PEORIA — Most people who get COVID-19 recover within a week or two, but some are left with lingering symptoms and no timetable for when, or if, these symptoms will abate.
“What the data is showing us is that about 5 to 10% of patients can develop this post-COVID syndrome,” said Dr. Brian Curtis, an internal medicine specialist with OSF HealthCare. “We don’t really know what causes it.”
Dealing with a virus that only hit the scene within the last year, doctors are hampered by a lack of data, Curtis said. They don’t know how long lingering symptoms will last and are not sure how to treat patients except to provide supportive care for the various symptoms patients complain of.
“The biggest symptom seems to be fatigue and shortness of breath,” Curtis said. “We have some others who may have prolonged diarrhea or prolonged brain fog.”
As of Friday, 109 Tri-County residents have died after contracting COVID-19 — about 1.5% of all cases locally, accounting for 0.03% of the area’s population.
Nearly 5,900 Tri-County residents have recovered since March, according to data collected by the three area health departments — more than 83% of all cases here. Here are what some of those patients have dealt with afterward.
Peoria resident Tamara Masters’ bout with COVID-19 has changed her life. The 49-year-old taught yoga and pilates before being diagnosed Aug. 9. Today she spends her days trying to get stronger. She still suffers from weakness and fatigue, erratic blood pressure, shortness of breath, brain fog and pain from cracked ribs and torn cartilage caused by coughing.
“I honestly feel like an elderly, frail person,” Masters said.
She believes she caught the virus when visiting the dentist with a toothache. The waiting room was crowded.
“A few days later I noticed I wasn’t able to smell or taste,” said Masters. “It hit Sunday to Monday night, where I was super achy, and I also had a little mental confusion, which I thought was weird. I’m a pretty sharp person. I’m generally pretty with it.”
Masters and her husband tested positive. While her husband recovered in about a week, Masters did not. She ended up in the hospital with pneumonia on Aug. 21.
“I was hospitalized for three days on oxygen — that was awful, just not being able to breathe,” she said.
The saga didn’t end after Masters got home.
“I woke up on a Sunday not being able to breathe, and that was terrifying,” she said. “My husband got my inhaler… and the albuterol settled things down. Then I started thinking, what was that?”
Masters later visited the ER where she learned the episode was caused by a blood clot.
“They said it happened when the clot lodged in the top of my lungs — isn’t that scary? And here’s me just saying, ‘I think I had an asthma attack,’” she said.
In addition to the physical symptoms, Masters also suffers from anxiety now that she is at an increased risk for stroke.
“There are support groups for people who have had pulmonary embolisms, and I’ve just started reading about some of it. It’s all very scary what I went through,” she said.
Because anxiety and depression are common complaints in patients with post-COVID syndrome, online support groups like Body Politic and Survivor Corps have formed.
Masters isn’t the only area resident dealing with post-COVID issues.
“I suffer from debilitating fatigue,” Metamora resident Bonnie Paris said. “My normal energy wearing down would be gradual, while this is like unplugging something — it happens really fast.”
Peoria resident Chastina Shurts, 44, said that COVID-19 has changed her life.
“I have the cough and I still have trouble breathing at times,” she said. “And I have severe headaches, and the feeling like you just got ran over by a car — I am very tired.”
Though it has been a long road, Masters still remains hopeful. Each day she makes a little progress in her recovery.
“I call them turtle steps, very small steps every day will make a world of difference,” she said. “I’ve managed to remain positive, because I focus on what I still can do. And I’m grateful for every day; I’m grateful for being able to see the fall foliage and the wonderful smells that come with autumn. I enjoy cooking and painting and doing things that I love while I’m stuck in this, meanwhile. And that’s made it all the more enriching.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.