Living with “Long-Haul” COVID-19: Centura Health Physicians Discuss Healing and Hope, Patient Shares Personal Experience
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“I’m an avid hiker; I’ve climbed fourteen 14'ers; I was an athlete,” says 32-year-old Jenna Bruce of Colorado Springs.
In March 2020, COVID-19 turned her life upside down. More than a year later, she was struggling to recover.
“There’s not one day that it doesn’t impact me. I’ve had 54 different symptoms in the last year from my head to my toes.”
Her symptoms weren’t severe enough to need a hospital, but they were debilitating and life-changing for this young mother.
“I have not been able to breathe out of the right side of my nose and my vision is so much worse,” Jenna said. “My brain fog – some days I can’t remember the words to the song I sing to my daughter every single night. I can’t believe I’m at a year with this. It’s shocking to me.”
Jenna is hardly alone. Well over a year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with progress seemingly everywhere from vaccines to falling case numbers, thousands of patients continue to struggle with what has become known as “Long-Haul COVID-19” or “Long-Haul Syndrome.” Months after they first got sick, their symptoms haven’t gone away or leave only to soon return.
Knowing there are many others like Jenna who are seeking answers, Centura Health assembled a group of physicians to discuss this phenomenon as part of our mission to nurture the health of the people in our communities.
In the video presentation below, these physicians explain the guidance they give to patients, what is known about so-called “long haulers,” and what the medical and scientific communities are still working to learn.
“A lot of the advice I’m giving to my patients is supportive care, to let themselves recover at their own pace,” said Dr. Kari Uusinarkaus, family physician at Centura’s CHPG Primary Care Broadmoor. “I tell them to take breaks, when they go back to work they may need breaks. Nutrition, adequate sleep and hydration are all important components.”
For many, mental health is also a big concern. Jenna said she has struggled with anxiety and depression for the first time in her life, which she says is even more difficult since she is a trained resilience coach.
“It’s important they realize they’re not alone, and that their frustration is common because they can look good but still feel very sad and depressed,” said Dr. Diane Thompson, a Centura Health psychiatrist. Having a support system “is incredibly important for everyone, especially during the pandemic.”
Physically, symptoms can vary widely but often include fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, insomnia, muscle aches, and many more.
For patient experiencing respiratory symptoms, “We would like them to keep themselves active but also listen to their body,” pulmonologist Dr. Dheeraj Dhotre said. “If they keep getting worse in spite of giving it time, and if they notice they have low oxygen, they should seek medical attention from a primary care physician.”
Regarding neurological symptoms like brain fog, Dr. Wesley Reynolds said they are providing some clues. “While we don’t quite know what’s causing the symptoms, there’s probably been some type of mild brain injury from the virus. Whether that’s reversible or not is too early to tell, but we hope that it is, and we hope that in time, the brain will start to heal itself from that injury.”
Jenna recently shared good news about her recovery. She has been feeling much better after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as well as treatment for conditions including inflamed blood vessels.
Several research studies are also currently underway in hopes of better treating long-hauler patients in the future.
“There’s always hope, and sometimes hope changes over time,” Dr. Thompson said. “We want to encourage our patients to keep trying but also be gentle with themselves as they’re healing from this very difficult virus.”