Irods COVID survivor

millie porsild

Mille Porsild/Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

For Alaska musher Mille Porsild, the thrill of finishing her first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as Rookie of the Year in mid-March was followed almost immediately by the nightmare of COVID-19.

Now, more than two months on from her Iditarod high, she is finally emerging from her COVID low. As with others who have been lucky enough to be able to recover at home, she describes what can only be called a grueling experience.

Imagine week after week of the flu from hell, and you’ll get the idea.

“I was conked out sleeping some 20-plus hours a day the first three or four weeks,” she messaged Sunday; “then much better but still in bed another couple of weeks.”

Porsild’s nasty bout with the SARS-CoV-2 virus “started out early enough that it…wasn’t ‘a thing’ when I had it, and I was just bewildered,” she added.

As is only natural for anyone who has had the flu, she expected her flu-like symptoms to go away after a few days or a week, and they did. But then they came back.

“It operates in waves,” she said. “You are really no good for a while, then have short periods where you are certain you are on the mend, then it hits you back.

“So from that aspect it’s somewhat hard to deal with. In my case, again, the saying was that it takes about two weeks.”

Variable outcomes

When two weeks turned into three and then four, Porsild, a fit and healthy woman of 46 before she was struck down, admits she was “unnerved.” Her infection wasn’t trending as she’d been told to expect it would.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus early in the epidemic suggested a median recovery time of about two weeks with milder cases stretching to three to six weeks for those with more serious infections. 

But as Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, the founder and executive director of Public Health Informatics, Computational, Operations Research and a Forbes contributor later noted, “COVID-19 can be a freaking confusing illness. It’s still quite an enigma, wrapped with uncertainty, surrounded by some really bad bacon that’s spoiled. There just haven’t been enough scientific studies to tell for sure how long you specifically may have symptoms and how long you specifically may be contagious when you’ve got a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS–CoV-2) infection. While some possible ranges have been identified, these durations do seem to vary quite a lot from person to person.”

Porsild appears to have been delivered the long-play version sometime just before, during or just after the Iditarod. The incubation period for COVID-19 is usually two to 14 days although some cases have taken longer to materialize. 

Recovery times are equally variable. Porsild said it was psychologically comforting to eventually learn that “30 to 50 days is not at all abnormal…People come to believe it’s over, and it’s just dormant and pops up again within this long time-frame.”

Psychologically, she admitted, the disease might have been more of a struggle than it was physically.

“The first while was not so hard,” she said. “I was getting beat up physically but not mentally. I was so conked that it just was what it was. I was not reading, not communicating, a text message was too much to do – my head was so foggy. 

“I knew it could be really serious and I was worried, but really too sick to not simply focus on just fighting it. Coming up to 30 days, it got way harder. I was not totally zoned out anymore, I could read, communicate, hear people worry, get worried and wonder what the hoot.”

One day, she said, she’d think she was well again and then, boom, symptoms would be back. She’d again be laid up again thinking about all the things she needed to get done. Eventually, she’d force herself out of bed only “to have it make me go back to bed not least in fear it could ‘spin out of control,'”she said.

“At that point – the last three weeks for sure – were way, way harder psychologically by far.”

Tough lady

This is no limp-wristed, city boy recounting the COVID-19 experience. The Danish-born Porsild earned her mukluks working in the cold, dark and unforgiving north

In 1992, she joined Minnesota explorer and dog man Will Steger on a 72-day, dog-powered expedition from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. There would be many more such adventures before she finally took off on her own. 

In 2009, she organized her own four-month, 1,800-mile expedition from the south end of Baffin Island to Arctic Bay in northern Canada. Eventually, she ended up in Alaska as most serious dog drivers do.

For a time, she teamed and trained with Norwegian musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom and is – behind the scenes – given significant credit for his breakthrough 2018 Iditarod victory. The pair subsequently parted ways, and Porsild decided to take a run at the so-called “Last Great Race” on her own.

She finished 15th in March just behind defending race champ Peter Kaiser from Bethel and only about six hours behind Ulsom, who was sixth in an extremely competitive field. Porsild became the first woman to win the rookie of the year honor since Norwegian Sigrid Ekran in 2007.

But the Iditarod likely did her no favor in terms of COVID-19. The greatest challenge in the 1,000 mile race from Willow to Nome is sleep deprivation.

“Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus,” writes the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Eric J. Olson. “Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.”

No other Iditarod mushers have been reported to have come down with the disease, but three cases have been reported in Nome where the race finishes. Overall, Alaska has to date largely escaped the pandemic.

Only 408 cases have been reported, according to the Department of Health and Social Services, and only 10 people have died. The rate of infection is about 56 cases per 100,000 people. The infection rate in Massachusetts, where the disease has exploded is about 1,328 per 100,000.

Almost 6,400 people have died in that state, where the death rate is about 9 per 100,000 people. Alaska has a death rate of less than 1.4 per 100,000. More than 97 percent of the Alaskans who have caught the disease have recovered compared to a global recovery rate of 87 percent, according to the COVID-10 counter at Worldometer.

Don’t get it

As someone who was Sunday hoping to have finally joined the recovered, Porsild can assure others they don’t want to catch it.

“I do think I’m rid of it,” she said. “But I am also very humbled by it and recognize I and most others know really nothing or so little about this virus. It sorta seems surreal. (I) just ‘wasted’ almost two months on it.

“…How many people are really in a situation able to do this and not lose their mind in worry and issues with family and livelihood. I am thankful I will hopefully be able to mitigate better than most. I do worry people are not aware of how much it affects those that get i5 – as I hear and see people stating they are not worried, ‘I will not die’….”

Porsild can testify that while you might not die, you are likely to suffer mightily.

There is at this time no treatment for the disease. Prevention remains the only cure. The disease spreads from people who are already sick and shedding viruses. Many of those people might not know they are sick.

Some people who contract SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes the disease we now call COVID-19 – can walk around for days shredding viruses before they began to suffer COVID-19 symptoms. Some people are asymptomatic and contract the disease but never suffer the symptoms.

All are believed to spread the disease orally by means of droplets and aerosols. Some of those droplets may accumulate on objects and form fomites that also spread the disease.

Thus the directions from the Centers for Disease and Control to keep your distance from others, avoid crowds, and wash your hands whenever you have been out in public and touched anything – say a gas pump handle or a door knob – that might have brought you into contact with someone else’s SARS-CoV-2.




31 replies »

  1. I tried to post this comment earlier, not sure why it didn’t go through. I appreciate your reporting on this topic and I agree Mille is a bada**, but I object to the homophobic slur you use at the beginning of the “Tough lady” section. It is harmful and totally unnecessary to make your point. Please consider editing.

    • Tara: I’m unclear as to what is “homophobic” about this.

      The limp-wristed city boys I’ve know were all hetero. Some too hetero.

      I do agree it could be read as prejudicial to “city boys” of which I am one since moving to Anchorage long ago. But it doesn’t refer to all “city boys” but to a subset of city boys who would never dare to undertake the Idiatrod, be it on runners of a dogsled, the seat of a snowmachine, the saddle of a fatbike, atop a pair of skis or on foot.

      I’ll think about this, but there is a difference between a “slur” and “political correctness,” and I admittedly have some issues with the latter. It sometimes throttles free and open discussions of where we are in this country.

      And Ms. Porsild is a badass.

      • The descriptor “limp-wristed” has its origins in denigrating gay men. It alludes to gay men being weak or feminine, and it is considered offensive by many in the gay community. You don’t have to take my word for it–see this article from the Advocate identifying it as one of many offensive and homophobic terms.

        Regardless of whether you knew that or not, it’s inappropriate to use here as a contrast with someone you’re trying to describe as strong and badass.

      • Thanks for the link to the list of things one of many groups in America finds offensive. I agree with the Advocate on this definition of the word: “feminine or associated with femininity, which is what ‘limp-wristed’ implies.”

        This would make it the perfect contrast for a strong and badass woman channeling her inner machismo.

        One can be offended by anything if one tries hard enough. Your taking offense at the use of this term in a story with no association to gay men or homosexuality or anything close to either is just silly.

        You might have a point if you were concerned about “urban men” being called “limp-wristed city boys,” but I don’t think there is playbook for terms that offend “urban men.” But who knows. Maybe these days there is.

