Six months later, New London man says COVID-19 is still 'kicking my butt'
After six months, COVID is still still kicking John Dahl's butt. The 49-year-old New London man, who spent six days in the hospital in May after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, said he is still struggling to gain back his full strength.
John Dahl knows what humble pie tastes like, and it isn’t good.
The 49-year-old New London man spent nearly a week in the hospital in May after being diagnosed with COVID-19. After he left Carris Health Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, the nurses told him he wouldn’t be back to his regular routine for a couple months.
Dahl pooh-poohed it and told them he’d be back to normal in a couple weeks.
That didn’t happen.
“I’ve eaten my words, and then some,” he said. “Humble pie is very bitter.”
It’s been about six months since Dahl left the hospital and his energy level still has not fully rebounded. It’s difficult for him to do any extra tasks at home after putting in a full day at work and — most concerning — his lung capacity is functioning at about 80% of normal and that may be as good as it gets.
“A reduction in my lung capacity is something I’m going to have to live with,” he said. “It’s a whole new way of trying to live life.”
The West Central Tribune first interviewed Dahl shortly after he got out of the hospital this spring, when he talked about how he was coping with fatigue and other physical challenges of COVID that kept him from his busy pre-COVID schedule of work, volunteering with church and Scouts, serving on the New London City Council and being active with his family.
In mid-May, Dahl was still using a cane, could only do a task for a short time before getting exhausted and he didn’t know when he’d be able to go back to work at Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar.
In a follow-up interview at the end of October, Dahl said he went back to work about 2½ months after he was diagnosed. His activity level and energy has improved but is nowhere near back to normal.
“I’ve tried to push myself as much as I can,” said Dahl, who also suffers from asthma.
Dahl may be what’s known as a “long-hauler” in COVID circles.
“I’ve had good days and bad days,” he said. “COVID is kicking my butt, but I’m kicking back.”
Dahl’s wife, Cindy, said COVID doesn’t just affect the person who has the virus. “It affects the whole family,” she said.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been growing fast all across the country, including west central Minnesota. Kandiyohi County has 2,351 confirmed and probable cases, according to the Nov. 11 state report, and there have been eight deaths attributed to the disease in the county.
Statewide, the cumulative number of positive COVID cases is nearly 200,000, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Nationwide, about 1,000 people are dying from COVID every single day.
The increasing number of COVID cases doesn’t surprise Dahl, who predicts COVID will be with us well into 2021.
“Everyone is sick of 2020, but we’re still not out of the woods,” he said.
As the case loads grow, more families now have personal connections with COVID, whether it’s someone who has no symptoms or someone like Dahl who has long-term complications.
More people also now have close ties to individuals who have died from COVID.
“No matter how strong you are, no matter how much gumption or perseverance you have, you could be knocked out by something you can’t even see, and make you feel helpless,” Dahl said.
For those who get COVID, Dahl advises them to stay home, stay segregated from others in the household and don’t wait to seek medical care until “your breathing is so bad you need an ambulance.”
Wear a mask
Although wearing a mask has seemingly divided people into two camps, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear a mask over their mouth and nose when in public to help reduce the spread of respiratory droplets that could spread COVID.
In a video posted on the Carris Health website, Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith said the best way to reduce the number of positive COVID tests in the community is to wear a mask, along with frequent hand-washing and social distancing.
Although some people don’t get ill from COVID, she said if they don’t wear a mask, they could spread the virus to someone who could get very ill — or die — from it.
“By wearing this mask, it shows that you care,” said Firkins Smith, president and co-CEO of Carris Health in Willmar. “You care enough to protect everyone around you.”
Dahl said until there’s a “mindset to put others first” and people consistently wear masks, the country is going to continue to struggle to get COVID under control.
Dahl wishes there was a national mask mandate and is disappointed that law enforcement doesn’t enforce the state’s mask mandate. Enforcement would emphasize the seriousness of the virus and increase mask use, which he said could reduce infections, save lives and help local businesses stay open.
But Dahl said people need to stop blaming each other, look past previous mistakes and move forward with a new attitude and actions to protect others by wearing masks.
“It doesn’t matter what happened three months ago or two months ago or even last month. We just need to start today and go back to the thought of let’s help each other out,” he said.
“Think of your loved ones. Think of your friends. Think of your neighbor. Think of the person you don’t even know,” Dahl said.
Although the Dahls would like to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with family, they’ll continue to watch the numbers of COVID cases in the county before they decide whether there will be more than the two of them around the holiday table.
If the numbers aren’t down by then, he said, there will be virtual holiday celebrations in the Dahl home.