Heather-Elizabeth Brown is grateful to have survived a severe fight with COVID-19. But more than two years later, after a positive assessment of the virus, he is still managing the physical and mental damage.
“COVID has taken a lot from me,” said Brown, a 37-year-old corporate training consultant in Detroit, a longtime carrier of COVID, “Good Morning America”. “Before I got sick in April of 2020, I took for granted how much I said ‘go, go’.”
Doctors have been successful in treating people with chronic COVID-19 symptoms, but there is still much to be said about who experienced it and why. Without a test for chronic COVID, diagnosis can be even more difficult.
Studies show that 13% to 30% of people who have already been infected with COVID-19 may develop long-lasting COVID later in life, often involving fatigue, shortness of breath, and “brain fog” over weeks, months, or years like Brown’s event. after the initial infection.
“I would be lying if I said that my life has not changed irreversibly from this whole experience,” Brown said.
was admitted to the intensive care unit
Brown first began showing symptoms in April 2020, but was tested negative for COVID-19 twice, he said.
“I started having trouble breathing,” he said. “I was very tired. I could barely perform the basic functions to take care of myself.”
As her systems deteriorated, she went to the emergency room three times, including a fever.
X-rays showed that Brown, who eventually tested positive for COVID, had COVID-induced pneumonia in both lungs, which was set to “maximum oxygen levels.”
Within two days of the injury, doctors said his lungs were not working. He was medically in a coma and was placed on a ventilator on April 18, 2020, he said. He was on a ventilator for 31 days.
“It was an experience I couldn’t explain enough,” Brown said. “I had many vivid dreams and nightmares.”
When he awoke, he could not speak or walk through the airways.
“The whole left side of my body was so weak that I couldn’t even press the call button,” she said.
Due to the COVID-19 protocols, he was not allowed to see anyone except the hospital staff.
“I was able to create a FaceTime with my mom, but no one at the hospital could see me,” she said.
Life after COVID
For patients who have been on a ventilator for a long time, the use of medications that can cause severe muscle weakness is common, says Dr. Annas Aljassem, director of functional pain and rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, where Brown was treated.
“Most of their recovery is muscle re-training,” he told Good Morning America. “Besides, the lungs of most of these long haulers will be weakened.”
This could change the “long recovery time of what you take for granted,” Aljassem said.
Brown said he underwent physical therapy, lung therapy and occupational therapy for several months as his rehabilitation lasted seven weeks at the ICU.
“You never think when you’re 35 that you’ll learn something so simple again, we take it as a walk,” he said.
Brown said he needs to use a home medical company to help do everything at home.
“I’m still lame. I’m still working long hours getting up and down the stairs,” he said. “I’m not back in high heels, but it’s on my to-do list and I’m determined to do it.”
In addition to recovering from an extensive resuscitation hospital, Brown now manages diabetes and high blood pressure – before COVID-19, he did not have two health conditions.
“For a while, I took a lot of insulin, but I was able to manage it better,” he said of diabetes.
Studies show that survivors of COVID-19 have a higher risk of being newly diagnosed with diabetes within a year of recovery. There are several theories as to why, but the exact cause has not yet been determined.
Brown said he has problems with nerve pain and brain nebula, but the latter has “improved infinitely.”
Normal long-term COVID symptoms can lead to severe fatigue and affect thinking and breathing, says Dr. Jason Malay, director of the Serious Illness and COVID-19 Survival Program at Beth Israel’s Diconnes Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School’s medical assistant.
For cognitive effects, Maley said, “We treat it in as many ways as we try to rehabilitate patients with a brain injury or concussion because we see the symptoms match and how they affect people’s brain function.”
He said those who experience fatigue may experience post-exercise weakness.
“They feel physical pain and worsening of all their symptoms as a result of trying to be physically active, even if it’s a light movement around the house,” Malay said. “It has been described in other infectious diseases up to COVID-19.”
Other patients may become tired and weak from staying in the ICU and need to rebuild their muscles.
“It takes time and it’s really an intensive method of rehabilitation,” he said.
both mental damage
Prolonged mental COVID was mostly Brown because he often struggled with Brown, “Why I was mentally ill and dissatisfied with his extensive recovery. He said his ICU experience also included post-traumatic stress disorder.
“If I want a normal week, I don’t always remember COVID. I struggled with COVID and I had severe trauma,” he said.
A study led by Maley, published last month in the journal Critical Care Explorations, a review magazine of the Critical Care Medicine Society, found that one-third of patients ventilated for six months had “significant symptoms” of post-traumatic stress disorder. after they are released from the hospital.
Aljassem said he saw COVID long-term carriers suffer mental trauma from prolonged isolation experienced during treatment and subsequent rehabilitation.
“They may be mentally in one place and physically in another,” he said. “Mentalizing it is a very important part of your recovery.”
According to Meli, long-haul trucks could also be injured if their illness is not recognized by a health care provider.
“We understand that this is a real disease and there is a lot of scientific research on it, but it is not always easy to see on an x-ray or a simple blood test,” he said. .. “If you can’t think straight, get tired all day, and you’re already in good health, looking for answers and people not paying attention to you can really create trauma.”
Support and gain new trust
As he continued to struggle with COVID-19 symptoms, he said he would “return to my best places” before Brown fell ill. Part of that is his faith.
“My faith seems to have been strengthened,” said Brown, a church minister. “I feel like I can confirm what I believe and believe, but then taking a little time to see it unfold in real life is completely different.”
Seeing a trained therapist for PTSD helped Brown recycle the trauma he experienced and stay calm during the healing journey, he said.
“He said you’ve been through a lot, you have to be kind and you have to learn to be gentle,” Brown said. “I had to remember and respect one thing – I’m still on a healing journey and it’s not something every day.”
Aljassem said she was “wonderful” compared to her current situation when she first met Brown.
“There are always inconsistencies in your perceptions of yourself, especially of your health care team,” he said. “I try to strengthen it, especially by focusing on those little victories every day and not on things I can’t do anymore.”
Brown also devotes much of his time and emotional energy to long-distance advocacy and community voice. He is involved with several support and advocacy groups for COVID-19 survivors, including the Body Political Covid-19 Support Group and the COVID-19 Longhauler Advocacy Project.
“I am a strong supporter of the COVID-19 long-haul community and the survivors and families struggling with it to some degree,” he said. “I take my position seriously to encourage people and let people know that this is something that people can overcome, even if it’s difficult and scary.”
He believes there is more work to be done for the community and for a longer understanding of COVID.
“[We’re] When it comes to research, when it comes to education, and when it comes to being a real supporter of people affected by COVID, keep our feet on the gas, ”he said.
The longer you learn about COVID, the better doctors will be able to implement better treatment strategies, Aljassem said.
“It’s hard to develop treatments without understanding the disease, but at the same time, as clinics … we feel the need and pressure to find things that will help people feel better,” Malay said.
Brown said it’s hard to compare himself to who he was before COVID-19, but being a long-haul truck made him patient and kind.
“I’m still grateful and grateful for my life,” he says. “I was hopeful for the future, but I realized I had to accept it one day.”
ABC News’ Asher May-Corsini and Lauren Sher contributed to this report.