      • Craig,

        When you say “dog drivers” in the same section noted above are you implying that our canine friends are incapable to driving themselves and are somehow inferior to the serious “dog drivers”? I have two dogs…I mean two dogs chose to stay at my domicile and allow me to feed them and pick up their defecation. As a dog owner…I mean dog equal, I choose to be offended that you would suggest dogs are somehow inferior and must be driven by humans.

      • You’re digging yourself even deeper into a hole, Craig.

        Your terminology is offensive because it perpetuates the idea that there are certain categories of people that are more or less “tough” merely because of their gender or sexuality. Your last comment took a new tack–saying that she is tough because she is channeling her inner “machismo”–as if you have to be a man or “macho” to be tough. As if someone who is “feminine” cannot also be tough.

        I found it offensive, and I know others probably share my opinion, so I wanted to share that with you, and I’ve done so. You don’t have to agree with me but I’m grateful for the opportunity to let my voice be heard.

        As for Jason’s comment, I don’t see where I have demonstrated “outrage,” since I think I’ve been pretty calm and civilized, nor can you call my reaction “faux” because I’m sharing my genuine opinions and feelings.

      • Actually, Tara, the sentence as written suggests just the opposite of what you contend.

        It suggests Ms. Porsild, a woman, expresses more of her masculine side than a limp-wristed city boy, who by definition expresses more of his feminine side as the terms “masculine” and “feminine” have been understood by humans for thousands of years.

        It recognizes that the plasticity within genders is large and that people can be what they want to be regardless of their gender. I can only surmise that your sense of offense here is that you believe there is something inherently wrong with being a limp-wristed city boy.

        I don’t.

        Comparisons are not judgments. They are comparisons.

      • taralaska, to be blunt: you advocates of cancel culture, faux outrage and political correctness are an insidious blight on this planet. The purpose of this agenda isn’t to protect anyone’s rights or feelings, but rather to smother all independent thoughts and voices until the entire world is a depressing shade of monotone grey so we can all be as equally miserable as you. Hopefully Craig (who clearly meant no offense to anybody) files your demands in the trash where they belong. Instead of whining at him and trying to bully him into changing his journalistic voice, why don’t you just go get your news and insight from media outlets that conform to your own far left of center biases?

      • Jason, I think your reaction is pretty off base. I’m not trying to “cancel” anyone–I’m engaging directly with Craig, in public, working through our disagreement. If anyone is trying to “cancel” anyone, I think it would be the person who is suggesting I leave this forum and never come back. I think that attitude is incredibly damaging to a free and open society and discourse. I think we would all benefit from reading sources that we don’t always 100% agree with, and voicing our disagreements when they occur, civilly and thoughtfully.

        Craig, I hear what you’re saying, but I still disagree with you. You’re saying that when a person appears strong it is an expression of masculinity. I really don’t think it’s that controversial to suggest that that idea is harmful.

        At any rate, thanks for the back and forth and for listening to and engaging with my arguments at face value. Even if we disagree on this, at least we 100% agree that Mille is awesome. 🙂

      • Tara,

        When you say that “terminology is offensive because it perpetuates the idea that there are certain categories of people that are more or less “tough” merely because of their gender or sexuality.” As if it is incorrect I am offended since it is obvious that there are certain categories of people that are more or less “tough” merely because of their gender or sexuality, to deny that basic fact is offensive to me, please refrain from being offensive. Certain other categories of people are more or less “weak” merely because of their gender or sexuality too, of you suggest otherwise I will take offense and since I’ve already requested you not offend me that will be offensive.

  2. For the most part we in Alaska have been spared the illness associated with this disease, we are in the upper percentile for avoiding it. This gives many of us a false sense of security and allows us to think this disease isn’t happening. As the summer season is just beginning we are now seeing more out of state people showing up, just in the last week there have been as many or more out of state people showing up with covid as we have new cases in state. Yesterday there was 1 in state positive test and 2 out of state positive tests where those who tested positive were tested when the arrived in Anchorage, got on a bus with 30+ other people and drove to Kenai We now have around 10 seafood workers that are in state who have tested positive and they have exposed many, many others. As the fishing season is just beginning these number will only rise.

    The initial reason for the lockdown was to flatten the curve, we did that here during a slow time of year. Now that seasonal workers from across the country and across the globe head this way I suspect we will be getting more first hand knowledge of this virus. Let’s just hope that we don’t swamp our local health care with people who are bringing this disease with them.

