A friend of mine once described COVID as the gift that keeps on giving. In other words, it can have endless side effects, repercussions, and various annoyances that remind us of when we were initially infected. She was right, and probably more than she ever wanted to be.
Some call it “Long COVID,” others call it “COVID Long Haulers.” It affects up to 30% of people who have had COVID. For a long time, people didn’t understand what was happening to them. Why are they still unable to smell or taste for months after getting over the virus? Why is there a non-stop tingling in their extremities?
Short-term memory issues combined with confusion can often develop suddenly. And then there’s my personal favorite that I like to call “word search:” my brain knows what it wants to say, but I can’t get my mouth to produce the words. Whether your case was severe or mild, COVID can continue to affect your life in a way that can make even the simplest of tasks difficult to complete. What makes it worse is that this is a new medical issue.
Thankfully, there are experts searching for answers and trying to figure out how COVID can and will continue to affect a person. Many hospitals across the nation are conducting research studies to understand the pathology of COVID better, and its multi-organ (systemic) effects on human beings. Medical centers have begun to implement post-COVID clinics to help those still suffering. These multidisciplinary clinics can confirm a Long COVID diagnosis and recommend possible treatments for the symptoms a patient is experiencing.
It has been 19 months since I was initially infected with COVID. It wreaked havoc on my respiratory system, making it necessary for me to have a double-lung transplant at the age of 47 to save my life. The immediate concern was my recovery from the surgery, adjusting to my medications, and most importantly, the need for my body to learn how to work with a new set of lungs. Throughout my time since COVID,
I have experienced many of the common symptoms associated with Long COVID, such as extreme fatigue, short-term memory loss, and several others. I got to a point where I needed to decide if I was just going to live with the annoyances or whether I was going to try to do something to get help.
I spoke with my primary care team and received a referral as a new patient to the Post-COVID Assessment and Recovery Clinic at Penn Medicine, the same facility that performed my double-lung transplant in Philadelphia. My initial assessment was completed via a one-hour virtual appointment.
As per their websites protocol, a neurologist reviewed my current medications and my most recent pulmonary function test. He conducted a cognitive assessment and administered the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and used various other evaluation methods to help determine my clinical needs and what further diagnostics might need to be completed.
I ended up having to get an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of my brain based on the results of my initial assessments. The MRI showed there were 7 or 8 microhemorrhages within various portions of my brain, meaning I most likely had some form of mini stroke. This could account for the symptoms I have been experiencing since getting COVID, but the MRI results can’t confirm it. (I am NOT saying that every person experiencing symptoms post COVID is going to have microhemorrhages.)
I wondered whether there is still some level of care to help me work through the issues I’ve been experiencing. The answer is yes, and this is done by participating in cognitive therapy conducted by a speech therapist.
Why take all this time to explain what I’ve gone through? Why tell you about the Post-COVID Assessment and Recovery Clinic? Why explain the process and my test results? It’s about research. It’s about the willingness to participate in studies and treatments to help medical professionals further understand the long-term effects of COVID. It’s about how to help those still suffering. The more people who have had COVID participate in such clinics, the more knowledge medical professionals will have to combat this terrible virus.
If you’ve had COVID and are experiencing symptoms, I encourage you to seek medical help, look for answers, and be willing to participate in studies and Post-COVID Recovery clinics. Please visit online at https://www.geisinger.org/coronavirus/patients-and-visitors/post-covid-clinic for more information and how to get started. Together we can find solutions.
Together, Let’s end COVID!
Rick Bressler is a husband, father, and Veteran of the United States Army, who wants to share his experiences as a COVID survivor to help promote getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.