SEATTLE - Here’s a disturbing thought: getting COVID-19, later seemingly recovering it from it, but severe symptoms still don’t away-and linger months and months later. It’s an issue our medical field is grappling with, as they say surviving COVID apparently isn’t that simple.
More and more patients are dealing with long-term symptoms from the virus. It’s such a severe and common occurrence that UW medical center just announced they’re involved in a 13 million dollar study to try to get a better understanding of why this is happening, and how they can try to help patients that can’t seem to get any relief.
Julie Mathews is one of the patients UW is trying to help. A mother of five young children who works in software engineering, Mathews was diagnosed with the virus in early March. Seven months later her symptoms aren’t only still present, she says they’re worse than ever. “The foggy brain, the sore throat, the difficulty breathing, the not being able to come up with words, or forgetting words. Probably the biggest one I have problems with is foggy brain; it feels like I’m constantly drunk. Always dizzy, having to catch myself from falling.”
Her symptoms are still so severe; she’s been unable to get back to work. Just before catching COVID she was learning how to code, an activity she says she can’t even imagine trying to do now. “I can’t concentrate and read anymore or think of words. Last week I was trying to count and I could not remember the number 40, so I’d get up to 39 and I’d be stuck there.”
Mathews has no pre-existing conditions, she says she was perfectly healthy pre-COVID. Why it’s affected her so severely is just another mystery to this enigma of a virus. But she’s not alone, emergency room physicians at Harborview say they’re seeing patients return to the ER after recovering from the virus. Some studies estimate one in three COVID survivors are what doctors are calling long-haulers, and are experiencing an array of symptoms post-recovery, ranging from hair loss, ear-popping, dizziness, and chest pain. Doctors with UW medical say survivors uniformly complain of extreme fatigue.
“There's probably a heck of a lot more of people who are going through this and don't know that others are going through it because you know you’ve got people brushing it off and saying it’s not a thing and it's fake news and a hoax and all that.” Mathews says she’s trying to remain optimistic she’ll feel better soon, but with still so many unknowns about the virus, it can be a challenge.
Mathews says engaging in virtual support groups is crucial, as battling long-term symptoms is emotionally taxing. It’s patients like her who will be the focus of a two-year study UW medical is taking a leading role in, to follow COVID survivors to get a better understanding of why the virus has long-term effects on some, and most importantly - how they can help those patients.