It all started with feeling out of sorts. In the fall, I usually get a bit out of breath and congested so I didn’t think much about it as I enjoyed the Westward-Ho Parade with my new work team of the Umatilla County Public Health department.

Soon I felt more out of sorts, mentally and physically. It was hard to do basic things, like simply walking to my car. But just a day or two into a new job, I was sure it was a pesky fall bug.

Two days later, while reviewing the COVID-19 symptoms, I was dismayed to be experiencing the majority. I had been sure that my vaccination would protect me, which it did, just not quite in the way I thought.

I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for that week. I called ahead and let them know I wasn’t feeling well, that it was hard to breath, that I needed to stop after just a few steps. At the doctor’s office, I was placed immediately in an emergency room, and they applied the rapid response test. Within minutes I was told I had COVID-19 and my blood oxygen level was in the high 70s — not good, I was told, good is 99. I called my boss. This was the beginning of my overwhelming time with COVID-19.

During my four-hour stay in the ER before moving to another room, I was frightened, but my nurse was incredibly kind. She placed a pulse oximeter on my finger, a reassuring piece of equipment throughout this experience. A simple device, it measures not only the pulse but the rate of oxygen blood level as well.

While at the hospital, I asked one of my nurses what was the most frustrating things she experienced while having dealt with COVID-19 over the past months. She said it was watching people’s fears and struggles as they realize they have COVID-19, that their bodies are failing no matter how adamant they had been about receiving or not receiving a vaccination. But vaccination fears did not care about patient health and were in part endangering people. The nurse had so much regret, frustration and pain about her time working with those with COVID-19. I had nothing but sadness for all she had gone through and gratefulness that she was taking the time to share her story with me.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what all nurses went through daily as medical staff monitored my blood-pressure — a pre-existing condition — watched my lungs carefully, gave me medication to reduce the water in my system so as not overtax my healing lungs.

Regen-Cov, an antiviral medication, was a vital part of my healing from COVID-19 and required the use of steroids. Steroid intake made me feel very emotional. Physically, it caused my blood sugar levels to spike and, though I was barely eating, I consistently scored in the 400s. (The ideal score is just 100-120.) My blood pressure had risen as well.

More COVID-19-related problems developed. For example, my feet had been painful for days. My nurse shared that “COVID Feet” were a common issue, and the pain in my feet was due to the rash. Coating my feet with an antibiotic cream helped tremendously. I was then able to sleep. On top of this, simply using the bathroom was challenging. And getting out of bed while connected to wires and an oxygen tube which regularly got wrapped in the blankets and completing the steps to the bathroom seemed like a big win.

Five days later, while checking out, the hospital was still full. I was told that my room was the only one just becoming available, aside from only two ICU rooms. (This was also just 12 days after the Pendleton Round-Up.)

Getting a vaccine, even though I was a breakthrough case, did help me bounce back from COVID-19. Both my doctor and nurses confirmed that I was healing well due to being vaccinated. I cringe to think that, without the vaccine, I could have died — the reality of intubation is far, far worse than even my reaction to steroids. I was grateful to have avoided it.

My final day at the hospital was spent eagerly waiting to leave. The nurses wheeled me out to the parking lot along with an oxygen tank, my best friend as I healed. I was feeling more energetic, although still very confused and emotional — this was due to the steroids in my case. I hadn’t had a shower in a week. I really missed my dogs and my home. I tearfully expressed my thanks to the nurses and carefully drove home with my daughter following behind in her car. Shakily walking into my house, I was greeted by my overjoyed dogs.

Most of October was all about trying to regain my strength, I was still shaky, and spent a lot of my time sleeping on my couch with my CPAP connected to my buddy the oxygen tank. During this time, I tried explaining “COVID Fog” to family, a real condition that affected my ability to think. It was frustrating trying to share what I had experienced during my time in the hospital: fears of dying, confusion, financial worries since I had worked less than three days at my new job for Umatilla County Public Health.

Astonishingly, I realized, my stay at the hospital due to COVID-19 was longer than the caesarean deliveries of both of my children and the respective hospital recovery time combined.

This experience taught me a lot about the struggle so many have gone through in battling COVID-19. And I am so very grateful to have been vaccinated and grateful for the medical professionals who helped me to heal. I am excited to return to my work at the Umatilla County Public Health department, and I feel lucky to have come through it as well as I did.

Not only is it important to get vaccinated, but also, please trust your doctors and nurses. Listen to the experts. Vaccination is crucial in the battle against COVID-19.

Marlee Goodnight is the communications coordinator for the Umatilla County Public Health department.