While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate discussion across the globe, grateful survivors of the virus on Long Island face their own troubling questions.
Why were they spared when upward of 55,000 have died worldwide, including 6,500 in the United States?
And do they risk getting sick again? Medical experts believe coronavirus antibodies probably will prevent re-infection, but research is limited, and how long any immunity lasts could be dependent on such factors as whether the virus mutates.
As the Long Island survivors search for answers, they also are forced to reacclimate themselves to the new normal. Here are two of their stories:
Linda Langer stepped out of her Bellmore home Wednesday for the first time in two weeks to take a much-needed walk around the block.
She didn’t make it more than a few feet before she broke down in tears — the uncertainty, fear and an overwhelming sense of relief spilling onto the pavement.
Ten years after successfully beating back breast cancer, Langer, 56, who runs a Melville-based staffing agency, now had a new title for her resume: COVID-19 survivor.
“I never wanted to be another survivor, but I am lucky that I am,” Langer said. “It’s so emotional to go through.”
Langer first started feeling ill on March 15, waking up to a 100.5-degree fever, chills, a cough and sore throat. Then came the weakness, lack of energy and appetite, and the loss of smell and taste.
“It was just completely debilitating,” she said.
Langer went to a walk-in clinic and was able to get tested immediately for the virus because she had been in Israel in mid-February.
She quarantined herself in an upstairs bedroom, with her roommate and boyfriend, Danny Sarfati, 59, who has not shown any symptoms, dropping meals off outside the room. Heavy doses of Tylenol and rest eventually allowed her to recover.
Days before her two-week quarantine ended, the husband of Langer’s first cousin died from the virus. In the Orthodox tradition, he was buried immediately, most family unable to attend.
Eventually, Langer forced herself to take a walk. She put on a mask and gloves, still cautious and uncertain whether she can contract the virus a second time.
The tears came nearly immediately.
“Just walking around the block felt like sitting shiva,” said Langer, referring to the weeklong mourning period following a Jewish person's burial. “I just could not stop crying.”
Langer now finds herself as part of a selective club with nearly 10,000 American members: patients who contracted COVID-19 and have now recovered.
Lately, Langer has begun asking herself the same questions she did after her bout with breast cancer.
Why had she survived when so many, including her brother, who died from cancer, had not? Why had she been spared from the virus when thousands of others are suffering so badly? And what does she do now?
For now, Langer is trying to resume some level of normalcy. Work. Laundry. Cooking for a small Passover seder.
And she is being screened for a possible plasma donation, a Hail Mary treatment that doctors hope can help very ill COVID-19 patients.
“There is no normal anymore,” Langer said. “But I am more grateful than ever that I’m back to normal health wise.”
The virus may be all but gone, but COVID-19 has left an indelible mark on Norman Daniels that will probably never go away.
"It's a question of fear and the fear of the unknown," said Daniels, the girls track coach at Brentwood High School. "We don't know exactly what direction this is going to go and how this is going to end up."
Daniels, 69, of Bay Shore, and his wife, Judy, the boys track team coach at the high school, each began to feel ill on March 25.
It started mild for them both, coughing up phlegm and a mild fever. But it got progressively worse. Night chills and a lack of energy during the day. He didn't touch a bite of food for three days.
They went to a Bay Shore walk-in clinic and got tested, but they both felt so ill by March 29 that the Danielses drove themselves to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, before the results came back. Doctors sent Judy home but admitted Norman.
His condition was relatively mild. He would spend four days in an isolated room, sleeping, watching television and taking antibiotics.
Eventually, Daniels said he had to turn off the news and reports of hospitals in Queens and Manhattan so overrun with COVID-19 patients that they needed freezer trucks to store the bodies. Not surprisingly, Daniels began to question his own mortality.
"How am I surviving this and others are not? You start thinking about your faith," he recalled. "But you realize that you have to believe. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. At the same time, though, you need to be able to believe in the people around you."
On April 1, Daniels was released from the hospital, sent home to recuperate and begin a new 14-day quarantine — Norman downstairs and Judy in an upstairs bedroom. The results of their earlier test came back positive for them both that same day.
While Norman said he believes the worst is now behind him, he remains admittedly shellshocked, still struggling to make sense of what has happened. And starting to navigate the path forward.
"When things happen, it always happens to the other guy or to someone else," Daniels said of the ordeal. "But right now I am that other guy and I am that someone else. So I've realized that I am not above anything that goes on in this Earth."