A 36-year-old, former professional hockey player from Smithers is sharing her personal experience of battling a severe case of COVID-19.
Haleigh Callison told The Interior News she hoped going public would both inspire others to take coronavirus precautions seriously and help quiet at least some of the pandemic-denial and minimization rhetoric surrounding the disease.
“I knew I wanted to share because I felt like if I could help one person then it’s worth sharing,” she said.
“There’s definitely some nerves, because you don’t know how people are going to judge or whatever, but ultimately the judging was less important than if it has the potential to save somebody essentially, or actually, that could be the case.”
She did not come forward right away, but when she saw recent social media posts by people claiming the pandemic was just a political thing or a hoax or no worse than the regular flu, she was prompted to act calling those kinds of posts “a slap in the face” to people trying to recover and those who have lost loved ones.
“It was just really disheartening, and people I really respect, too, and I’m, like, ‘how are you feeling this way and feeling like it’s OK to share that?’,” she said. “I got a little frustrated about that, and felt… I don’t need to bite back on their responses or their posts, but I could purely just share my own experience and that’s what I did.”
In a Facebook post Nov. 29, Callison recounted her harrowing bout with the disease.
Despite being young, generally healthy, active and having followed, she felt, all the public health guidelines, Callison tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 10. She said getting that result was terrifying not only because she didn’t know how it would affect her personally, but that she might have passed it along to others.
She said she was extremely sick for eight days and very sick for a total of two weeks with symptoms including: throwing up, constant nausea, body aches and pains “like nothing I have ever felt before,” diarrhea, headaches, loss of appetite, scary and bad thoughts and dreams, trouble sleeping.
She added she lost 10 pounds in less than 10 days and suffered from “unbelievable fatigue.”
On top of it all, she worried about loved ones.
“I remember clearly laying on the floor of my bath with the shower on, literally shaking in pain and ready to vomit for the fifth time that day thinking and crying because I know some of my family and friends would not get through this — whether their age, health, immunocompromised or other challenges I may or may not know about,” she wrote.
Now, almost two weeks after being released from isolation by public health as being non-infectious, she said she is still sleeping 12 to 15 hours a day and has to take frequent breaks from working because even mild activity is exhausting.
As a lumber trader with Olympic Industries in Vancouver, she said fortunately her job lends itself to working from home as she and her co-workers have been doing since the pandemic started in March.
“I’m really fortunate, my company is very supportive and ultimately made it clear I have to take care of myself before anything else,” she said.
“I just take the rest when I need it and I’m not pushing myself too hard because I can’t. I feel very, very lucky to have a job that allows me to recover because a lot of people don’t.”
In addition to encouraging people to follow the public health precautions and restrictions, Callison is hoping sharing her experience will inspire people to be kind, considerate of others and think twice about what they put online.
“I guess, I would ask, before you post something take two minutes to sit and think, if my parent, my best friend, my grandparent was in hospital not knowing how they will recover or if they will recover — or your partner was laying on the bathroom floor in pain and vomiting — would you still post what you are about to say?”
Many people in Smithers will remember Callison as an elite hockey prospect who went on to play at the university level while studying human kinetics at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
From there, she would go on to play professionally for seven seasons, first in Vancouver; then Berlin, Germany; and finally in the prestigious Canadian Women’s Hockey League as a member of the Toronto Furies.
While she lists playing in the top women’s league in the world, getting to play with team Canada and Team USA players, travelling to 15 different countries playing the sport she loves as among her career highlights, she still counts her time playing university hockey as the pinnacle of her hockey career.
“My best friends in my life are the people I got to play with at UBC,” she said. “If I had to choose, that’s where my heart is, as a T-bird.”
She continued to play hockey following her professional career in the elite South Coast Women’s Hockey League until 2018 and after that in both women’s and men’s recreational leagues in Vancouver until she was struck with COVID-19.
She hopes to get back to that as soon as possible.
“My coping with stress mechanism is sports and working out, so to not have that is not fun, especially in an anxious time,” she said.
She is also looking forward to going back to the Canucks for Kids Fund — for which she serves as program manager — when that gets up and running again.
“I miss that part, I love the giving back and I get to make an impact in that aspect as well,” she said.
After graduating from UBC, Callison worked as a strength coach for 14 years before being recruited by Olympia into the lumber trading business as a cedar specialist.
“Growing up in Smithers, coming from a mill town, I was shocked at how little I knew about the industry until I was in it,” she said.
While it may seem like a huge departure from previous career, she doesn’t really see it that way.
“The way I see it is that they’re both people businesses,” she said. “Ultimately, I like people and I like to work with people and as much as it is sales, it’s ultimately relationships; it’s been a lot of fun.”
Always a trailblazer, Callison, is the only female trader in a company of 20 male traders, but she hopes that will eventually change.
“I think it’s just not something a lot of women think about as a job opportunity, but we want to hire them,” she said.
Callison still has family in Smithers and normally gets back at least once a year, usually at Christmas, but she won’t be coming home this year.
“I just don’t feel it’s the right thing to do with the regulations,” she explained. “Even though I’ve had it and technically I’m probably fine, I am a nerd for following rules and I just feel it’s not the right time to come back
She does hope to make more frequent trips home in the future though through her work in the lumber industry.
“It’s so beautiful and to get that time up there would be awesome,” she said.
And she hopes her story will have a positive impact in her hometown.
“My heart is in Smithers,” she said. “I just want everyone there to be safe.”