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Vassar on the Front Lines

Voices from a Pandemic

Madeline Cohen ’92

Madeline Cohen ’92 is a capital defense attorney. She has been a guest on The Rachel Maddow Show and Democracy Now! for her role as attorney for Oklahoma death row inmate Charles Warner, who received a temporary stay of execution following the controversial botched execution of fellow inmate Clayton Lockett.


Submitted July 15, 2020

On March 12, a few days after a family trip to Atlanta, my husband and I both felt chest tightness and had low-grade fevers. We tried to get tested for the new coronavirus, but at the time, there was only one testing site in the Boulder/Denver area and it closed down due to snow. By the following week, only those who were hospitalized could get tested. My husband felt fine within days, but my fever persisted, and by March 21 I was obviously very sick with COVID-y symptoms. My shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain sent me to the ER on April 2, where I was given a presumptive COVID diagnosis but was not tested because I was not admitted. And then I stayed sick. For weeks, and weeks, and weeks. And now months and months.

It has now been at least 125 days since I first got sick, and I still have a low-grade fever all the time. I still have shortness of breath, chest pain, insomnia, night sweats, and often debilitating fatigue. Exercise – long my go-to for stress relief and general peace of mind – makes everything worse, as I learned after resuming OrangeTheory workouts put me in bed for a week with a 102+ fever. I have been back to the ER, I have had oceans of bloodwork done, and all anyone can tell me is “it’s COVID.” Or rather, it was COVID, it’s no longer COVID, but it’s still ravaging my body and my life. My 12-year-old son tested positive for COVID in early May, after being with no one but my husband and me through the lockdown. He, too, has some ongoing symptoms, though they are milder. This terrifies me because it underscores how very little we know about this disease and its long-term implications, especially for children.


Here is a picture from a few weeks ago, doing one of the few activities that does not elevate my heart rate problematically (taken in Washburn, WI).


“It has now been at least 125 days since I first got sick, and I still have a low-grade fever all the time. I still have shortness of breath, chest pain, insomnia, night sweats, and often debilitating fatigue.”

I have found thousands of other long-haulers dealing with similarly relentless post-viral symptoms. We’ve been told it’s dysautonomia, or autoimmune or histamine, or thyroid, or any number of other things, but we’re all still sick.

Throughout all of this, I have been trying to maintain my solo practice as a capital defense lawyer, including providing support to the lawyers working to block the federal executions that resumed this week. I have been trying to parent, to be a spouse, to support friends who have lost jobs and parents to the virus, and to maintain some semblance of activity, often just a slow walk through my neighborhood. As I watch our national government utterly fail to get a handle on containing the pandemic or supporting Americans so that we can stay home safely or so that our children can safely return to school, my level of rage and despair is surely not helping my recovery. I wonder what our society looks like when this is over, if this will ever really be over, and what my son’s future will look like in the post-pandemic reality.

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