'It's real': Nurse who caught COVID-19 at work pleads for people to take it seriously
Shaye Fleming says 2 months later the illness is still taking a toll
Nearly two months after she contracted COVID-19 at work, Shaye Fleming said she's still feeling the effects — and it's why she's urging others to take the illness seriously.
"There's guilt and shame surrounding being a young individual and not feeling back to normal, back to myself … at this point I don't really remember what that feels like," she said.
- WATCH | Hear more of her story in the video above
The 29-year-old contracted the virus while working as a licensed practical nurse at Calgary's Foothills hospital.
Since Sept. 19, 95 people tied to the hospital have caught COVID-19 — 12 people have died.
Fleming tested positive on Sept. 22. She now counts among the more than 28,000 Albertans who have recovered.
She said the illness started with mild symptoms.
"I felt like I had a bad head cold for the majority of the two week [isolation]. I did have some shortness of breath, a cough. I lost my sense of taste and smell, as well. That was the strangest part. But to be honest, during those two weeks I did feel that my symptoms were manageable," she said.
It was after her isolation period was up that the extreme fatigue started.
"I'm an avid walker ... and I could barely get a kilometre [down the path] without just feeling extremely exhausted, short of breath. And that chest tightness and chest pressure, that's one of the things that have lasted to this day," she said.
Now, mid-conversation Fleming will sometimes have to stop and breathe or she'll get winded.
She's congested, with body aches, a sore throat, and constant exhaustion.
And the lingering symptoms are also taking a mental toll.
"I have pushed myself to try and build up that stamina and realizing that I don't have that at the moment as a young, healthy individual has been very frustrating, especially when you think you're going to be back to normal."
Fleming said since she's been ill, she's had panic attacks and flashes of guilt for not being able to work and support her coworkers.
"Nobody ever had told me about the mental and emotional side of COVID. It was always the physical symptoms that you experience. And I think that I think that needs to be spoken about more to take away that shame and guilt surrounding it," she said.
Fleming isn't alone.
A global online survey of almost four million people suggests that five per cent of people who contracted COVID-19 are "long-haulers," reporting persistent symptoms one month later.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, has said that emerging evidence shows surviving COVID-19 can present "awful and life-changing" long-term outcomes.
Fleming said she wants people to recognize that unfortunately sacrifices need to be made right now, to protect each other and to get through this pandemic together.
"You can feel very scared, alone, frightened, or you can not believe it at all. But it's real. It's data. This isn't something that's just being being made up."
With files from Terri Trembath and CBC News B.C.