'It's turned my whole life upside down': COVID-19 long-haulers recount their 'horrifying' experiences
EDMONTON -- Canadian researchers are working to understand why some people now known as long-haulers struggle with long-term COVID-19 symptoms and others don’t once they recover from the disease.
“As much as 20 per cent of people six weeks after their diagnosis still have some symptoms,” Dr. Lynora Saxinger told CTV News Edmonton.
Saxinger explained the default position is to treat symptoms as they present themselves and to provide supportive care and counselling when needed.
“At the end of the day just documenting what people are experiencing is less good than trying to fix it, but you can’t just treat everyone with everything. You have to have something to go on.”
“We would be in a better position if we had a better understanding of the physiology behind whatever’s happening to these people,” she added.
'IT WAS HORRIFYING'
Ashley Antonio, 36, caught the disease last March and still suffers from lasting affects 11 months later. She was hospitalized for the first time in May.
“I had a crazy high fever, I was having hallucinations and couldn’t feel the whole left side of my body so I was worried I was having a stroke,” Antonio said.
“It’s turned my whole life upside down.”
Antonio, a local lawyer, told CTV News Edmonton she still struggles with shortness of breath, brain fog, headaches, low blood pressure, fatigue, GI issues and increased heart rate. She’s also been diagnosed with viral arthritis and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that affects the nervous system.
“There was points where I couldn’t remember how to spell my name, or how to hold a glass,” she said. “It was horrifying.”
Tracey Zilkie was a healthy, active, 38-year-old who coached figure skating and power skating up until she got the coronavirus in November.
“I was in Walmart and I forgot where I was. Just sat in the aisle and was like, 'I don’t know what town I’m in. I don’t know what my husband’s name is,'” Zilkie told CTV News Edmonton.
Zilkie’s symptoms, much like Antonio’s, landed her in the hospital, and while her symptoms are improving, she said brain fog, body aches, coughing and asthma attacks are now part of her daily life.
“I’m too young and was too healthy to be struggling like this.”
Dr. Ron Damant, a respirologist at the University of Alberta, said they’ve seen a fair number of people experiencing similar symptoms. However, he was surprised by just how diverse the symptoms are.
“The most important thing is that [long-haulers] need somebody to go to, just to kind of hear their stories, find out about what’s going on or whatever difficulties they’re having,” Damant said.
Many unknowns remain and long-haulers struggling with chronic health issues have concerns about their future.
“I’m still sick but technically, according to [Alberta Health Services] and Health Canada, I’m considered recovered,” Zilkie said.
“I’m still concerned this is something that could impact the rest of my life and this could be forever,” Antonio said.