SEATTLE - One of the mysterious and often difficult things about COVID-19 is how the virus presents itself differently in many people.
Doctors are starting to see more and more how recovery varies, and for some it feels there is no recovery at all. Even after testing negative, some patients still continue to feel debilitating COVID symptoms. Julie Mathews is one of those patients.
"Nobody expected this," says Mathews.
Mathews was 20 weeks pregnant when she tested positive for the virus in early March.
The symptoms, particularly the difficulty breathing, were tough. And then came the dizziness. So severe was one dizzy spell that she fell and broke her shoulder in early April. That's when she learned that technically the virus was no longer showing up in her system.
"When I tested negative I was thinking good, this is probably the end," she recalls.
But it wasn't. Far from it.
Mathews gave birth to her baby in June, still testing negative, but still very symptomatic.
"I don't want to get out of bed, and the moment you get out of bed you just want to get back in or lay down," she says.
And then there's the constant feeling of being out of breath, as if she'd just sprinted around the block.
"Just walking up the driveway to get the mail is strenuous," says Mathews.
Her symptoms don't make caring for her newborn an easy task.
"A lot of times I've already been up all through the night with the coughing and the difficulty breathing," she says.
As she continues to seek medical treatment, searching for a cure, she's also turned to Facebook support groups for those with long-term COVID symptoms. "
I was starting to realize that these symptoms weren’t going to go away, and I was starting to feel depressed and down and feeling like I was alone," Mathews says.
As she suffers through symptoms nearly six months later, she's realized she's definitely not alone.
"The most common is definitely shortness of breath and decreased endurance," says Dr. Aaron Bunnel with UW Medicine.
Bunnell is running a clinic for patients who recovered from COVID but still struggle with symptoms. With so many unknowns, Bunnell says they try to help patients get back to normal breathing and slowly build back up physical stamina.
Most of his patients were high-risk and had severe cases, but he warns that prolonged symptoms can happen to anyone.
"I have a few patients who were really fit and strong before, who now are in our inpatient rehab unit who stand for a couple of minutes before feeling exhausted and needing to sit down," he says.
It's the nightmare that Mathews, in her 30s with no prior health issues, is experiencing. For now, it's one day at a time in her fight to finally feel healthy again.
"You gottta think positive, you gotta think the glass is half full," she says.