Anna Kuzmin wishes that health and safety information about COVID-19 had developed more quickly than it had.
If that had been the case, the young wife, mother, Mid-Willamette Valley business owner and active outdoors enthusiast may have fared much better over the past nine months. As it is, she contracted a dogged, "long" version of the virus in late March which has since besieged her life as she knows it.
"Without our health, we don't have anything," Kuzmin stressed Dec. 3 during a COVID-19 focused interview and discussion on KXPD Slavic Family Radio.
"I still have my business; it's sitting there, closed, locked up. And it has been for 7 months. Unused," she continued. "But without my health, I don't have anything: I have a perfectly good car, sitting in the driveway; I have kayaks sitting on the side of my house; I have a snowboard sitting in my garage – that I cannot use.
"If you don't have your health, you don't have anything."
No age discrimination
KXPD has hosted a series of similar COVID-19 episodes to emphasize the dangers. Much has been revealed about how the virus is especially detrimental to the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. But Kuzmin's interview depicted how the threat can affect someone who is young and healthy.
Irene Konev of Canby shared an experience that also drives that point home.
"We set up that radio show on purpose to help someone struggling with long COVID and had case of COVID in their household," said Konev, who is a member of the Russian Old Believer community, owner of Konev Consulting, LLC and a current director on the Clackamas Community College Board.
Konev said her healthy, 25-year-old son went to his construction job one day last summer only to return home midday seriously ill with the virus.
"What happened was he couldn't breathe, he was bent over and his face was completely white," Konev recalled. "He showered and went staight to bed. He slept all of that day."
Konev said she panicked, and she believes that it fortunate that she did. She immediately sterilized everything. She and the rest of her household took to wearing masks at home.
"He was diagnosed and we got results fast, which was a blessing," she said. "Fortunately, we have a separate bathroom next to his bedroom, close to the kitchen. We were able to isolate him: he never went anywhere in the house; his laundry done separately. It was summer, so he was able to go outside."
Konev said her son, who did not want to be mentioned by name in this story, was very ill with symptoms for about 48 hours. The family went beyond the then medical advice, which was if he went 72 hours without showing more symptoms, they were probably safe. Her son quarantined for a full two weeks.
"I think the one thing that I did was err on the side of caution," Konev said. "I wore a mask everywhere in the house. We could eat meals outside because it was summer; obviously with winter that would be a little harder."
Konev is staunchly determined to get the message out that the virus does not discriminate, that everyone is vulnerable.
"Young people they think it's just going to be fine," she said. "If someone has had COVID, they will still need the vaccine. I think there is a lot of information we don't know."
The KXPD show's interpreter and a friend of Konev, Tamara Burkovskay, agreed.
"It's so important that people hear first-hand experiences like this. Some people think that if they are not from the high-risk group...they will be fine," she said.
In many ways Konev's son was fortunate, especially when juxtaposed with someone who contracts a "long" version of the virus as Kuzmin did.
Different strains and effects
Kuzmin said she contracted the virus in late March and was diagnosed in early April. She was shocked.
"It definitely came as a surprise to me. I thought it would be just the elderly or people with other illnesses," she shared.
Kuzmin said at that early juncture, information about the pandemic and safety measures was crude and sparse.
"In March and April (people) were not wearing masks all the time, it wasn't something we knew to do," she said.
After she contracted the virus, she figured that it would ultimately run its course. But she has suffered since. Her husband also contracted it, but apparently his strain and the one she caught are different. He hasn't experienced the same months-long lingering setbacks.
"We thought it was something you would just have for two weeks and it would go away," Kuzmin said. "I had no idea that you would have it for so long; because I contracted it then, and I've continued to have symptoms for months. It was something I had no idea about until I had it and experienced it.
"My husband contracted it and he had a more mild case," she added. "You just really don't know what version you are going to get."
Burkovskay said KXPD subsequently hosted a show with a variety of medical personnel who spoke to that issue.
"Very few people know there is such a thing as long COVID," Burkovskay said. "We try to educate people that there is a whole spectrum, from mild cases to cases with lots of symptoms."
Kuzmin knows the symptoms well, and lives with them daily.
"It doesn't really matter if you are healthy or not; everyone is susceptible to it," she said. "The initial symptoms (Kuzmin experienced) were shortness of breath, fever, cough the body aches. Those were the initial symptoms of COVID. I did have that for about two weeks, so it was kind of a range of symptoms."
"And then I started to get better," she continued. "That lasted for about a two-week period when I seemed to get better, but then the fevers never really went away. Kind of had this waxing and waning of symptoms, followed by joint pain, persistent headaches, body aches, what they are calling brain fog, chest pain.
"I still have shortness of breath and still have reduced lung capacity from the lung damage from COVID. There are still a lot of after effects. I had a lot of racing heart, tachycardia, the fast heart rate. A constellation of symptoms that continued for months after, that are still persistent now, that have evolved and changed after the initial infection."
A long road back
Kuzmin acknowledged that the threat is not the same for everyone, but that the risk is there and that everyone can carry the virus. She speculates that if information had been more fully available at the onset, the consequences may have been less severe.
"My work was very active, (and) I enjoyed hiking kayaking biking; the outdoor lifestyle that Oregon has to offer," she said. "One year ago photos of hiking Triangulation Peak. Those are things I'm definitely not able to do with my condition today, but it was something I could easily do before."
Looking back, it could have been different.
"I wish we knew to wear masks and that young people can get it and get very sick, too. (Last spring) It seemed like it couldn't be that risky for us," she said.
Kuzmin sees her doctor regularly as she continues to battle the symptoms. But few answers have been forthcoming.
"I expected there to be more treatments, but there really is nothing that can be done, just wait, and hope."
When asked about how the COVID-19 restrictions issued by health authorities and the governor's office affected her business, Kuzmin was clear – her business is currently closed due to her health.
"It is still closed because I still don't have the health or energy to be able to operate it," Kuzmin said. "I still haven't regained enough energy. I'm still fatigued. I still have headaches. I still have an occasional fever after activity.
"Even if the restrictions were to be lifted tomorrow, I wouldn't be able to reopen my business because I am not in good enough health to operate it."
Kuzmin feels that the best thing for business and the economy is to ensure a healthy populace. She hopes that with the vaccine and other strides made to fortify safety and stem the spread, recovery will be possible.
"Well, I think it's important to protect the people that work in the businesses, business owners as well as the patrons," she said. "Or else more people will end up like me, and then we won't have anyone to run the businesses when the pandemic does end..."If we don't have healthy people when the pandemic is over, we'll have an even worse economy on the other side of it.
"We will have an even sicker workforce if we worry about the economy only."
As vaccines are just beginning to become available, there is light.
Kuzmin said that in the past flu shots, as well, have never been a priority for her. Now they are.
"I never found the flu shot as important; it wasn't at the top of my list to get it," she said. "But this year I did get the flu shot as soon as it was available, because the risk of someone getting COVID and the flu is just so high right now. If I was to contract both at the same time, I don't know how I would have fared."
She also emphasized that the virus vaccines are being developed by the world's top scientists – it is a global pandemic. Once they are approved, she plans to get one of those as well.
"Once it is approved... yes, I would go get the vaccination," Kuzmin avowed. "Especially since it hasn't been shown that after you have had COVID that you (develop) any long-term antibodies."
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