ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — When people think about COVID-19, the physical aspects are what tend to stick out most: fever, body aches, loss of smell and taste, cough, shortness of breath and other problems.
But for Jon Haaven, 87, of Alexandria, Minn., it was the mental aspect that nearly killed him.
Haaven ended up in a deep depression after a bout with COVID-19 in December.
In emails to the Alexandria Echo Press, where Haaven had once been publisher, he explained that he started to feel lousy in mid December. He insisted that his wife, Bonnie, take him to the emergency room, which she did on Dec. 21. He was then discharged.
There was another ER visit on Dec. 23 and then on Dec. 26, Haaven was finally hospitalized. He remained in the hospital for just a couple days and was discharged on Dec. 28.
“I had tested positive somewhere along this time,” he said. “But I had no outright symptoms. No fever, no aching joints; just an overpowering need to sleep.”
In the email, Haaven said, "I had no physical sickness, only the mental anguish that tormented me for days, weeks, on end.”
After being discharged from the hospital, Haaven said he remembers the next few weeks were spent sleeping, waking only for brief moments.
“When I would wake up, it felt like I was in a tunnel, of sorts. No walls, ceiling, nothing that I could touch, feel or smell,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to go back to sleep. It would be so comforting for me just to roll over, go back to sleep and never wake up.”
Haaven said he later found out that he expressed his wishes — of never waking up — to some of his five daughters.
“When they told Bonnie what my wishes were, she lit into me with both barrels blazing and in no uncertain terms said that was not going to happen,” he said. “I can recall her shouting at me and after 67 years of marriage, I’ve obviously learned to do as she says.”
It was a day or two later, he says, that his depression began to lift and he was finally back on the road to recovery.
On Jan. 28, Haaven, a self-proclaimed private man, sent out an email to his family and friends saying that "the worst is over. I feel good, eating well ... I do have oxygen available in the house and if I get too active, and the level happens to drop below 90, I’ll use it.."
In the email, he continued:
“COVID-19 is an insidious disease and I can relate to the alarming percentage of older patients who just don’t survive. Interestingly, in my case, it wasn’t just knowing you had the virus, but also quite aware that you are among the high risk people who had little chance of survival.
“I fell into rather deep depression and just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. I remember being disappointed and truly frustrated when I kept doing so. But I wanted to send my love to Bonnie, the girls and all before slipping away permanently so I occupied my awake time writing my farewell using my phone’s email. After several days I finished writing, but did not ‘send.’
“Every wakeup for the next several days, the first option I had was to send the email. All I had to do was push the button. What kept me from doing so? I was lucky. Unlike the others in my situation, I had the family with me 24-7.
“Bonnie tested positive for the virus right in the middle of all this ... Bonnie never did get sick, however, and she quickly resumed all of her activities. She was back, strong as ever.
“My family was an important and positive influence in my struggle to combat my depression. Eventually, my morbid thoughts of ‘all I want to do is fall asleep and not wake up’ faded away. I didn’t overcome and defeat my depression on my own. I remember being so thankful that I never did hit the ‘send’ button. Had I done so I know I would have fallen asleep for the last time."
Now, Haaven is nearly back to normal and said that he has no lingering signs of depression.
He hasn’t been outside his home since mid-December, despite having just bought a new vehicle. He said he is looking forward to driving it one day.
Haaven also said he doesn’t know how he contracted the virus. It could have been from family members who had mild cases of COVID-19. When it became essential, he said he was a “fervent mask-wearer and did all the right things.”
If there is a lesson to be learned from his experience, he said, it’s that COVID-19 is beatable, even in the mental capacity that he dealt with.
“Just don’t give up, as I wanted to do,” he said. “I kept thinking tomorrow may be a better day. And it was!”