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COVID-19 nearly took Marisel Salzger's life. Now, she's sharing how that harrowing experience encouraged her to take back control of her health and fitness.

By Marisel Salzger as told to Faith Brar
April 06, 2021
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Getting COVID Helped Me Realize the Importance of Putting My Health First

Being active was a huge part of my life when I was growing up in Australia. But in 2013, when my husband and I moved to Switzerland, my new demanding, fast-based job forced me to put my physical health on the back burner. Exercise quickly became an afterthought. (Related: How to Turn Your Stress Into Positive Energy)

Soon, we started having kids and I began traveling more for work, often as much as three weeks out of every month. I had so much on my plate that being active was even less of a priority. I canceled my gym membership because I used it so infrequently that it wasn't worth the cost.

While I didn't really gain any weight, I also never really got back into shape after having my first child. As a result, I didn't feel very strong or confident in my skin. (Related: How to Boost Your Confidence In 5 Easy Steps)

After years of keeping up with my stressful lifestyle, my mental health began to suffer, too. I developed migraines each time I traveled. I had no energy and felt anxious all of the time.

I ended 2019 feeling exhausted. Then, the coronavirus pandemic pandemic hit.

How I Learned I Had COVID-19

In the early stages of the pandemic, I recall feeling intense muscle fatigue after a weekend workout. At first, I attributed my soreness to the fact that I hadn't exercised in some time and pushed myself really hard that day. But when Monday came around, I developed a headache and a fever. By Tuesday, I was struggling to breathe.

My primary care physician ordered a chest X-ray that showed I was developing pneumonia. My doctor told me to get tested for COVID-19 straight away. I tested positive, and my life quickly turned upside-down. My breathing got so labored that I was advised by my doctor to go to the hospital immediately. (Related: I Got Encephalitis As a Result of COVID — and It Nearly Killed Me)

As my husband dropped me off at the hospital, unable to come inside with me, I remember thinking that it might be the last time I ever see him.

Things Got Worse Before They Got Better

At the hospital, I learned that my blood oxygen level was dangerously low and it was difficult to breathe. As if that wasn't concerning enough, before I was taken to my room, I was asked if I consented to be resuscitated. (The doctors explained that they have to ask this question while a sick person is still coherent because things can go downhill fast. Given how quickly my health had regressed, I knew that to be true.)

During this time, I was almost completely isolated in the hospital. Each day, doctors would come in for a few minutes to measure my vital signs. Then, they'd walk out, and I wouldn't see anyone until the following day. I had no idea how, or when, I'd feel better. (Related: This Video of an Intubated COVID-19 Patient Playing the Violin Will Give You Chills)

As each hour (and day) passed, my health continued to deteriorate. On my fourth day in the hospital, doctors noticed that my inflammatory markers were very high. I was told that I might not be able to breathe within the next 24 hours and would need to receive ventilation. (Related: Find the Best CBD for Inflammation)

Battling COVID Marisel

The doctors also told me that I might need to be put into a medically induced coma and, while the hope was that I would recover from my illness during this rest, that there was a chance I would possibly never wake up. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I never expected to have to confront my mortality so young. I reasoned that, at very least, I could speak to my husband and kids one last time if I were to be put in a coma. (Related: How My Lifelong Anxiety Has Actually Helped Me Deal with the Coronavirus Panic)

Miraculously, it was around this time that I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of losing my ability to breathe, within the next day, my fever broke for the first time and my blood oxygen levels began to rise.

Nearly two weeks after developing my first coronavirus symptoms, I was finally sent home.

Learning to Put My Health First Again

Battling COVID-19 took a huge toll on my body. For six weeks following my discharge from the hospital, each time I tried to lie down, my lungs felt weak and heavy — as if I was drowning. I was forced to sleep while sitting up on the couch. (Related: How Common Are the Long-Term Effects of COVID-19?)

As I recovered, I also became increasingly frustrated, thinking, why did this happen to me? Would it happen again? And if so, would I have the strength to fight it? Of course, prior to contracting COVID-19, I wasn't necessarily very physically fit or strong. Plus, I was extremely stressed and my personal well-being hadn't been a priority for some time. (Related: Holly Rilinger Shared the Ups and Downs of Her COVID-19 Recovery)

I realized that getting back into shape was one of the only things I could do to feel in control of my life again. So, a week or so into my recovery, I began taking short walks around the block. But I moved at a snail's pace and continued to have difficulty breathing. Then, roughly seven weeks after leaving the hospital and having been was cleared for physical activity, I found a program called Studio SWEAT onDemand.

Soon my strength and stamina began to increase, and I found myself signing up for a yearly membership. I set a goal to complete one class each day.

Once I established that daily habit, I gave myself weekly goals to keep myself motivated. I did whatever it took to keep myself engaged, gradually ramping up to do six 45-minute classes per week. (Related: The Ultimate 40-Day Plan to Crush Any Goal, Featuring Jen Widerstrom)

Although the physical results of working out didn't happen overnight, the mental benefits were immediate. I felt a sense of pride for making such a big commitment and sticking to it. It also felt amazing to take control of something that had been such a huge source of guilt in my life for such a long time. (Related: The Biggest Mental and Physical Benefits of Working Out)

As the weeks passed, I started taking more challenging classes. Soon, I could easily do a 20-minute jog without feeling like my lungs were going to explode. I knew it was thanks in part to Studio SWEAT onDemand for giving me the motivation I needed to prioritize my health and fitness after battling COVID-19.

Looking Ahead

Today, thanks to regaining an active lifestyle, I feel stronger and more confident than I have in years. (Related: Here's How Working Out Can Make You More Resilient to Stress)

I've also felt that, by putting my health first, I've become a better role model for my children. When my kids see me working out and taking care of my health, they're encouraged to do the same. I want my kids, and anyone reading this story, to know that putting your physical health last just isn't worth it. Not only does neglecting your health put you at risk for innumerable diseases, but it also decreases your quality of life. (Related: How Effective Is the COVID-19 Vaccine?)

Taking care of yourself and doing what makes you happy is not selfish. When you make time for your own wants and needs, you're more alive and more available to the world around you. The biggest lesson I've learned through all of this is that you're the least selfish when you're honoring your own sense of self, which is what I plan to base my life on moving forward.

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