CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - They told her the COVD-19 side effects should hopefully be resolved in six to eight months. That was eight months ago.
Sarah Simon is still waiting for normality to be restored.
“I was a healthy 37-year-old. Never had any medical conditions. Didn’t take medicine or anything, maybe the occasional ibuprofen,” Simon said. “After this I’m on pills upon pills just trying to keep it under control.”
Simon is a medical professional at Charleston Allergy and Asthma. She tested positive for COVID-19 back in June and has never fully recovered.
“I went through physical therapy and that really helped me be able to walk again. I am still having chronic fatigue. I’m having neurological issues like with my memory,” Simon said. “I still have all the heart conditions. My heart rate will go through the roof just doing the smallest of tasks and it causes me to get shortness of breath and have chest tightness.”
She is not alone.
Studies published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 50 to 80 percent of people experience bothersome symptoms three months after contracting the disease. Some of those people continue to experience symptoms long after.
Simon says she lost her sense of taste and smell and has since been able to get some of it back but not all.
“I get phantom smells. I’ll smell cigarette smoke, just weird things that aren’t present. A lot of foods taste very differently,” Simon said. “Things like garlic taste like chemicals to me which, you know, everybody loves garlic so it’s frustrating.”
Doctors continue to study these cases, which some refer to as post-COVID “long haulers” or post-COVID syndrome. However, they still do not know exactly what is happening or what can be done to fix it.
“It will require research for years to determine the effects, decades for that matter,” Dr. Barron Nason, Medical Director at NasonCare said. “We have patients that are developing neurologic symptoms – early dementia, Guillain-Barre , which is ascending paralysis – and we believe this is directly related to the virus invading neurological tissue.”
Nason says whenever there is an attack on the respiratory system that disrupts oxygen to the brain, things like brain fog (inability to focus, disruptions in memory, lack of mental clarity) can happen. Since COVID can impact the lungs, Nason says there could be a connection.
“The brain requires enough oxygen, not only to function acutely, but to preserve its integrity,” Nason said. “For instance, somebody that had a near drowning event and was held underwater for a long period of time, we have learned that some of these patients have impairments in their thinking ability over time. That can occur in our [COVID] patients in the hospital setting, even on oxygen. They’ll have consistent, low oxygen levels and that can be damaging to the brain as well as the other organs.”
Unfortunately, there is not a lot that can be done. Nason says there are medications and therapies that can help treat many of the symptoms, but for now the only proven cure is time. That however is not a guarantee and Simon is ready to get back to her pre-COVID life.
“I feel like I am a complete stranger in my own body. It’s not the body that I recognize,” Simon said. “I want to get back to doing the active things that I did. We would travel all the time, hiking kayaking. I was super active prior to this. I am working towards getting my life back.”