Windsor

COVID-19 'long-haulers' hit back against non-believers

Anna Bennett and her husband Ken Girard learned they had contracted COVID-19 around the same time in March. Now, more than six months later, they say the virus is still affecting their everyday lives and they want people to know the long-term effects of the disease are real.

Windsorites who contracted COVID-19 in March say they are still recovering

Ken Girard, left, and Anna Bennett, right, contracted COVID-19 in March but say they are still feeling the effects today. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Anna Bennett and her husband Ken Girard learned they had contracted COVID-19 around the same time in March. Now, more than six months later, they say the virus is still affecting their everyday lives and they want people to know the long-term effects of the disease are real.

"They can't see it so they don't believe it," Bennett said.

In June, Bennett was cleared of the virus, but a couple of days later — the symptoms hit hard.

"You're right back with the headaches, the brain fog, the lack of concentration, my hair's falling out," she said. "You get a negative test, they say you're recovered but you're not, like you've survived the actual COVID but your recovery, there's so many more symptoms."

Bennett says lots of people are dismissive of the symptoms she and her husband have felt long after clearing the disease from their systems. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Girard had never taken a day off work before this diagnosis. He said that symptoms kept him away from work for two months after being cleared of COVID-19 and when he tried to go back after that, he felt tired and shortness of breath.

"One day they said 'Kenny, you got to do something about this'," he said.

Girard still hasn't returned to work and the symptoms are still very difficult for him to deal with.

"I've had a headache before but nothing to the extent of what I have right now," Girard said. "My breathing ... I can just walk to the bathroom and it's just like I've walked a mile, it's that intense ... Stairs are like, I almost shouldn't do them." 

Bennett said that people lack understanding about the long term effects of the disease.

"We have family that doesn't understand it — we're faking it, we read about it so we think we have these symptoms — and that's, like, really really hurtful," Bennett said.

They say people often don't believe them when they describe their symptoms.

The recovery period isn't just when the virus has cleared your body, it really takes weeks and months sometimes to really get your energy back, to feel back to your baseline, so it's not uncommon with any severe illness to have a long recovery period.-   Dr. Alexandrea Gow

"They think it's fake news, they think everybody's pretending — you're making stuff up because you read about it — very little understanding."

"They have no idea, no clue, but yet, they think they know," Girard said.

Absolutely a real thing

Dr. Alexandrea Gow, a family physician and chief of family and hospitalist medicine at Erie Shores healthcare, said like many viruses, COVID-19 can lead to many long-term effects. 

"The recovery period isn't just when the virus has cleared your body, it really takes weeks and months sometimes to really get your energy back, to feel back to your baseline so it's not uncommon with any severe illness to have a long recovery period," Gow said. "I think we can say the same can be said with this COVID virus as well." 

She said while in her practice and in her work at the hospital she has not come across cases of people with post-COVID symptoms, her colleagues have and it's a discussion in the medical community she's been reading up on.

"It's highly variable, anything from chronic fatigue, just generalized weakness to people having strokes a few weeks later when they have no other underlying medical conditions," Gow said. 

Dr. Alexandrea Gow, a family physician and chief of family and hospitalist medicine at Erie Shores Healthcare, says post-COVID-19 symptoms are absolutely real. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

She said that the vast majority of people recovering from COVID-19 do not experience these types of complications but those that do have symptoms should get them checked out.

"They should really talk to their family doctors about what they're experiencing," Gow said.

"What we worry about with the COVID virus specifically is that it can cause inflammatory reactions and so the long term effects can actually cause other illnesses later on." 

Long haulers

Windsorite June Muir also contracted COVID-19 early on in March and didn't return to work until June. She said she has experienced symptoms like hair loss, fatigue and heart palpitations since the disease cleared.

"It's one thing when you get the virus but it's another thing when you're left with all of these conditions and you become a long-hauler," Muir said. "No fun at all."

June Muir says she has experienced heart palpitations, hair loss and fatigue since having tested negative for the disease. (Sameer Chhabra/CBC)

She said she's been feeling it a lot less in recent days and her hair has stopped falling out. She said that an online community called "survivor core" has been a big support for her through the process. 

"Many people post and we chat with each other, help each other, because if you're not going through it, it's very difficult for people to understand what you're going through," Muir said. "It's nice to be able to talk to people who are experiencing what you're experiencing."

Bennett as well has found comfort in the online group for long-haulers.

"They are there for each other," she said. "There's not the criticism and the name calling you get when you post something online."  

Girard said that government needs to focus more attention on this stage of the virus.

"I find they're doing a great job with what they're doing right now, but down the road, I don't think they're looking at that," he said. 

There should be an overall checklist, everyone should be given the information about what needs to be checked,- June Muir

"They've got to start recognizing the long-haulers," Bennett added.

Muir said she thinks what should be done following COVID-19 should be made more clear to people. 

"There should be an overall checklist, everyone should be given the information about what needs to be checked," she said.

"It's not that doctors don't know about it, it's just that there is not a lot of information for them to make themselves familiar with."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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