t even feel like I am in the same body.”
Lawson has joined a Facebook group of Canadians who are on the same journey. They are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 weeks and months after they’ve been infected and all tests indicate they are no longer positive for the virus.
He accepts there will be people who will downplay his battle with this disease, possibly blow it off as something that might not have happened had he not had a heart issue, or that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu.
“I feel sorry for them. But I feel more sorry for the potential of who they could pass it on to.”
Since he took very good care of himself, Lawson didn’t think an illness of this magnitude could bring him down.
He urges everyone to practice safe COVID-19 protocols including wearing a mask.
“Wearing a mask is not the most comfortable thing, but in all honesty, it’s a small and respectful move that each and every one of us can take just to wear it when we need it. Just to protect one and other, and to help our frontline workers out. I have seen firsthand what they’ve gone through and what they do for us.”
The biggest takeaway from this ordeal is that Lawson doesn’t wish this on anyone. He admits that during his hospital stay he wasn’t sure he was going to make it.
“When I was up in the hospital in those first few days when I went downhill that bad, I was all but certain I was not going to make it through, and I was not going to see my wife and kids again. That feeling will never leave me. That is not what I wish anyone to go through.”