“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami
Ever since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, America has been divided regarding wearing masks, gathering in large groups, or, most recently, getting one of the variants of the vaccine. Heated arguments have occurred in government institutions to sports venues to houses of worship to classrooms to local bridge groups. For Kathy Glascott, a COVID-19 survivor, such protocols are not a matter of personal choice but a matter of social responsibility.
A former elementary school teacher, from Buffalo New York, Kathy Glascott was the happiest she had been in many years. She had retired to a 55-plus community near Orlando, Florida, and, as was her style, she showed up for life. She was involved in several activities including the British Isles Heritage Club, the Western Upstate New York club, and SOL Writers. A widow, she met her significant other Mike through the community’s Singles group, and they were having fun, going to concerts and dances and traveling to places of which she had only dreamed.“It was like being a teenager again,” she said.
Then, in February 2020, the unsettling news of a virus later identified as COVID-19 began to emerge. Heeding the early advice of medical experts, Kathy sheltered in place and tried to avoid exposure. Short on groceries, she took a risk and went for a quick supermarket run. “I didn’t have a mask because you couldn’t get them” Kathy reflected months later. “Looking back, I wish if had the damn groceries delivered.”
Soon after, Kathy began to feel unwell..One evening, exhausted and exhibiting symptom of what she thought was bronchitis exacerbated by her asthma, she had Mike take her to the nearby hospital’s ER. She had no idea that it would be 5 1/2 months until she would see anyone except through a plate glass door.
Kathy was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19 and almost immediately placed in an induced coma in the ICU. She has vague memories of anything from March 27 until she woke up from anesthesia on May 5. “During that time,” she wrote months later, “my body was assaulted by machines that were surrogates for bodily organs—a feeding tube, a respirator, and catheters.”
Meanwhile, her brother Brian Joyce, a Methodist pastor in New Jersey, kept her large family and many friends abreast of Kathy’s life and death struggle through posts on her popular FaceBook page. On three occasions, Brian gave the grim news that she had been intubated and was near death. Even when the medical staff removed her from her induced coma, she was not out of the woods. She remained hospitalized for another six weeks and later continued her recovery in a rehab center where she had to learn again to hold her head up, sit, stand, walk, and swallow.
Brian warned his FaceBook followers against what he called “COVID-19 fairytales.” “It would be nice if Kathy’s story demonstrated a victory over the virus,” he posted on August 1 as his sister entered her 19th week of fighting for her life.“In reality her recovery is a daily journey through pain, loneliness, separation, therapy, small victories, and moments of great success and rising hope.”
On September 6, 163 days after she had been admitted to the hospital, Kathy was finally released. For the first two months, she stayed with her neighbor and closest friend Susan Schulman.After Kathy moved back into her own home, she continued to rely on Susan, Mike, and others to provide a much-needed network of support.
Over a year later, Kathy is still trying to make sense of what happened and “to fix what’s broken.” She mourns the six months of her life she lost to the virus in which her only contacts were her ever-present, albeit, wonderful medical staff members.
Although not confirmed by her doctors, Kathy considers herself as a “long hauler,” one of unfortunate 10% of COVID-19 survivors who experiences prolonged effects of the illness. In her case, she struggles with vision problems, a chronic cough, reoccurring bronchitis, neuropathy in her feet, frequent fatigue, and bouts of PTSD. “I’m better, but I’m not the me I was before Covid,” wrote Kathy on a post in her blog This and That:Musings on Being a Writer.“I have a new normal that makes me feel diminished, stressed, joyful, discouraged, and grateful all at the same time.”
Kathy also recognizes that COVID has affected not only herself but also those with whom she is involved. This is especially seen in the impact her illness had on her daughter, Brenda Glascott, a college administrator who lives with her wife in Portland, Oregon. “Ever since I woke her in the middle of the night on March 28 to say, ‘I love you’ before I was intubated for the first time,” said Kathy, “Brenda has had to make a number of hard decisions on my behalf. And she made each one with courage and love.” Kathy has said that the hope of seeing her daughter and others who sustained her and kept her fighting in her darkest hours.
As a survivor, Kathy feels a responsibility to protect herself and others.“I try to honor the concern and love shown me by not taking unnecessary chances and by practicing safe protocols.” Those measures include limiting her exposure to others and wearing a mask even though she is fully vaccinated.
She is an outspoken opponent of those who reject such measures on the pretext of personal freedom. “If you hate wearing a mask,” reads one of her FaceBook posts, “you’re really not going to like the ventilator.” In another post, she quotes George Takei, the American actor and activist. “Telling me you are proudly unvaccinated is like telling me you’re a drunk driver. You’re not a patriot. You’re not a freedom fighter. You’re a menace.”
A writer and author of three previous books, Kathy is working on a fourth that will recount in detail her own “harrowing dance” with COVID-19. “When I think about the many people who were affected by my struggle, I am humbled by their love and concern and grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support I received,” she said. “I hope to pay it forward by sharing my own experience and encouraging others to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and help curtail the spread and continuance of this terrible pandemic.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.