“After 30 minutes of Zoom teaching, I had to spend five minutes lying down.” Elisabeth Stein, who teaches at the Department of Music and Movement Education/Rhythmics and Music Physiology, relates her experiences with COVID-19.

For this teacher of piano and instrumental improvisation, being unable to resume teaching in her accustomed way was a huge burden. “After having been on sick leave for a good three weeks, I still had zero energy and was forced to deal with frequent dizziness. Initially, the only way I could manage was by shortening every single lesson from 45 to 30 minutes, and even that was still an awful strain,” says Elisabeth Stein of her return to remote teaching.

© Karl Grabherr

This committed educator hopes that by speaking out about her experiences, she can help make people more aware just how serious this illness is. “COVID-19 is something that nobody should be taking lightly: beyond just your health, it also affects your psychological state, your social environment, and your work.” An especially rough thing for her was being out sick for three weeks this autumn. “I was sure I’d have to cut some corners, because three whole weeks aren’t exactly easy to make up. But happily, we managed well despite that—and I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention here just how great my students were.”

Lizl Stein, as she’s known to colleagues, became infected with SARS-CoV-2 towards the end of last October. Just how that happened is unclear: “It’s quite a mystery, really, because I’m not aware of having had contact with anyone who’d tested positive.” Her suspicion is that she caught it at work despite all the precautions that were already in place. “A student with whom I’d had no direct contact got sick around the same time I did. So I think it’s most probable that we were both infected by one and the same asymptomatic person. There’s no way of knowing that for sure, of course—I could’ve just as easily caught it at the supermarket.” Despite all this, Stein does still think that it’s important to adhere to the existing measures: “If we hadn’t been wearing masks, socially distancing, and airing out our rooms regularly, lots more people might have gotten sick.”

Lizl Stein describes the feelings of guilt she’s had as being especially draining. “Above and beyond the worries about your own health, you do soon start wondering just who all’s gotten infected because of you.” After all, no one had suspected anything during that long weekend she’d spent together with her family: “At first, I didn’t feel all that bad; I was able to cook and spend time together with them. None of us thought that what I had could be a COVID-19 infection—because for that, we thought, the symptoms were just too minor. The images that this illness tends to conjure up are of intensive care units rather than of headaches followed by a slight cough.” But before she went back to work at the mdw the following week, she did see a doctor to get tested just in case. “I thought to myself that I’d just go and make sure before I started teaching again. But then the test than came out positive, and I was immediately sent home.” Once she’d gotten over the initial shock at testing positive, her biggest worry was about her family and everyone else with whom she’d had contact. And indeed, every member of her family—six people altogether—eventually came down with COVID-19.

I have a huge amount of understanding for dramatic, existential hardships. And for that very reason, I’m asking everyone to please adhere to all measures! They’re an affordable price to pay for being able to have live lessons during lockdown and for the initial steps back towards normalcy that we’re now able to take.

Lizl Stein says the mdw’s contact tracing efforts impressed her as being as well organised. “That worked really well—but only at the mdw, unfortunately. The rest was pure confusion. And I only received my official quarantine notification two months later.”

After a few days of mild symptoms, things got worse. “It’s something we’ve all heard about quite often. You think you’ve almost recovered, and then—all of a sudden—you’re completely down for the count. The cough got worse, and I also began having circulatory problems.” The dizziness and exhaustion persist for nearly a month, and the cough likewise stays around for a while. “Even once you’ve gotten back on your feet, you can’t go anywhere—out of fear that you might still be infectious. It was a full two weeks later that I put on a mask and went out for my first walk all by myself. And that entire time, I’d also been completely unable to shop.” With her entire family having taken ill, they’d had to depend fully on help from friends. “It was really very touching how people looked after us.”

What Elisabeth Stein found surprising was just how long it took for the rest of her family to test positive. “The day I tested positive, all of them were still negative. It was only a couple days later that their infections got caught. So that’s something you just have to be aware of: the test really is only valid for the day on which you take it, and you could’ve actually long since been infected. My family’s proof of that.”

Lizl Stein continues to assiduously follow the rules that are in place. “Sure, I could decide that I don’t need a mask anymore because I’m immune now—and I did actually get my antibodies tested. But I wouldn’t even think of not wearing one. Even if you’re convinced that the virus can’t hurt you at all, you should still wear a mask out of solidarity with those around you. After all, we benefit from our society and all that it provides us with—like hospitals and schools. So we should all do our part, too, and wear a mask.”

Another thing about which this educator feels strongly is her support for the mdw’s Working Group on Climate Protection. “One thing is clear: we’re having to deal with this pandemic in part because we’ve put such a squeeze on animal habitats that we’re now coming into contact with pathogens that don’t do us any good. Everybody should be conscious of this, and we should be putting some thought into it—into what we could still be doing better, here.”

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