“Before Covid, I was a vibrant human being. Now I feel like a zombie.”
These are the words of 82-year-old Mary Dallas who, three months ago, was making repairs on her own roof and painting her home single-handedly.
“I was firing on eight cylinders,” Dallas told the Rotorua Daily Post.
“I’ve always eaten healthily and exercised and looked after myself. I haven’t had so much as a cold or flu for years.”
Then, about 12 weeks ago, Dallas tested positive for Covid-19.
“I was in bed for a week. My head was raging hot.
“I could feel my brain shrinking like I could feel goosebumps on my skin.”
Dallas wants to share her story in the hope that others suffering from long Covid symptoms will get easier access to the information and support they need.
It comes after the World Health Organisation suggested about 25 per cent of people who have had the virus would continue to have symptoms for at least a month, and after three months about one in 10 people would still feel unwell.
Dallas, who lives alone in Rotorua, had to force herself to get out of bed and cook so that she could eat.
“I couldn’t even move my head too quickly.”
Eventually, Dallas’ fever subsided. However, other symptoms did not.
Bay of Plenty general practitioner Dr Tony Farrellsaid in an opinion article that long Covid encompasses an intriguing array of multiple symptoms.
“Long Covid is not a single entity.
“The suffering is intermittent, frequently getting worse after mental and physical activity.”
Farrell said long Covid sufferers lamented that their identity had been “spoiled”, often referring to “how they used to be”.
This was a feeling Dallas could relate to as she continued to suffer from the effects of the virus, especially brain fog and fatigue.
“I can feel my head all the time. Sometimes I forget words.”
Dallas said she had renovated 21 homes in the past 21 years and the house in Rotorua was meant to be her last.
“My whole life is different. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a cliff.”
Dallas was previously accustomed to getting out of bed at 8am every day.
“These days I have no desire to vacuum, dust, cook or water the garden.
“I hate getting out of bed in the morning.”
She had never planned to be someone who needed looking after.
“I’m sort of not me anymore. I’m someone else and I don’t think I’ll ever be me again.
“It’s been a shock.”
Dallas planned to move to Dunedin, where she would have support from her granddaughter and great-grandson, but the wait for an available serviced apartment near them could be as long as six months.
“I can’t just sell up and go get help.”
She had consulted her GP and had been prescribed rest and paracetamol but feels frustrated with her condition.
“I don’t need to be talked to. I need someone to help,” Dallas said.
“I would love support with the vacuuming and dusting.
“I’ve bought a Dyson and it’s very good but I let it sit in its box for weeks before I could work up the energy to get it out.”
Farrell told the Rotorua Daily Post that GP advice included rest and treatment of symptoms such as pain with paracetamol.
“There is some evidence that antihistamines can help,” Farrell said.
“Getting advice on balancing the gut microbiome may also be useful.”
He said friends and family could also help people experiencing long Covid symptoms by taking some of the load off.
“[For example] helping out with activities of daily living [like] cooking, chores and administration, as even mental effort can fatigue people with long Covid.”
He said it was best that people worked with their GPs around the specific symptoms they had.
“If they end up unwell for over six months they could contact the complex chronic illness service.”
He said specialists such as respiratory physicians, cardiologists and rheumatologists, as well as infectious disease specialists, could help with “really bad” symptoms, depending on what the symptoms were.
Long Covid was a syndrome – a collection of different symptoms so that each case will have individual characteristics, he said.
University of Auckland immunologist and senior researcher Dr Anna Brooks said funding critical research into long Covid was “urgent”.
“Our study is looking into developing diagnostics tests so that we can validate what patients are experiencing and better understand the condition,” Brooks told the Daily Post.
“Before treatment trials can go ahead, a good understanding of the biology of the condition must first be defined, which first requires research.
“There are definitely good leads occurring in the scientific literature, but it will take time to hone in on those that might be the most promising.”
Brooks said, “the right tests haven’t been developed yet … there is hope”.
“We know plenty of people who experience long Covid do recover with time, we just don’t know what [percentage] this will be.
“Unfortunately it will take patience, and learning how to pace or restrict one’s activities during this process. Finding support will definitely help.”
Brooks said local long Covid support groups were still in the online phase for now.
“However, there are also a number of support groups with decades of experience in supporting people with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), the most common post-viral illness.”
• How long Covid exhausts the body
• Dr Tony Farrell: Why I’m concerned about long Covid
• ‘Terrible condition’: Health experts warn of long Covid effects
The World Health Organisation defines long Covid or ‘post Covid condition’ as:
“[Occurring] in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually three months from the onset of Covid-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
“Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction but also others which generally have an impact on everyday functioning.”
According to the Ministry of Health website, “There are many different conditions that share these symptoms, so it is important to check with your doctor before assuming something is due to a Covid-19 infection.”
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