How it feels to be a singer recovering from COVID-19

As Qamil Wright struggled with intense coronavirus symptoms throughout August, she briefly questioned if she’d ever be able to perform again

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Qamil Wright

A few weeks after contracting the coronavirus in early August, after testing negative, Qamil Wright continued to experience symptoms, most of them concentrated in her lungs, which started to spark concerns about long-haul COVID and the impact it could have on her career as a singer.

“Somewhere along the line I started to read about people … who had first had COVID a year ago and are still dealing with it,” Wright said by phone in late September. “So that was definitely on my mind, because I need my lungs to do my job, to be able to perform. I’ve been doing vocal exercises everyday, just trying to keep things warmed up, but at this point I could not fully belt a song out by any means. … There have definitely been moments where I freaked out, like, what if I can’t sing? But in dealing with a really good doctor and getting really good treatment and strong antibiotics, the fact I can even have this conversation and laugh is huge progress, because I couldn’t have done this even two days ago.”

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When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Wright discontinued performing and hosting events, including an open mic she ran under her Soul Dope umbrella. For the next 15 months, she socially distanced and masked, focusing on expanding her skillset, taking online classes and earning a certification in women’s entrepreneurship, in addition to working part-time delivering groceries for Instacart. Then, earlier this summer, with vaccine rates increasing and COVID counts dropping, Wright started to explore the idea of bringing back her Soul Dope Sundays event, though perhaps on a smaller scale. “And then the numbers started going up again,” she said, “so I decided not to.”

Over the last 18 months, Wright experienced a sensation common to many, where COVID became an increasingly more real presence in her life. In the earliest months of the pandemic, she didn’t know anyone who had contracted the virus, but as the weeks stretched on, this circle started to shrink, and Wright started to hear about friends of friends of who were ill with the coronavirus, and then eventually close friends and family members. In August, not long after Wright came down with COVID, a college friend died of the disease.

“And I always thought it was serious, but that was an extra layer of ‘wow,’” Wright said.

Prior to catching COVID, Wright went back and forth on the vaccine, hesitant to be among the earliest to receive a shot. Toward late summer, though, she decided it was time, planning to schedule an appointment for her first shot following a long-planned trip to Baltimore. “It was hard to find time to do it, and then I was still kind of waiting to see which vaccine I wanted to get,” said Wright, who came down with the virus on her trip and ended up self-quarantining in her Baltimore hotel room before making the drive back to Columbus alone. “A lot of my family members have been vaccinated, and a few of them work in health care, so I had made up my mind to do it. I just didn’t do it fast enough.”

Wright said her earliest COVID symptoms felt like the onset of the flu, including swollen neck glands and a mild fever. Within a few days, however, these symptoms intensified "to where it felt like I got hit by a train,” Wright said. For nearly two weeks, the singer's symptoms alternated between headaches, a sore throat and the chills before subsiding. At that point, Wright tested negative for the virus. But before she could even sigh in relief, new symptoms developed, including an intense cough, fatigue and breathing issues.

“I couldn’t do something like get dressed without feeling like I completely needed to sit down,” said Wright, who ended up returning to the hospital several times throughout August and September. “First they gave me a prescription and sent me home, and a week later I went back, still wheezing, so they said, ‘Let’s try some steroids.’ Then, last Friday, my chest was tight and I could not catch my breath, and I was taking short, sharp breaths just to get some air. I drove myself to the emergency room and I got out the car and walked through the door, and that was as far as I could go.”

After being helped into a wheelchair by a passing nurse, Wright was given a more thorough exam, including a CT scan, at which point she was diagnosed with double pneumonia. Doctors prescribed new medications, and following three days of bedrest the shortness of breath and cough finally started to dissipate. 

While Wright is still in recovery, she said the experience has given her a new sense of perspective moving forward, in addition to reinvigorating her passion for making music (she’s already plotting a new album for 2022).

“It really made me feel a determination to live,” said Wright, who plans to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine as soon as she’s cleared by her doctors. “There were moments when I couldn’t breathe, where my heart was pounding and it was like, ‘Oh, God, is this what happens next?’ And it’s draining and scary and lonely. … But now I have even more of a fire to just live life. It sparked even more of an appreciation for people, for having a good time, because things can just change so quickly.”