MAYVILLE, N.Y.: – Most people who recover from COVID-19 do so within a few weeks, yet about 10 percent of survivors experience long-term health issues that can wreak havoc for months. These “long-haulers” experience a range of symptoms, most commonly extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, and chest pain. Other reported symptoms include cognitive problems, depression, hair loss, muscle pain, rapid heartbeat and intermittent fever. Long-term COVID-19 is incredibly disruptive to a person’s life.
Chautauqua County resident Vicki Cummings is one such COVID-19 long-hauler and wanted to share her experience with this unpredictable, and sometimes quite vicious, virus. In an interview with Chautauqua County Public Health Nurse, Janelle Hartloff, Vicki discussed her COVID-19 infection and ongoing struggle with long-term health issues.
Cummings started experiencing symptoms of fever, chills, and sore throat on January 4, 2021 and was diagnosed with COVID-19 on January 10. After three weeks, although still weak, she returned to her job but after about another three weeks, she could not continue because of extreme fatigue, weakness and headaches. That was mid-February and Vicki still has not been able to return to work.
Cummings says she has always been pretty healthy and doesn’t want anyone to think that they can’t get it. She has never had lung, breathing or heart issues. She doesn’t smoke, practiced an active lifestyle, maintained a healthy weight and had no known underlying health conditions. Yet all she wanted to do was sleep, stating, “that’s pretty much all I did for two months.” She describes how the fatigue and other symptoms such as the inability to breathe, headaches, and muscle weakness continued to plague her. “I can still feel the weakness . . . I felt like I lost every muscle in my legs . . . I feel like I had to learn to walk again almost.”
Cummings has had at least three trips to the emergency room with severe shortness of breath, chest tightness and high blood pressure. She describes these experiences as scary and “how I thought I was going to go.” In addition to almost weekly visits with her primary care physician, Cummings sought help from many specialists, including a cardiologist, pulmonologist, and neurologist. Test results did not show anything conclusive so despite lingering and debilitating symptoms, no real treatment options have existed.
Feelings of depression and hopelessness are inevitable. Cummings has joined support groups for long-haulers and has talked with researchers at the University at Buffalo, Jacobs School of Medicine. She is thankful for a strong support system in family, kids, and co-workers and recognizes that others have fared even worse than she has, with reports of suicide related to mental anguish from suffering with these long-term health effects.
“If I had one thing to say, I hope that, especially these younger kids, would get out there and get vaccinated. You just never know. I would not wish this on anybody.” Cummings describes starting to feel a little better and is hopeful that she can return to work late summer.
“I admire Vicki’s courage, strength and desire to help others by sharing such a personal experience,” said Christine Schuyler, County Public Health Director. “The benefits of vaccination far outweigh any real or perceived risks and as Vicki proves, COVID-19 is a scary virus that can cause lasting health effects.”
Cummings’s interview can be viewed at www.healthychq.com.
Vaccines are safe, effective, free and readily available for anyone 12 years of age and older. Please visit https://chqgov.com/ or call 1-866-604-6789 to find a vaccination clinic or pharmacy near you.