    • Steve-O, I ran across something like this:
      “If masks work, why are we social distancing?
      If social distancing works, then why are we wearing masks?
      If both masks and social distancing work, then why are businesses closed?
      If we can stand inline at the grocery store, then why can’t we stand in line to vote?”
      The reality is this virus is here and it will be here a long time. There is NO stopping its spread. Life is/will go on..
      Will there be a vaccine? Maybe/maybe not…what then? Nobody seems to have that answer. In America they are talking about tracking apps. In China they have a Health Tracking App. To gain entry into a restaurant you have to show your health score, either green, yellow, or red which is produced by all kinds of your personal data. In the coming years things are going to get really, really funky in the name of this virus.

    • Guess what I am saying is “let the games begin.”
      Pretty sure most will be alright. Keep in mind d the “doom and gloom” narrative the media pushed. The panic they sowed.

      “Those who fell prey to the novel coronavirus in Italy were overwhelmingly elderly people with underlying medical conditions, new data shows.

      According to data from the country’s ISS health institute, nearly 96 percent of coronavirus-related fatalities in Italy also had preexisting conditions. The virus took the lives of people in Italy who were, on average, 80 years old. The trend was also noted at a news conference on Friday by Silvio Brusaferro, ISS chief.”

      • Bryan,

        I get it. Our government has messed this whole thing up, from Trump to your local city council member. The thing is, if anyone ever expected their government to really protect them they shouldn’t have. Governments CANNOT protect all their people from EVERYTHING. Conservatives should know this, many people who think they are conservatives aren’t. If any conservative expected a different response from our government than what we got then they haven’t been paying attention. I hope out of all of this that many people learned this lesson, government can’t protect everyone from everything. Not only that but government can’t and shouldn’t do everything we expect government to do. The Memorial Day Celebration in Anchorage should be a shining example how things SHOULD be. Why should we expend tax payer dollars to have politicians get on a stage to tell us how great they are when we should be talking should how great those who died for freedoms are? We are Alaskans and we are Americans, we don’t need politicians to tell us what’s right, they work for us. But I digress, we are heading into our busy season and although it will be truncated due to the tourist season being basically shutdown, we still have our summer fisheries happening…and they are just starting. So far the fact that we are importing covid with our nonresident seasonal fisheries related industry does not bode well for the long summer fishery season.

  3. I’ve come off of the Iditarod with a flu like bug that knocked me down for that long. Subjecting your body to such incredible challenges coupled with around 10 days without any sleep and your immune system is pretty beat down leaving you wide open to something like Covid. Honestly, though, it sounds like the psychological aspect was the hardest part for her, and if Covid coverage weren’t so breathless verging on hysterical 24/7 it probably wouldn’t have seemed so scary to her.

    Btw, in awe of her record of adventure and achievement; what an impressive woman!

    • Jason. Your criticism of Tara is a bit over the top. I think that her’s and Craig’s discussion had merit. In my opinion it was a healthy debate. On the other hand your comment was undisciplined and was not helpful. Instead of making a logical argument you resorted to insults and went on the attack. As they say in legal parlance, “ if you don’t have the facts then argue the law. If you don’t have the law argue the facts. If you don’t have the facts or the law, call the other side names”
      Which one are you?

      • No, it wasn’t over the top at all. You’ve just been subjected to so much political correctness that you no longer recognize a plain statement of fact for what it is: the truth, sans window dressing.

  4. I really appreciate the use of the phrase, “This is no limp wristed city boy recounting….” You always give the reader his (her) money’s worth, Craig.

  5. Thank you for this information, Craig. I followed Posild during the Iditarod for several reasons, artsy because she’d once lived in MN. Her recounting of her illness and recovery sounds similar to others I’ve read, albeit considerably longer.

  6. Thank you Bryan….I agree knowing those numbers is important. A little more symptomatic info would have been good. I’m also really happy Mille is recovering- and for sure if she says it was brutal…. it had to be BRUTAL! She’s no whiner

    • She is no whiner, and I hope the story didn’t come off a such.

      I’ve known whiners. And I’ve known some none whiners who I’ve pushed to the point of whining. I’ve even wanted to punch one or two in the mouth in the worst moments.

