Kyle Shushack Shares His Battle With COVID-19

By Matt Prokopchuk

When Kyle Shushack started feeling under the weather in late November, he didn’t think too much of it at first. The talented veteran of the Thunder Bay music scene, who moved to Hamilton in 2019 to further his music career and explore new opportunities, had been apprenticing as a stonemason, where he does most of his work at outdoor job sites. When he first fell ill, he took a couple of days off from his job, after which he says he started to feel a little bit better and returned to work. But that’s when his symptoms flared up worse than before: an intense and persistent headache, body aches, constant coughing, weakness, and a high fever.

“It got to the point where my boss had to tell me to go home,” he says, adding that unlike illnesses such as colds and flus he’s had in the past, this one wouldn’t go away. “It just got progressively worse from there.”

At the end of the week, he went to get a COVID test and three days later, the results came back. Shushack tested positive for the novel coronavirus—one of the hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who have done so since last March (Shushack says none of his colleagues has since gotten sick or tested positive, and he only recently returned to work).

While a number of his initial symptoms have since subsided, Shushack says he’s still dealing with some of the virus’s known longer-term complications, such as constant fatigue and a loss of taste and smell. Also troubling for the guitarist, known in the Lakehead for his years in countless groups such as the Alaska Army Band, Bay City Sound Collective, and the Martin Blanchet Jazz Quintet, as well as his solo and session work, was a loss of dexterity in his hands. “Not being able to play guitar the way I used to […] it’s demoralizing,” he says.

As a 33-year-old who also rock climbs and cycles, and says, prior to getting sick, that he “was in the best shape” of his life, Shushack stresses that COVID-19 can have serious effects on anyone. He also posted a lengthy message on his Facebook page in December, describing his ordeal and urging people not to “downplay this thing.” That post was quickly shared nearly 200 times.

“I was naive to that,” he says, referring to his former belief that because of his age and overall good health, that he wasn’t at risk of COVID-19’s nasty side, even though he’s always believed in the seriousness of the virus in general. “I was never worried for myself—every precaution I took was for other people—I was never concerned for my own well-being. I was wrong to not be concerned.”

While recovery has been slow, Shushack says he’s trying to stay positive and focus on the fact that he was likely spared an even worse fate. “If it was someone who was immune-compromised or elderly who got it the way I did, they’d be dead,” he says. “Don’t think that you’re invincible from this […] Stay vigilant and stay safe—I’m going to get better, but some people won’t.”