When she goes on long walks these days, Judy Carson, a member of St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Shanty Bay, Ont., sometimes takes an oxygen tank with her to keep from getting out of breath. Every few weeks, she breaks out into a shingles rash, and since her right hand has a tremor, she has to be careful carrying things with it. Her kidney function is low, and when she rolls over at night, she’s woken up with an unpleasant feeling like vertigo.
Carson had COVID-19 last spring— badly. She spent 46 days in hospital, most of it critically ill in intensive care. Her family, she said, was told she was unlikely to pull through and could end up severely disabled if she did. (The eventual victory in the struggle for her life was covered by secular news media.)
Since then, Carson has been dealing with a slew of long-term effects. But she isn’t complaining.
“All of this is tolerable, and I am just so thankful to still be here,” she said.
Some of the most oft-quoted COVID-19 statistics—the daily updates published by provincial governments, for example—are the numbers of new positive cases, deaths and recoveries. Left out of these thumbnail summaries is the fact that for many people who have had COVID-19, surviving the disease means continuing to be affected by it—in some cases, permanently. These are the virus’s “long haulers,” as they have come to be called.
Assessments of the prevalence of “long COVID-19” vary widely. Long-term effects of the disease afflict between 1.5% to two-thirds of COVID-19 survivors, according to a December 2020 Scientific American summary of recent studies (which varied in methodology and the length of the post-illness recovery period under study). A January 2021 update on the website of UC Davis Health, a Sacramento, California, health centre, estimates 10%.
With the approach of March 2021—one year since the imposition of widespread lockdown measures in Canada attempted to curb the virus’s spread—the Anglican Journal asked Carson and other Anglican survivors of COVID-19 about their lives post-recovery.
Bishop Michael Hawkins, bishop of the diocese of Saskatchewan, contracted COVID-19 in mid-November. He spent 12 days in the hospital, including just over two days in the ICU. Reached by the Journal in mid-January, Hawkins said he was still experiencing, among other things, lack of mental focus and memory loss.
“This is my first week back to work full time, and I’m struggling with that, hopefully with some good humour. But I’m also experiencing significant … memory loss. I can’t remember what I’m doing, I can’t remember names short-term,” Hawkins said. “I forget where I’m going, what I’m doing…. I just sort of laugh about it, but it requires a lot of patience from others. I will deny conversations I’ve had with other people.”
Upon admittance to the ICU, Hawkins was first misdiagnosed as having a heart attack because of virus-related swelling.
Months later, Hawkins remains under a doctor’s care and has been diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. At the time of his interview with the Journal, Hawkins was awaiting the results of further tests on his heart.
Hawkins’s colleague, diocesan Indigenous Bishop Adam Halkett, also tested positive for COVID-19 around the same time, though Halkett’s case was much less severe. “It was a cold, running nose, coughing,” he said, with no lingering symptoms.
Last spring, the Journal heard from Lee‑Ann Matthews, youth project coordinator/web and social media coordinator for the diocese of Montreal, who had fallen sick with COVID-19 in March. In January 2021, as this article was being written, Matthews said that although she was feeling much better, it ended up taking months for her to recover—and her experience of the virus has left her feeling more anxious about human contact.
“I … am hyper-vigilant about COVID measures, fearful of re-infection and eager for myself and my loved ones to receive the vaccine,” she said in an email. “Every human interaction is now tainted with the uncertainty of transmission.”
Her wife, who also had COVID-19, continues to have some side effects, she said.
Elvira Patterson, a parishioner at the Church of the Incarnation in Oakville, Ont. (where her husband, Archdeacon Michael Patterson, is rector), was in bed for 17 days—one of which she spent in the hospital—with COVID-19 in April 2020. On the 17th day, she said, she woke up suddenly feeling much better—but it wasn’t the end of her struggle with the disease.
A few days later, she started to feel pain in her arm; an ultrasound revealed a blood clot. The problem cleared up in a few days with the help of blood thinners, but other problems plagued her that summer.
“It just took a long progression of time to feel myself,” she said. “I just felt like I was always going to bed early, I was tired … I didn’t have any stamina. Even talking, I would have to take breaths in between. I would not be able to read a full paragraph without stopping and breathing again.” She also experienced trouble remembering things, such as the names of people she worked with regularly.
For the most part, these symptoms cleared up by September, she said; but in the meantime, in August, more tests showed that COVID-19 had left her with permanent scarring on her lungs.
Many of those who shared their experiences with the Journal also spoke of spiritual growth in the face of suffering.
Carson thanked the “prayer warriors” throughout Canada and from other parts of the world who, she said, had helped her defeat the disease.
“The whole medical team is amazed at my progress; even my husband sometimes marvels at how far I have progressed,” she said. “Faith, hope, perseverance and prayer have helped get me here.”
Hawkins, who said he has suffered a while from moderate claustrophobia, found being isolated in the hospital’s COVID-19 ward very hard. For two or three days, he shared his room with a fellow patient who, rendered delusional by the disease, would scream through the night.
The prayers and Scriptures he had memorized were a comfort to him, he said, as were prayers and supportive messages he received from others. “I did have … some of the most profound spiritual experiences I’ve had in more than 10 years.”
Hawkins said he felt “emotionally and physically upheld” by the prayers of the church. “The reality of the body of Christ and of the power of those prayers’ healing comfort … I had a renewed sense of that.”