'This could happen to anyone': Sask. COVID-19 long-hauler hopes personal story will spark government action

·5 min read
Laurel Schafer, 35, has been living with lingering COVID-19 symptoms since she contracted the virus in November 2020. Oftentimes, they leave her bedridden and unable to accomplish basic tasks, like drinking water. (Submitted by Laurel Schafer - image credit)
Laurel Schafer, 35, has been living with lingering COVID-19 symptoms since she contracted the virus in November 2020. Oftentimes, they leave her bedridden and unable to accomplish basic tasks, like drinking water. (Submitted by Laurel Schafer - image credit)

This time last year, Laurel Schafer was an active mother and physical therapist running a business in Swift Current, Sask. Today, the 35-year-old can't muster the energy to tuck her kids into bed.

Schafer contracted COVID-19 last November, presumably from her husband, who caught it first while at work.

"He sneezed a few times and sniffled twice, and I was sick for about three weeks — basically bed-ridden sick," she recalled in an interview with CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Thursday.

The illness forced Schafer off work for two months. When she returned full-time in January, she said she could only push through for a while before things grew progressively worse.

"I wasn't able to function at all in my life outside of work," Schafer said, adding she would come home, go to bed and sleep until morning.

"Every moment that I was awake was basically trying to ignore my symptoms as best as possible, and trying to get through the next moment until I could sleep again."

Submitted by Laurel Schafer
Submitted by Laurel Schafer

Almost a year later, Schafer is back to work for two and a half hours each day with some modifications, but she's still feeling the effects.

She now lives with a long list of COVID-19 symptoms — from dizziness to shortness of breath to fatigue, which she said is the most debilitating.

"People say, 'We're all tired sometimes, I didn't sleep last night or I had a big day' — but this is a different sort of sensation," Schafer said. "When it's bad, it's to the point where I'm so thirsty but I can't even summon enough energy for myself to roll over in bed and grab my water bottle."

Light and noise are also irritants, so if her kids are around, for example, she said they have to stay totally silent. Watching television is also not an option to pass time in bed.

Schafer said her lingering brain fog still makes her forget words or the next thing to do in a sequence of tasks.

"Say, if I was cooking supper, I might stand there for five minutes, trying to figure out, 'OK, I need to get out a pot, I need to turn on the stove and figure out what burner is on,'" she explained. "Things that would normally come really naturally, I struggle with."

'Little things we just have to appreciate'

Submitted by Laurel Schafer
Submitted by Laurel Schafer

Schafer said her family and work support systems are what get her by and help her cope.

Her husband has stepped up, she said, and what he's not doing her young children have taken on.

"My seven-year-old cleans our bathrooms, my nine-year-old makes sure her brother is ready for school in the morning and they make their own lunches," Schafer said. "They do it all — and they've really had to gain a lot of responsibility."

She can no longer do physical activities with her kids that she used to enjoy — like riding a bike, walking around the block or tucking them in at night because their bedrooms are in the basement and she can't get down the stairs.

"My nine-year-old has been really understanding, but the other night she couldn't sleep and she said to me, 'Mom, what if you never get better?' And what do I say to her about that? Because none of us know if I'm going to get better," Schafer said.

For now, she celebrates small wins.

"Last night, I was able to read bedtime stories with them, which often I'm not even capable of at that time of day. They thought it was wonderful," Schafer said. "It's those little things we just have to appreciate."

A pleading call for public health measures

As COVID-19 numbers continue to surge across Saskatchewan with little to no provincial government response, Schafer turned to social media to share her experience.

"I want people to realize that the numbers they see on survival rates really don't tell the whole story," she said. "I was considered recovered in 14 days but I'm certainly not recovered."



On Twitter, Schafer called out Premier Scott Moe for not taking the advice of local medical health officers who have repeatedly urged the province to bring back COVID-19 public health restrictions.

"I think blatantly disregarding the things that they have clearly outlined is incomprehensible," she said.

"It's just incompetent and really negligent. It's going to result in more death and disability and I think that's really unfortunate."In an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon, Moe's press secretary said the government "continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation in our province and consult with Dr. [Saqib] Shahab as the situation evolves."

The statement goes on to say that Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman are "further engaging" with the health authority about the recent rise in hospitalizations and the ongoing capacity of the health-care system.

"Premier Moe will have more to say on this in the coming days," the statement said.

Schafer said a good start would be to reinstate the provincial mask mandate, and require proof of vaccination for access to non-essential events, facilities and businesses.

With those measures in place, she hopes it will slow the transmission of COVID-19, so no one else has to experience such symptoms.

"This could happen to anyone — this could happen to you or your mom or your kids," she said. "I think that's terrifying, and I think that we need to be aware of that and consider that in our day-to-day actions."

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