A friend of mine described COVID as the gift that keeps on giving. In other words, it can have endless side effects, repercussions, and various inconveniences that remind us of when we were initially infected. She was right, and probably more so than she ever wanted.
Some call it “Long COVID” others call it “COVID long haul.” It affects up to 30% of people who have had COVID. For a long time, people did not understand what was happening to them. Why are they still unable to smell or taste for months after overcoming the virus? Why is there incessant tingling in their extremities? Short-term memory problems combined with confusion can often develop suddenly. And then there’s my 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 is severe or mild, COVID can continue to affect your life in ways that can make even the simplest tasks difficult to accomplish. What makes it worse is that this is a new medical problem.
Fortunately, there are experts out there looking for answers and trying to understand how COVID can and will continue to affect a person. Many hospitals across the country are conducting research studies to better understand the pathology of COVID and its multi-organ (systemic) effects on humans. Medical centers have started setting up post-COVID clinics to help those who are still suffering. These multidisciplinary clinics can confirm a diagnosis of Long COVID 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, which forced me to undergo a double lung transplant at the age of 47 to save my life. The immediate concern was my recovery from surgery, adjusting to my medications, and most importantly, the need for my body to learn to function with a new set of lungs. Throughout my time since COVID, I have experienced many 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 trouble or if I was going to try to do something to get some help.
I spoke with my primary care team and was referred as a new patient to Penn Medicine’s Post-COVID Assessment and Recovery Clinic, the same facility that performed my double lung transplant in Philadelphia. My initial assessment was done via a one-hour virtual appointment. As per their website protocol, a neurologist reviewed my current medications and my most recent pulmonary function test. He performed a cognitive assessment and administered the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and used various other assessment methods to help determine my clinical needs and additional diagnoses to perform.
I ended up having to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of my brain based on the results of my initial evaluations. The MRI showed that there were 7 or 8 microhemorrhages in various parts of my brain, which means I most likely had some form of mini-stroke. This might explain the symptoms I’ve been having since contracting COVID, but the MRI results can’t confirm that. (I’m NOT saying that every person with symptoms after COVID is going to have microhemorrhages.)
I was wondering if there was still some level of care to help me through the issues I encountered. The answer is yes, and it is done by participating in cognitive therapy conducted by a speech-language pathologist.
Why take all this time to explain what I’ve been 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 healthcare professionals better understand the long-term effects of COVID. It’s about how to help those who still suffer. The more people who have had COVID attend such clinics, the more knowledge medical professionals will have to combat this terrible virus.
If you have had COVID and are showing symptoms, I encourage you to see a doctor, seek answers, and be prepared to participate in post-COVID recovery studies and clinics. Please visit online at https://www.geisinger.org/coronavirus/patients-and-visitors/post-covid-clinic
Rick Bressler is a husband, father, and United States Army veteran, who wants to share his experiences as a COVID survivor to help promote vaccinations and mask wearing.