FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) – Healthcare facilities in the Valley are aiming to find treatment and relief for those known as ‘covid long haulers,’ as they are now starting up new programs and clinics for the around 25 percent of people who contracted COVID-19 and now suffer from lingering symptoms of the virus.
Experts say some long haulers deal with their side-effects for weeks, while others are in agony for months.
Kathy Girard Underdahl was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month after what she felt like was an oncoming heart attack. She says her nearly two-week battle with the virus was anything but easy.
“Short of breath, chest hurt, super nauseous, super fatigued, just bleh,” Girard Underdahl said.
It’s been nearly five weeks now, but Girard Underdahl is still struggling. The worst symptom: an almost debilitating pain and pressure in her head and ears.
“It’s like someone is squeezing my head together,” she said as she put her hands up on both sides of her head. “It’s just horrible. Yesterday when I had a really bad episode, I went to write something down on a list and I couldn’t figure out how to spell it! I was like, ‘How do you spell tea tree?’ and I was like, ‘Tea? Tree?’ I was sounding it out and like, ‘Ok, what’s happening?!’ Sometimes it really effects my brain and then it will just snap back like normal,” Girard Underdahl said.
“With covid, we are seeing many people are having neurological symptoms, like fogginess,” Sanford Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Avish Nagpal said.
Another one of Girard Underdahl’s symptoms, and one local doctors say many post-covid patients have, is the smelling of smoke or of something burning when inhaling.
“So, I started wearing a bandana and I put essential oils on here. So, if it’s really intense some days, I just start sniffing essential oils because I can’t stand the smell!” she said.
Girard Underdahl says of the multiple times she’s been to the doctor, ‘everything is checking out perfect. They don’t know what’s going on.’
Now, local healthcare providers say that’s about to change. Essentia Health says they are rolling out their post-covid rehab program at all of their Essentia locations.
“We need to identify, A, what the baseline was with those patients, what they were doing prior to becoming ill and B, how we’re going to get them back there. And if we can’t treat them, or it’s outside of our realm of expertise, then we’ll direct them to the person who is the expert,” Essentia’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services Manager Troy Schmitz said.
Sanford Health says they’re working on creating a clinic as well to make it easier for those like Girard Underdahl to get the specific help and relief needed to get back their quality of life.
“Sometimes they’ll need pulmonary rehab, sometimes they’ll need long-term oxygen, sometimes they’ll need to see a neurologist or a neuropsychologist for their persistent fogginess. Other times they just need physical therapy to build up their endurance,” Dr. Nagpal said.
Nagpal says ‘long haulers’ aren’t special to the Coronavirus, as many who recover from pneumonia and the seasonal flu deal with months-long lingering symptoms as well. Nagpal says people with severe symptoms, like those with low oxygen levels and major lung scarring, are relatively rare, which is good.
He adds it typically takes four to six weeks to recover from COVID-19, and suggests reaching out to your doctor if your symptoms stick around any longer.
Essentia Health says covid long haulers in search of therapies can contact the following numbers:
Essentia Health St. Mary’s Therapy Center in Detroit Lakes: 218-847-0883
In other Essentia Health service areas, call your local clinic.
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