On Edge: A Denver COVID survivor finds her footing amid her fears

Until this year, Elizabeth Torres would not have called herself a particularly anxious person. Stressed, sure. Who wasn’t?

Torres was working a couple part-time jobs, taking care of her elderly grandparents, raising three kids on her own. Her son, the middle child, has been diagnosed with autism and he likes to get right up into her face, something she really can’t deal with now. When he comes to her lately, “Mom,” on his lips, she can imagine a fine spray of coronavirus cells landing upon her cheeks, nose, eyes.

She and her three kids were living in the basement of her grandparents’ place in southwest Denver when COVID-19 hit Colorado in early March. She made sure her grandma, who has dementia, and her grandpa, whose heart was failing, took their medications, and that her grandpa had his lunch when he headed to dialysis every other day.

Torres started feeling feverish toward the end of March. With frail grandparents, she decided to play it safe and move into a friend’s bedroom to quarantine.

And then it was like dominoes falling.

Her grandpa was hospitalized after a fall and then diagnosed with COVID-19. Torres’ fever spiked and she began laboring for breath. She went to the ER twice before being admitted with her own case of COVID, her grandpa in a room somewhere nearby. She is in her 30s, but overweight with high blood pressure and asthma, and the virus hit her hard. Her lungs felt like they were burning.

“I felt like, ‘I’m dying and I am going to die by myself,’” she says.

When her fever finally broke and she was able to breathe on her own a week later, Torres was discharged, oxygen tank in tow. Her 85-year-old grandfather wasn’t so lucky. He died at Denver Health on April 1, a few days after she left the hospital. She mourns not being able to say goodbye to the man who raised her as a father would.

It has taken months for Torres to begin to feel herself again and she says she does feel better, though she would not call it back to normal. Fear accompanies her now.

“I don’t want to go out anymore,” she says. “I don’t want to have it again. I think if I get it again, I might die.”

There are times when she does not recognize herself.

“I just feel mostly sad,” she says. “I am not like this. I am a person who loves to be out and about. I am very social. And there is just all of this. I can’t go outside. I can’t be with my friends. Coping with that has been very hard.”

She has taken to meditating frequently and changed her diet, drinking juices, taking vitamins, eating healthier, trying to walk in nearby Garfield Park. When she feels really bad, a friend will take her for a car ride; she will tell her kids that she just needs to chill for a while.

“I say, ‘Thank you for my health. Thank you for my strong heart. Thank you for my strong lungs.’ I say, ‘Thank you for my pillow.’ Simple things. ‘Thank you for my comfortable bed. Thank you I am awake and alive and breathing.’ I say, ‘I have food. I have a job. My kids are healthy.’”

You can reach Tina Griego at [email protected]

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