Life gets foggy and difficult for a central Pennsylvania man who thought he was done with COVID-19

Life gets foggy and difficult for a central Pennsylvania man who thought he was done with COVID-19
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Phil Myers has a sitting job, but he’s also mechanically inclined and is quick to tackle problems around his home.

Yet, well over a year after being hit by COVID-19, a broken faucet may seem like the last straw.

“Because you’re so tired.” You’re like, I can’t take one more thing,” says Myers, 43, of Adams County.

Chronic fatigue is one of multiple issues that Myers struggles with and that her doctors attribute to the lingering consequences of COVID-19. Others include aching joints, “brain fog”, vision problems, and rapid heartbeat.

He is one of countless Americans affected by the long COVID, which involves medical issues that persist more than a month after a bout with COVID-19 and have no other explanation.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in five COVID-19 patients under the age of 65 and one in four older develop problems that last longer than a month. A study of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the UK found fewer than three in ten people felt fully recovered a year later. Still, much remains unknown about the long COVID, and the CDC says it will take about two years before it can offer definitive prevalence data.

Myers came down with COVID-19 in March 2021. His fiancée had it at the same time.

He says it felt like a terrible case of the flu, with chills, extreme fatigue and difficulty breathing that “felt like someone was sitting on my chest”. A heating pad on his chest helped him through the worst.

“I probably should have gone to the hospital, but I never did,” says Myers, who tested positive at an urgent care center.

After 10 days, he and his fiancée felt better. He returned to work.

He was still suffering from fatigue and would be out of breath walking to the second floor at work, but he believed he was on the way to a full recovery.

“I pretty much built up muscle, because I’m the type to [think] get through, it will go away. That’s my mentality,” he says.

Eventually, he felt he was “80% better”.

But in early 2022, about nine months after her first bout with COVID-19, her symptoms “exploded.”

His fatigue worsened. So did “brain fog,” which interfered with his memory and ability to concentrate. It was particularly unsettling for Myers, who considers himself almost compulsively organized. His thought process became “like a side road, then another side road – you’re constantly trying to keep yourself on the main highway”. The resulting stress and frustration made him easily agitated when interacting with colleagues and family.

He also had periods of blurred vision where his right eye stopped working in tandem with his left.

He went to his family doctor who, after X-rays, blood tests and medical tests, recommended that he see a doctor who specialized in COVID-19.

He ended up at the York County-based WellSpan Health COVID-19 Clinic, which specializes in helping people with long-term COVID-19, also known as “long haulers.” “.

The clinic has been open since May 2021. Emily Kohler, the clinical manager, said she had no volume figures, but said new patients are contacting the clinic or being referred daily. The clinic includes specialists in areas such as lungs, heart, kidneys, mental health, and physical and occupational therapy.

Kohler says the demand for the services has led to an expansion of staff and programs, including the addition of nurse navigators who can help patients while they wait to see a specialist. An online support group draws 5 to 10 people to monthly sessions, she says.

“We just see a lot of patients who don’t return to their pre-COVID levels, and that really weakens their lives,” she says.

Kohler says the most common illness among patients at the clinic is severe fatigue. Patients also commonly suffer from continuous coughing and shortness of breath, as well as loss of taste and smell.

She says the fatigue can be overwhelming. “There are patients who have not been able to work because even doing simple household chores exhausts them,” she says.

Fatigue and its impact on people’s ability to function can lead to mental and emotional health issues, Kohler says.

On the advice of the WellSpan Clinic, Myers has been on short-term disability for about two months.

“I’m not one to sit still. So for me, it’s been a massive adjustment. It’s frustrating. It’s depressing,” he said.

Much remains unknown about the long COVID. In general, it is usually not life threatening. Most people eventually feel normal, but sometimes not for a year or more. Some developed problems such as heart or kidney failure, and a few needed lung transplants.

