By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BOZEMAN – Shortness of breath, severe fatigue and a complete loss of taste and smell: these are the symptoms described by Bozeman local Chris Lohss. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March.
For many, life is slowly returning to a semblance of reality before the COVID-19 pandemic seized control of the world. For Lohss, one of 478 Montanans and 1,528,235 people nationwide diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, the path back to “normal” has been long.
“All the unknowns really kind of freak you out when you’re sitting in bed and you’re aching and your lungs are getting attacked by this thing,” Lohss said. “It kind of gives you a little reality check.”
At 49 years old and maintaining an active lifestyle, Lohss lives in Bozeman with his wife Sharon, 48, who also tested positive for COVID-19 in March. He’s owned and operated his own construction company, Lohss Construction, for nearly three decades, what he calls “normal life” for him and Sharon.
Unsure where exactly he contracted the virus, Lohss began to experience COVID-19 symptoms on March 17. “I thought I had a little flu bug, felt better, went ice climbing with some friends and the next morning it was like I got hit by a truck,” he said.
After Bozeman Deaconess hospital doctors told him that, at the time, testing capacity was limited, Lohss returned home to quarantine where his symptoms worsened, ultimately leading to a second request for a COVID-19 test. He received his positive test confirmation later that week.
“I was kind of shocked that I actually had it,” he said. “I thought it was just a nasty bug and after I tested positive it did kind of come back after I got out in the woods that day. [After] I got tested, then it really set in for another four or five solid days.”
Lohss recalled the earliest symptoms being body aches, fever and an undeniable lack of energy, finding simple tasks like retrieving the mail completely wiped him out. The virus reached its peak about 10 days after his diagnosis, robbing him of his sense of smell and taste while also constricting his breathing.
“It feels like somebody’s got a cam strap around your chest and it’s tightened down,” he said.
Even with the virus in full control, Chris struggled to remain in bed. He kept up with work tasks and described venturing out for an 80-mile snowmobile ride with his son, feeling completely drained afterward.
“We really can’t afford to just forget about work and really take the time we needed to get through this, so I think that definitely prolonged my symptoms,” he said. “Just trying to muddle through the work, as Sharon did as well … I don’t think that did us any favors.”
After displaying no symptoms for four days, the Gallatin City-County Health Department told Lohss he was no longer at risk of viral transmission. He tried normal tasks once again, but things still weren’t entirely normal.
After the health department issued him a clean bill of health, Lohss ran into a friend walking her dog and admitted to her that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Her reaction, Lohss said, was like many who learn someone tested positive for the virus.
“Their eyes just kind of light up and people are like ‘Woah, step back from this guy,’ he said. “Then my dog was kind of running around her dog and … panic set in a little bit, like ‘hey, don’t let our dogs touch.’”
Lohss continued to feel a stigma in public. When a hospital receptionist asked if he had been in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, he admitted that he himself had been diagnosed. The body language of the people in line behind him shifted. He got some questioning looks.
Now, over two full months after first experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, Lohss says the lingering effects are finally dissipating. “Slowly I’m getting back to my normal self,” he said. “It is kind of bewildering how long it’s taken.”
His wife Sharon is not experiencing the same rate of recovery, however, still grappling with the virus. Both her and her husband’s experiences are further proof of how unique each individual experience with COVID-19 is.
Lohss described his bout with COVID-19 as a “moderate” case. He was never treated at the hospital, but he did receive an Albuterol inhaler to assist him with his shortness of breath.
He’s now focused on the road ahead. While he’s glad that the economy is beginning to reopen, he also urges everyone to remain diligent to help prevent further spread.
“[If] you’re at the grocery store or the drug store and you don’t know if that person has an immune deficiency or they’re a cancer survivor or what not, put your mask on,” he said. “You don’t know if you’re carrying it.”
Even after testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies, Chris possesses a deep fear of contracting the virus again. His message is simple: “I don’t care how healthy you are, you don’t want it.”
(COVID-19 statistics correct as of EBS press time)