COLUMBIA – When the pandemic hit, it made life more difficult for everyone.
Even as restrictions ease and vaccination rates increase, the impacts of the last year are far from behind us.
For Columbia woman Blake Nave, the past year has been a fight to get her life back, one step at a time.
The steps of recovery
March 18, 2020, is a day Nave said she’ll never forget.
“It was a random Tuesday that started with just having a sneeze,” she said. “Later that day I went to the grocery store, and while I was at the store I started to black out.”
Nave got tested the next morning. Thirty-six hours later, she had a positive COVID-19 test.
“It was in that moment I thought my life was over,” she said. “We didn’t know what else it (COVID) would come with. No one could help me because it was so new.”
Nave spent weeks quarantined at home alone. In those weeks, family, friends, and co-workers dropped off food, medicine and groceries. She also said it was in those weeks alone her breathing started to worsen, and her memory started to fade. She said she couldn’t remember her own address.
Nave was admitted to University Hospital in the beginning of April 2020. Her stay only lasted a few days since she said there wasn’t much else to help her symptoms other than time and rest.
After her first test, Nave tested positive twice more at MU Health Care testing sites in April 2020. She was spending more weeks at home alone, which she said left her unsure where to go next.
“It just made me think, what was my purpose?” Nave said.
Her flu-like symptoms eventually decreased. Nave said she was still having a hard time breathing and remembering things.
She was able to return to her job as a Patient Service Representative at MU Health Care at the beginning of May 2020. Nave said returning to work became a whole new challenge.
“I could no longer retain information and make sure that I got the job done in a timely manner,” she said. “I would get on the phone with patients and stutter because I could not find the words. I would repeat myself.”
Nave joined Mizzou Therapy Services’ COVID-19 Recovery Program.
Her first step was speech therapy with MU Health Care’s Therapy Clinical Manager, Tory Sisson. The two began word-finding games and exercises to help Nave’s memory.
“We didn’t expect to see people with memory loss,” Sisson said. “We didn’t expect to see people with word-finding difficulties or paying attention.”
Nave said she owes much of her recovery to Sisson.
“I had to ask Tori, how do I remember where my car is?” Nave said. “If it wasn’t for her help in a lot of this, I don’t think I would have made it this far.”
Sisson said the impacts of COVID-19 on people’s speech and memory are still a work-in progress.
“Continuing to work from patients with this interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary approach is important to help people improve and make sure they know there are places that they can get help if they’re struggling,” she said.
As a former gymnast and track-and-field runner, Nave said she’s used to living an active life. Her recovery from the virus made physical activity another obstacle.
“Going from working out five days a week as an adult to not being able to walk back and forth from my bathroom to my kitchen was something I didn’t understand,” Nave said.
She also started physical therapy with MU Health Care’s Human Performance Program Director. She needed to relearn things she’d been doing her whole life, like walking.
“We got on the turf, and I walked down and back,” Nave said. “That was the amount of cardio we did for the (first) day. That walk was the hardest thing I had done in a long time.”
Human Performance Program Director Jacob Linn said they needed to start small because of how the virus impacts people’s endurance and weight training.
“You lose so much muscle mass,” Linn said. “You lose your ability to maintain a certain level of work.”
Linn said starting small was lunges, push ups, rows, and squats. Eventually, he said they slowly pushed to CrossFit style workouts.
While her exercise levels have improved, Nave said it’s still a work in progress.
“I can walk now further distances, still very out of breath,” she said. “I cannot run yet, still a year later.”
Even out of breath, Nave is still taking steps forward in her recovery. She said this process came with finally choosing to believe in herself, and allowing herself to move on.
“I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” she said. “Once I let those issues out, I felt like I was able to gradually move on. I’m proud of myself for where I am.”
What her symptoms mean
According to MU Health Care, patients like Nave are known as COVID-19 long haulers. This is when symptoms of the virus such as fatigue, shortness of breath, decreased strength and coordination, and memory and attention problems last weeks or even months after testing positive.
“It really is something we’re still learning every day, especially as we look at people getting further and further out from the virus,” Sisson said.
The CDC reports these ongoing symptoms can happen across multiple degrees of the virus, even patients who had mild or asymptomatic symptoms.
Who she is
Blake Nave is a 27-year-old born in Anderson, Indiana. She moved to Kansas City in 2010 and graduated from Lincoln University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She currently lives in Columbia and works at MU Health Care as a Patient Service Representative.
Nave is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. In her free time, she said she enjoys watching Netflix show “Law & Order,” or doing anything with makeup. She also said she enjoys her alone time, which she had to get used to in the last year.
She has four siblings and said she enjoys going to visit her family in Kansas City on the weekends.
How you can take your next step
There are multiple therapy and recovery programs people experiencing any long-term COVID-19 symptoms can enroll in. Mizzou Therapy Services’ COVID Recovery Program offers in person and virtual services.