Doctors have also noticed a link between COVID-19 and the onset of diabetes. As a result, experts predict that long COVID will lead to significant health care and disability costs for the United States, with long COVID expenses potentially representing 30% of the overall cost of the pandemic.

Doctors remain uncertain about the exact causes of long COVID. Possibilities include damage to organs caused by the virus, damage to the immune system attacking and inflaming various parts of the body as it fights the virus, and remnants of the virus remaining in the body. Beyond that, strong medications, including sedatives given to critically ill COVID-19 patients, and treatments such as being on a ventilator, can also produce lasting problems.

The likelihood of severe COVID-19 symptoms appears to correlate with the severity of the person’s illness from COVID-19, with problems being more common in people who are hospitalized and most common in people requiring intensive care.

However, emerging research shows that even people who had no initial symptoms of COVID-19 can sometimes develop long COVID. New studies also reveal that the COVID-19 vaccine, while highly effective in preventing severe illness and death, does not prevent the long COVID to the extent doctors originally expected.

Myers is an Army veteran and worked in construction. He is now IT Director and Business Development Director for a group of car dealerships. He says he’s not a “gym rat”, but has always considered himself reasonably fit and healthy. He quit smoking more than 20 years ago and had no risk factors that made him particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

By the time his severe symptoms returned in January, he was feeling additional stress due to the expansion of his business at work and believes this may have played a part in the flare-up of his symptoms.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath which may require him to take a break from climbing some stairs. His joints are hurting him. After work, he felt the need to collapse, unable to cope with much else.

“I’m 43 and felt like I was 60,” he says.

When his home septic system developed a costly malfunction, he found himself figuring out how to deal with it. He felt overwhelmed by what were once routine issues, like the broken faucet.

One of his most alarming symptoms is his heart rate and blood pressure, which were previously normal. “I can sit in a chair and do nothing and my heart rate can be 95 and my blood pressure through the roof and I can hear blood pumping in my ears,” he says. He recently started wearing a heart monitor which doctors hope will give them a better understanding of his heart palpitations.

Myers says he was impressed with the WellSpan Clinic, especially after Dr. Luminita Tudor, who runs the clinic, spent about two hours discussing his test results and the long COVID. It was a great relief to get an explanation of his symptoms and to learn that other people at the clinic are dealing with similar things, he says.

“I felt like my mind was going crazy and my body was falling apart,” he says.

At first he was “skeptical” about some of the therapies recommended for him.

For example, he could not understand the need for speech therapy, since he had no misunderstandings or difficulty forming words. But it turns out the therapy focuses on the brain impacts related to COVID-19 and involves exercises meant to improve his mental acuity, which in turn helps with speech. He says it made a big difference in reducing the brain fog and increasing his mental acuity to a level comparable to before he caught COVID-19.

Occupational therapy eliminated the desynchronization problem in his eyes. He will soon begin lung therapy, which he said was not immediately available due to high demand at the clinic.

He takes nerve pain medication and uses two inhalers, one of which he uses daily and one for respiratory emergencies.

He was told he might be able to return to work at the end of June, but maybe only part-time at first.

At the clinic’s request, Myers keeps a diary of her activities and the impact on her energy and fatigue. He reports weekly results to the clinic, which helps him understand how to save energy for the most important things and avoid excessive fatigue.

He says the clinic taught him the concept of energy “spoons,” which are used by people with chronic conditions that limit their energy. This implies the idea that people have a limited number of “spoons” of daily energy. If they use too many scoops in a day, it subtracts from the number available the next day.

Myers says his experience with the long COVID has proven that. For example, he regularly pushes the mowing of his half-acre lawn, and now usually stops halfway and finishes the next day. Otherwise, he can tax himself so much that it is even difficult to brush his teeth.

In general, he found that the long COVID cannot be overcome with willpower or by trying to ignore it.

“You can’t just try to do things because it will kick your butt,” he says. “If you push yourself, you won’t be able to get out of it, because it will tire you out and make some symptoms worse.”


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