Those who think COVID-19 is only an affliction that seriously affects elderly people should think again.
Former Powell River resident Kendyl Oele, a 26-year-old personal trainer who now lives in Calgary, became seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 at a spin class in July.
“It’s not a far-off issue,” said Oele. “It’s happening and it’s happening in your own backyard. If I can be that resource for people to understand, I’m so happy to do that.”
On a Friday in early July, Oele attended an early morning spin class in an underground studio in Calgary. She said she had been very aware of COVID-19 previous to when she became ill. She had gone to that particular spin studio a handful of times before she became ill and felt “pretty safe” at the facility.
“On that particular day that I did contract it, there was a fan there that had not been there previous to that and the fan did make me feel a little uncomfortable,” said Oele. “I just happened to be on the bike near the fan.”
She said when she was at the class, she was with a group of people who are highly physically active and in tip-top shape.
“You wouldn’t be able to go to the class if you were not, so I kind of thought I was in a population that would be healthy,” said Oele. “I was assuming risk but I thought the risk was quite low. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”
Oele said the onset of her symptoms was quite sudden. She said most of the doctors she spoke with couldn’t believe they manifested themselves so quickly. The theory is because she was close to the fan, the viral load she was subjected to was quite high.
While the spin participants were physically distanced, and it was clean, unfortunately that day, there was a fan, and Oele wishes in hindsight that she had walked away.
She said she began to feel the effects of COVID-19 about three days after her exposure. She was notified by the spin studio on the Monday afternoon following the class that there had been a COVID-19 exposure, and by Monday evening, she was feeling “a little bit off.” She went into isolation that night. She was tested for COVID-19 on the Wednesday, less than a week after the exposure.
By the time she was tested, she was having trouble breathing. She called Alberta Health Services and was advised she needed to go to emergency, so she went straight to the hospital after calling 811. She was tested at emergency and it took fewer than 24 hours before she heard a positive diagnosis.
Her boyfriend also was tested, but his results came back negative.
While Oele was sitting in emergency, she said she was not fighting for breath but she had a feeling of heaviness in her chest. She said when speaking, she would be taking in a deep breath after each sentence. She said that was the only symptom she had up until that time, other than a runny nose.
While waiting for her COVID-19 test, Oele said she was rocked with a fever, chills and a headache.
“When I came home, I pretty much just fell asleep and then I was sleeping all day Thursday,” said Oele. “I pretty much knew that I had it. There was no thought in my mind that I randomly picked up a sickness. When Alberta Health Services called me and told me that I tested positive, I had kind of come to terms with the fact that I had COVID-19.”
Oele said her thinking was that she was in a demographic where she would be okay, so she was preparing for the worst but expecting the best.
“I’m very lucky that was the case,” she said. “When they told me I was positive I felt scared but also prepared.”
Oele didn’t expect her isolation to be so strict. She said she is very fortunate in that she has a bedroom with an en suite attached, so she did not leave her 200-square-foot space for the full length of the quarantine.
“I was stuck in the bedroom and the only time the door was opened was for food,” said Oele. “When it was open I had to wear a mask and anything was allowed to come in, but nothing was allowed to leave, so I had garbage bags that I had sealed with my plastic cutlery and paper plates.”
Contracting COVID-19 turned Oele’s life upside down. She said the worst period was the Thursday and Friday after exposure.
“My fever was constant,” she said. “I’ve had bad flus in the past but I genuinely felt like I’d been in a car accident. It took everything out of me to just stand up and go to the bathroom. I was sleeping about 16 hours a day and the only thing that would wake me up was when my Advil wore off. I would have such a severe headache.”
On the following Saturday, just a little more than a week after exposure, she began to feel better, but the breathing difficulty intensified. She said she was so fortunate that she never got to the point where she was actually gasping for air. Breathing was laboured, although it never hurt. Oele said it felt like something was pushing on her chest.
She said going from being so physically fit to not being able to stand for more than five minutes was shocking and made breathing so much harder.
Recovery is a slow process and Oele, more than a month later, is still dealing with a lot of after-effects. She’s been out of quarantine almost three weeks nowand feels about 80 per cent. Oele said her taste receptors are pretty much gone, as is her sense of smell. She still has trouble taking long walks with her dog, and with any uphill or stairs, she has to take breaks.
Oele said health professionals are currently monitoring her for blood clots and it’s possible her heart could become enlarged as well. She said the odds are quite low, given her demographic, and she will be getting checked out to make sure she’s okay physically.
“The point I really want to get across is that I, in a demographic where, if I get COVID-19, I am expected to be fine,” said Oele. “It’s supposed to be a bad flu and we come out of it completely fine. That has not been my experience. I would not wish this on anybody.
“I’m continuing to struggle and if I’m being honest, I don’t see an end in sight for my struggles in the near future. I think I’m going to be dealing with this for some time and I want that known. It’s a life-changing event.”