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Six months later, COVID’s impact lingers

It never occurred to me that a COVID update in June would be a reasonable column topic.

I mean, aren’t we all pretty sick of this subject?

I was one of the unfortunates bit by COVID in early December. After five days in the hospital and luckily side-stepping the ventilator, I headed home to recuperate. I never dreamed it would be such a slow process. The overwhelming fatigue rendered much of January, February and March a blur in my personal history book. I could, and still can, function pretty well most days. But even now, when the exhaustion wall falls down on top of me, it’s straight to the locker room. Game over.

Yes, there are more good days than bad. But, instead of just wanting to ditch the mask and hug my friends, I want my life back. Those pesky gods of COVID have pronounced, “Not so fast, Wheezy. We haven’t finished with you yet.”

Web M.D. states: “Some people with COVID-19 continue to have lingering symptoms for weeks or months after they begin to recover – commonly called ‘long COVID.'” Experts have coined a new term for it: post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). “Easy for them to say. I’ll stick with calling it “long COVID.”

A little more sleuthing yields: “Research says about 10% of people with COVID-19 get long COVID. But it can happen to anyone whether you’re young, old, healthy, or have chronic illness. You can get it even if your early COVID-19 symptoms were mild to moderate, or regardless of whether or not you went to the hospital for them.” Long story short, doctors aren’t yet sure why some people get long COVID.

But then there are those symptoms that have lingered longer. Medical researchers have defined more than a dozen common symptoms, and another half dozen that are rare but can’t be attributed to anything else.

When I went to the hospital, my symptoms were moderate to acute, and I still have some of them. Thankfully, the worst symptoms are gone: the lying around the house wishing I were dead is gone; the inability to lie down without the sensation of drowning – that’s past; and some of the brain fog that clouds my thought process has improved. A bit. For example, these columns take longer to write – the words come slowly.

The most persistent symptoms are lack of endurance, a nagging cough, and sadly, no smell at all. I still spritz on my perfume, hoping that one of these mornings its lovely scent will break through. I can stand beside a perking pot of coffee and smell nothing. Sauteing a pan of onions and garlic? Nada.

Fortunately, my hair loss is slowing, but has not completely stopped.

The good news is that my sense of taste is slowly improving. Certain flavors are like fine wines: I can taste the “top notes,” but the full bouquet and body – the bottom notes – aren’t present. For example, the first sip of coffee tells me what is in my cup, but none of the depth of coffee flavor makes it to my taste buds. It is, however, better than the coffee-flavored dishwater of February. Fruits reign supreme in flavor, followed by salad dressings and pungent flavors like ginger, and most recently, clams.

I had some fabulous chowder in Boston on my recent trip. Hot, velvety and tangy, the essence of clams came through, although I can’t say the same for the lobster roll that followed. I was so looking forward to lobster before I left home. I couldn’t wait. As usual, the menu read “Market Price.” Throwing caution to the wind, I ordered the lobster roll with a price tag that used to bring home three bags of groceries.

The roll was beautiful, and so big I had to cut it in half to pick it up. The first bite was … nuthin’. No flavor whatsoever, and the next bites didn’t improve. Devastated, I took the prized remainder home to my son-in-law for his lunch the next day.

All in all, the symptoms that remain are livable. And yes, I am eager to return to a version of normal – able to make plans without wondering if I’ll be able to keep them.

I am beyond grateful that I survived when this virus has wreaked so much desolation and loss. I remain optimistic that my one-year update finds me in December making plans for a normal holiday, unlike last year.

If I’m still enduring long COVID’s symptoms by then, I can rationalize that they are the price of survival. I think we’ve learned in these 18 months what is truly important. Still being here with family and friends is the ultimate gift.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren, Pa. with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their scatter-brained Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com

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