Stevie Hargenrater is resilient.
She gave birth to a nearly 10-pound baby without an epidural. She endured four major surgeries, including a hysterectomy.
She has fibromyalgia. She spent more than five years in the United States Army, including tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet, none of that compares to the pain the coronavirus put her through.
Hargenrater, 31, lives on a small animal sanctuary just south of Meadville. She’s best known for her love of animals and her service as the Crawford County humane police officer.
She has four dogs, four cats, two goats, two cows, two horses, four pigs and three rabbits.
Just recently her veterinary assistant program studies at Laurel Technical Institute were put on hold when she tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, which has spread throughout the world over the past few months.
Hargenrater’s encounter with the coronavirus occurred earlier this month when she began to have issues tasting and smelling. She initially thought it was just allergies before finding out a friend who she recently shared a water jug with had tested positive for COVID-19. Hargenrater’s test came back positive soon thereafter.
Then came a sore throat. That was followed by chest pain. “And then it went to full-on body,” she said.
Upon testing positive, Hargenrater reached out to everyone with which she made recent contact. All of them either tested negative or never had any symptoms, she said.
In addition to her congregation of animals, Hargenrater spent her quarantine period with her 10-year-old son Gauge, 2-year-old daughter Beretta plus a friend and her friend’s daughter. Hargenrater’s family grew by two during quarantine since the latter two happened to be visiting when Hargenrater tested positive.
None of them had any symptoms while quarantining with Hargenrater, she said.
Beretta, who sometimes calls Hargenrater “Elsa” so Hargenrater affectionately calls Beretta “Anna,” was born nine pounds and nine ounces, Hargenrater said. The average birth weight is widely reported to be 7.5 pounds, so a nine-plus-pound birth can be difficult on a woman’s body. An epidural can be used to block the pain during labor contractions, but Hargenrater went without it.
Hargenrater has had bilateral labral repairs — or shoulder surgery on each side — and a severe rectocele repair — kind of like a hernia repair, she said.
Six months ago, she had a hysterectomy, which was an operation to remove her uterus. She went to school the next day.
She has an issue with her trachea due to spending many hours working the burn pits during her time in Iraq and also had to deal with ulcers while in Iraq. She has to take medicine to control her fibromyalgia, which the Mayo Clinic says is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.
“I can handle pain,” she said with a laugh.
While she had COVID-19, things were much different.
“I was bawling. I could barely get up. It hurt so bad,” she said. “Honestly, the only way to explain it is like somebody trying to separate your muscles from your spine with a spoon.”
Some COVID-19 patients had to endure the pain for weeks or even months. About 490,000 have died worldwide because of the virus, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The world is closing in on 10 million confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Three things helped Hargenrater lessen the pain just five days after she tested positive: staying hydrated, a great support system and fresh air.
When word started to spread that Hargenrater tested positive, her friends reached out in droves. She didn’t have time to research the best ways to deal with the pain and rid herself of the virus — her friends had already done it for her.
“I’ve had so many friends taking care of me. I can’t believe it, honestly,” she said. “They’d bring bags of Gatorade and Bodyarmor juice that’s like super hydrating.”
She stayed hydrated with Gatorade, Bodyarmor and tonic water. She took Tylenol, muscle relaxers, vitamin D and vitamin C to both deal with the pain and speed up the recovery.
Hargenrater had the advantage of living on a small farm in a spread out township. Many who died from the virus were elderly people who lived in nursing homes or those who lived in cramped cities where social distancing was much more difficult.
“The fresh air helped a lot,” she said. “Staying in the stuffy house — it was bad. You had to like stay up and stay moving.”
Mornings were the worst on Hargenrater. To go from being immobile all night while sleeping to getting up in the morning, her body was “stiff, painful and nasty. But once I got moving in the day, it was a little bit better.”
Hargenrater was a specialist in the U.S. Army from June 2006 to January 2012. Over the years she grew close with the staff at the Crawford County VA Clinic on Conneaut Lake Road, saying, “they’re like family to me.”
Even a former therapist at the Crawford VA who moved to California a few years ago reached out to see how Hargenrater was coping with the virus.
Being a veteran meant she didn’t have to worry about any medical bills. The VA told her if her symptoms worsened and she was unable to breathe, she should go to the Emergency Room. She said she was fortunate to not have a severe case, so an ER visit wasn’t ever necessary.
For the most part, the coronavirus has hit urban areas harder than rural areas. Through noon June 26, Crawford County had 51 cases, according to health.pa.gov. That includes 39 confirmed and 12 probable cases. It’s assumed most of those people, like Hargenrater, have recovered.
Erie County is up to 572 cases, the most for one county in the northwestern corner of the state. Southeastern Philadelphia County, by comparison, has had roughly 21,000 cases.
Dozens of friends have reached out online since Hargenrater’s positive test. By scrolling through her messages, she noticed more than 50 people have offered words of encouragement.
“Maybe it’s just weird for them too because they didn’t know anybody that had it, so they were kind of interested,” she said.
The community support undoubtedly helped speed up her recovery.