For some people, COVID-19 means you lose a few days’ work.
Sadly, for others, it means losing a loved one. Or your own life.
But for a third group of people, COVID-19 never leaves, or at least seems like it won’t. You lose your energy, you lose your health, you lose your ability to work, at least consistently.
Maryanne Andrew is in the latter group. She is what is called among other things, a COVID “long hauler,” as in, she is in it for the long haul. She is suffering from what is known in medicine as post COVID-19 condition or long COVID and it means continuing to suffer from post-COVID symptoms and damage that COVID has done to their bodies.
“COVID might be just a cold to some, death to others,” Andrew said. “It’s a chronic illness for us.”
There are over 200 symptoms attributed to post COVID-19 condition and include fatigue, which gets worse after physical or mental effort, headaches, palpitations, shortness of breath, body aches and more.
Health Canada says, “Post COVID-19 condition may occur in some people weeks or months after their initial infection. People who have been hospitalized or who needed intensive care during recovery appear to be at greater risk of experiencing longer-term effects. Post COVID-19 condition is also observed in people who didn’t have symptoms or had only mild to moderate symptoms during initial infection.”
Post COVID-19 condition is not COVID-19, Health Canada says. Symptoms can be quite different from those experienced during the initial infection. It refers to the longer-term effects some people experience after their COVID-19 infection.
Andrew is trying to raise awareness of what long-haulers are going through in hopes of reaching those who may not realize what they have and offer help as well as educate the general public about what long-haulers are going through.
“I’m always educating people or I have people that are sick and they don’t realize that they are long haulers,” Andrew said.
Andrew, 59, contracted COVID-19 last January. Her symptoms were mild and, so, she soon returned to work.
“All I thought was, I didn’t end up in the hospital, I’m not dead, this will go away,” Andrew said. “It never went away.”
She has constant head pressure, inflammation in her brain stem, she has a hard time concentrating, has “brain fog” and memory issues.
“I could write you a book on the symptoms I’ve been suffering for the whole year,” Andrew said.
After three and a half weeks at work she went to Emergency – “it felt like someone had ripped off my forehead and threw in an axe.”
There was nothing that could be done for her, she said, and was sent home. Again she tried going back to work but her “body kept crashing.” Eventually, her doctor told her to take June, July and August off. She expected the rest would be good, she’d heal up and be back to work in September. That didn’t happen.
She tried to resume working but could only handle a few hours a day.
“You know, when work is your life, it was devastating. But I don’t give up. I’m not a quitter. I mean now I’m up to 12 hours a week and it’s killing me,” Andrew said.
But all the while she’s going through this, she finds she’s having to educate people that don’t know what “long haul” is. People just think it’s a cold.
“Nope,” she said.
Many sufferers have lost their livelihood, their health and way of life. There’s no magic pill and the medical profession is still learning about the COVID-19 virus, Andrew said.
You are no longer your old self and you’re not able to meet your responsibilities at home or at work. Your new life is one of no energy, “body crashes,” aching all over, the inability to concentrate and the brain fog.
But Andrew also points out that time does heal, it does get better as time goes along. But it takes time.
Andrew also wants long-haulers to know that they are not alone. She encourages them to contact their health provider who can help you manage your symptoms and refer you for additional care.
Your doctor can request help for you from the long-hauler clinic in Victoria which can give you the skills and knowledge to better understand and manage your symptoms.
The Health Canada website says, “Individuals experiencing post COVID-19 condition commonly report impacts on their mental health, including anxiety, depression and PTSD.
“Talk to your health care provider if you think that you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression or PTSD. Health professionals can help you get the support you need.
“You or someone you know may be in crisis or need mental health and substance use support. If this is the case, visit Wellness Together Canada (https://www.wellnesstogether.ca/en-CA) for a wide range of resources and supports.”
Andrew adds, “Be gentle on yourself. Listen to your body, rest and pace. Remember, time heals. Know that you are not alone.”