      You know who you are “Mr. We’ll Never Get Back.”

  7. I am glad she was able to fight this nasty virus. She is obviously very fit and strong, not like us average Pennsylvania 64 year old accountants. It always amazes me when I hear the line of thinking that I am one of the “elderly with underlying conditions “ so therefore this virus is being hyped as more serious than it really is. 100,000 deaths … and counting.. nit to mention the long lasting serious debilitating health conditions just now being discovered. Children are also vulnerable in ways they do not yet understand. It is likely that actually deaths have been underreported not over reported as many choose to state, without proof.

    • Cindy: The deaths have been under-reported. They have also been over-reported.

      There is some number of people who were on their death beds, died and were credited to COVID-19. There were people who died at home of COVID-19 who were missed. This is going to take some time to sort out.

      This virus is being hyped as more serious than it is to people under 40. The focus on how those folks and children could get it might well also cause some of those over 50, and particularly those over 60 who are obese, diabetic or suffering from high blood pressure to ignore how dangerous the disease.

      The average age of death in Massachusetts at this time 82. Ninety-seven percent have a comorbidity. Older people need to isolate. Those with preexisting health conditions need to double-down on that isolation.

      The long term consequences will not be known until we get into the long term. I’ve had lung damage. It is something from which months are needed to fully recover. In my case, it was a year before I was back to a full performance level. We don’t’ have any year-on COVID-19 cases to provide information on the longterm as of yet.

  8. If we have 400 cases that have reached an outcome and 10 of them had death as the outcome versus 390 were survivors then the mortality rate is 10 divided by 400 or 1 person out of 40 which is much more than the 1.2 per 100,000 rate you quoted.

    • You’re confusing infection fatality rate with mortality. Mortality operates at a population level. It is 10 of about 750,000 at this point. I’m sure the annual number will be higher, but if we continue at the current rate it will be significantly lower than our annual mortality for suicide which is 24.6/100,000 in the lastest data.

      We average 15.3 people per month dead for suicide in Alaska. We’re at about 5/month from COVID. The survival rate appears to reflect a.) a young population; b.) a well-functioning health-care system.

      Even if our average monthly fatality rate were to double and stay that way through the end of the year, we would be at a mortality of around 11/100,000, which is significantly below sucide and accidents. Not to mention our big killers.

      Why so negative? Do you want a higher death rate than we have?

  9. Now imagine if the media and those from a particular party didn’t scare the batchit (excuse the pun) out of this poor women for months telling her she would die from this virus. It would have been nice to hear more of her symptoms other then the typical flu-like symptoms.

    “Psychologically, she admitted, the disease might have been more of a struggle than it was physically.”

    “At that point – the last three weeks for sure – were way, way harder psychologically by far.”

    “Porsild said it was psychologically comforting to eventually learn that “30 to 50 days is not at all abnormal…”

    “How many people are really in a situation able to do this and not lose their mind in worry”

    Eventually, she’d force herself out of bed only “to have it make me go back to bed not least in fear it could ‘spin out of control,’”she said

    I believe your death rate numbers are a bit vague and very misleading. We know most states inflated their Covid death numbers for financial gain for federal funding.

    Also, states like mismanged Massachusetts and New York forced their nursing homes to take Covid positive patients, this killing off large number of seniors. We know the average age of a Covid death is 79.6 yo.

    Pennsylvania has more COVID deaths over age 100 than under age 45.

    More deaths over age 95 than under age 60.

    More deaths over 85 than under 80.

    In Pennsylvania as of May 17, for example, 87.4 percent of reported deaths are in people 65 years old or older, and 44 percent of deaths have been in people over 84 years old. Just over half of Pennsylvania’s deaths have occurred in hospitals, but a whopping 43.4 percent have happened at long-term care facilities.

    Since you brought up Massachusetts, let’s look at. In Massachusetts, 21,177 of 87,925 confirmed coronavirus cases, or 24 percent, are in people 70 years old and above. Of those who have died, 5,058 of 5,938 are aged 70 and above — or 85 percent. Those numbers also represent a striking rate of mortality among people over 70 years old of nearly 24 percent, at least in Massachusetts’ official numbers.

    Just 1.5 percent of reported deaths in Massachusetts are among people aged 50-59.

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