A year after the pandemic came to our island when Barbara “Pinky” Regan was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, she is back out enjoying Vero’s reviving social scene. But she says her bout with the virus was difficult and has had lasting effects.
“It’s been a long haul. My taste is altered, and I’m tired – but that could be just because I’m getting older,” says Regan.
Besides having less energy and getting periodic stomach aches, she’s had to deal with an aversion to several things she previously loved – wine, orange juice and coffee.
“Some people lose their sense of taste. I could taste; I just didn’t like the taste,” Regan told Vero Beach 32963 last week. “I loved coffee, but it tasted horrible to me. I had to learn to like that again.”
It was in early March of last year that word began to circulate at clubs Regan frequents – John’s Island, Quail Valley, and the Vero Beach Bridge Center – that she had fallen ill with COVID-19, which was just beginning to raise alarms in the United States.
Regan had been busily attending social events, entertaining guests and playing bridge, as was her norm.
She’s still not certain where she contracted the virus but thinks she may have gotten it at the 2020 Art in Bloom event from a friend who later died. “I think he might have given it to me. I’m not sure. It’s doesn’t really matter. No one knew the magnitude of it at that point.”
She is still puzzled by the randomness with which people are affected by the virus. She and her husband, Bill, both got it, but a guest she spent time with just before she fell ill never tested positive.
“I had houseguests. I was going out for dinner and entertaining. I remember wanting to play golf, but I was just too tired. I even wished that my houseguest would leave. I just needed to get some sleep,” recalls Regan, usually a very energetic person.
When she realized something was wrong, Regan went to Dr. Gerald Pierone, a local infectious disease specialist. She wasn’t expecting a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“At the time, it was barely on people’s radar. But Dr. Pierone insisted on testing me for COVID. It was the first one of those tests he did.”
Five days later, Regan got the call.
She had tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, she participated in a trial under Dr. Pierone that tested for antibodies. That participation brought back memories of working in immunology research at a medical school in Buffalo, New York, in the 1960s.
The long period of quarantine and gradual recovery after her diagnosis was tough, but Regan says virtual bridge was a saving grace.
“It’s sort of a blur, actually,” she says of her isolation. “Nothing was going on, and days were going by. I’ve never had such a remote life. When I was well enough, I started playing bridge online. A lot!”
For weeks, she played for two hours every day, along with attending online lectures on immunology and other topics and Zooming with friends and family.
Even now that she’s getting out more, she still plays online several times a week. “That part has been great,” she says. “Playing online bridge is a lot different. It’s more intense.” And she can play with friends no matter where they are.
It was June before she finally felt up to going out again. The reaction of some people she encountered while dining out or playing bridge with small groups of friends surprised her.
“People gave me strange looks and said I was crazy. It really was something. I think they were afraid that I could give it to them.”
Once she knew that she was no longer contagious, Regan was anxious to get back in the swing of things. “It was so great to see people,” she says.
“I’m curious what it’s going to be like when you’re really allowed to do whatever you want again,” she says. “Will people return to their lives as if the past year never happened?”
Regan herself plans to resume one important pre-pandemic activity that she skipped in the months after her illness.
Last summer, she didn’t go north to Buffalo or the Niagara Peninsula in Canada as she usually does. “Canada was off-limits, and I didn’t want to quarantine for two weeks. My husband was happy to stay put, so I just laid low all summer and followed a healthy regime.”
This year, though, she hopes to head north for a visit with her daughters and grandchildren, one of whom she hasn’t seen for 18 months. She’d also love to get over the border to see friends in Canada. “We’ll just have to wait and see,” she says.
Reflecting on the seemingly indiscriminate nature of the virus, Regan wonders why some of her younger and outwardly healthier friends succumbed to the virus or had more extreme cases. A two-time breast cancer survivor herself, she adds, “I do have a suppressed immune system. I’ve had a lot of illnesses, so I guess I’m tough.”
Comparing the two diseases, she says “having cancer was much worse, but I didn’t have as bad a case of COVID as others. I didn’t have to go to the hospital. With cancer, there was a lot more anxiety. I felt horrible [with COVID-19], but I didn’t think I was going to die.”
Regan, who lost several friends to COVID or from complications afterward, says that people should continue to take the disease seriously. “It’s a big deal. If you think you’ve got it, you really should get tested and be honest. Take precautions.”
“I’m back out there socializing, but I don’t have as much energy,” says Regan, who has had her COVID-19 vaccination but continues to wear her mask in deference to other people.
“I’m back to walking and exercising every day. I swim whenever I can. I even took a golf lesson recently. I haven’t played in almost a year, so I’m rusty.”
Her bottom line after contracting and recovering from COVID-19 in the midst of a year-long, ongoing pandemic: “Take precautions and make safe choices, but live your life.”