It’s the kind of story that defines 2020.
For months, Mitch Engel and his family of four had diligently taken precautions to stay healthy, stay safe. And yet, October found them dealing with COVID-19 in their own home.
His wife Emily got sick first. A flight attendant, she likely caught it on the airplane. “The airline requires masks of course, but most of the crew’s time now is spent reminding passengers to ‘Pull your mask up!'” Fatigued, achy, and feverish, Emily stayed in bed for a day or two with flu-like symptoms. “In the current climate, we decided to have her tested,” says Mitch.
Two days later, Emily’s test results came back positive for COVID-19. Having already spent five days together in close quarters, the rest of the family would need to be tested.
When contacted with their results, Mitch’s was positive, the kids’ were negative. Based on advice from the health department, “We basically treated the two kids as if they were positive.” By now, both adults were clearly symptomatic.
“My headache was the worst,” recalls Mitch. “I was tired. I had very little energy. My bones and joints felt like I was 90 years old.” (Mitch is a fit 36.) “I suffer from migraines occasionally, but this was worse than any migraine I’ve ever had.”
He also lost his sense of taste and smell. “I’m telling you, it was probably my least favorite symptom. I lost my desire for coffee. I didn’t enjoy eating. It was bizarre. And when my sense of taste came back, it had changed.”
Fortunately, the children experienced little to no symptoms. “It didn’t affect the kids all that much, but really kicked the adults’ butts,” Mitch admits. “I’d heard that people my age and younger often don’t even know they have COVID, that symptoms are pretty mild, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll be fine.’ And then for two and a half weeks, it was just miserable.”
Quarantined at home, Mitch worked remotely when he could manage the headaches. The couple made meals for the kids, and Jackson attended school remotely. “My grandmother did all the grocery shopping,” says Mitch, who left the house only one time, when he was asked to be retested.
The couple talked with public health daily. “They seemed legitimately concerned and wanted to make sure that we were all right,” says Mitch. “Imagine the volume of calls they deal with every day. For someone to be that busy and also be pleasant to talk to, that was a nice experience.”
When it comes to vaccine, Mitch is clear: “I would rather not have COVID again, so we’ll be getting the vaccine when it’s available.”
Now back at work and on the other side of COVID, Mitch freely shares his experience with others as a cautionary tale – but not everyone is receptive.
“It shocks me to speak with people who don’t think COVID is real,” he says, recalling a post-quarantine visit he made to a local business he’d patronized for years. “I walked in with a mask and it was almost like, ‘Who are you? And why are you walking into my building with a mask?’ We started chatting and I told them that I had tested positive, essentially the whole family did. They started grilling me about my symptoms and what I experienced. And there was this undertone of ‘you’re full of it, none of this is real.’ It blows me away. I still don’t understand how people can have that perspective.”
With over 1800 cases already confirmed in Kittitas County and climbing, the realities of COVID are hitting home for more and more of us. And while Mitch and his family would have rather not gone through the experience, they’re hopeful that the real stories of local COVID survivors will have a positive impact in the community.
“You hear it a lot, but it’s true: we’re all in this together.”