COVID “LONG-HAULERS”

By now, more than a year into it, we’re all too familiar with the coronavirus and its permutations, even to some degree, its variants.

COVID-19 has monopolized the news and our thinking — our being really — and rightfully so.

The world as we knew it has been turned upside-down.

Things may never return to normal; rather, it is more likely we’ll be compelled to embrace a ‘new normal,’ and whatever that encompasses.

As with most things, if we look hard enough, perhaps we’ll find some good in all of this.

But it would be near-impossible to find any stripe of good in long-haul COVID-19, a phenomenon where patients experience symptoms that last six weeks or longer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 10–30% of COVID-19 patients may develop long-haul or post-COVID-19 symptoms, and most are under the age of 50.

Many eventually make a full recovery, but getting there is torturous; managing the symptoms can be an overwhelming and frustrating experience, as debilitating as the illness itself.

A new study in The Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology found that 85% of non-hospitalized COVID-19 long-haulers have endured “four or more neurologic symptoms, such as brain fog, headache, numbness or tingling and loss of taste/smell.”

Meet Ty Godwin, a man who has been battling ongoing COVID-19 symptoms for fourteen months.

Godwin was an active, athletic sort who enjoyed running marathons and participating in triathlons.

Today, he can barely make it from his front door to his mailbox, without getting winded.

Over the past year, the 58-year-old has experienced several exhausting and incapacitating symptoms including burning feet, labored breathing, twitching legs and prolonged fevers over 100 degrees.

It saps you; you can lose your will to live.

Oh yeah…

And that brain fog.

He described an episode where he recently drove to pick up some takeout food and became confused.

“I hop in the car, I get two blocks away and couldn’t remember where I was going,” he said.

“I couldn’t remember the name (of the restaurant). I looked at my phone, five minutes later.”

After 73 visits to doctors in Colorado and California, Godwin recently visited the aforementioned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, hell-bent to find a solution for his prolonged condition.

Doctors think Godwin was one of the first to contract the coronavirus back in January 2020, and now an entire team of experts at the clinic is trying to examine his case with a set of fresh eyes.

Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn volunteered that, “Our current thoughts are that this is an overreaction by the immune system.

And basically, it’s sort of like fighting an infection that’s no longer there.”

Doesn’t sound terribly promising.

Martin Taylor knows just how Ty Godwin feels.

Eight months since he tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, Martin Taylor is taking life one step at a time…literally.

“When I first took my step it took like 10 minutes to take one step, and once I did that I was out of breath,” he said.

“I had to lay back down.”

Last Fall, Taylor was on life support for more than two months and in the hospital for nearly six.

He’s been home since December, but his recovery is far from complete.

“It’s just a challenge with him, holding on, going one day at a time,” his wife Eugenia conceded.

“It’s a mental challenge.”

Of the first order.

Taylor goes to physical therapy twice a week, to re-train his body to perform everyday tasks.

His other symptoms include breathing problems and a dry cough; he carries a portable oxygen tank and he’s now down to needing three liters of oxygen, from ten.

A gradual improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.

It’s just that, it takes a profound mental toll.

“If I sit down and think about it, that’s when the depression starts to really hit. Why? What happened? Why did it happen?”

Dr. John Michael Baratta, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UNC can certainly commiserate.

“I’ve seen some people who developed COVID as part of that first wave in March 2020 and they’re struggling with ongoing issues now a year out when they didn’t even have to be hospitalized in the first place,” he noted.

Though the most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle aches, depression, anxiety, loss of taste/smell and brain fog — difficulties with attention span and memory — there is a dissimilarity between individuals, as well.

“It’s been surprising to me that this syndrome is so variable,” Baratta said.

“It can affect different people in such wildly different ways.”

Taylor, like Godwin, chooses to remain hopeful.

Some COVID long-haulers have reported that their symptoms disappeared once they were vaccinated, but of course, there is no guarantee that the vaccine has the same effect on everyone.

As coined by the poet Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Man (1732):

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in March 2021.]

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