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Medical professionals, survivors discuss COVID-19 recovery

Updated: Oct. 22, 2020 at 9:26 PM CDT
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MOSELLE, Miss. (WDAM) - The Mississippi State Department of Health presumes more than 97,000 Mississippians have recovered from the coronavirus. But what does it mean to recover?

Pine Belt’s frontline health care workers explained recovery is on a spectrum.

When the coronavirus seeped into the Pine Belt, doctors like Merit Health Wesley Internal Medicine Physician Dr. Deepu Thoppil, braced themselves for endless hours of patient care and the possibility of becoming the patient.

“We made sure that we had extra supplies at the house, canned goods, very similar to what we would do for hurricane preparations,” Thoppil recalled.

On Labor Day, Thoppil said he woke up to his own whirlwind.

“Monday morning, I woke up and it felt like a train had just run over me,” Thoppil said.

Thoppil tested positive for COVID-19. He said his symptoms were fever, chills, muscle weakness and fatigue he described as “incredible.”

“I think I slept 23 hours the first day,” Thoppil said.

By day three, he said his wife was also in bed with the virus. After three weeks, he said he felt like himself and credits taking his own advice that he gives to COVID-19 patients.

“Rest and stay hydrated to a certain degree," Thoppil said. "I would do just some basic vitamins, nothing out of the ordinary: multivitamin, a little extra Vitamin C, some Zinc and some vitamin E.”

Hattiesburg chef and restaurant owner Katie Dixon credited those same supplements to recovering from COVID-19 in 10 days. She talked about her fight with the virus during day 12 of her quarantine.

“Extreme fatigue," Dixon said. "I slept from day one through day nine, probably 20 out of 24 hours a day.”

Dixon said she suffered a kind of headache she never felt before.

“I was taking over the counter medications and nothing was touching it," Dixon said. "I would even find myself waking up in the middle of the night sobbing cause it was hurting so bad.”

During her quarantine, Dixon said two lingering symptoms continued to affect her job.

“Being a chef, it’s kind of hard cooking stuff and not being able to taste anything or smell anything,” Dixon said.

Meanwhile, Haley Easterling, a field nurse for Forrest General Hospital, said she visits patients whose lingering symptoms turned into longterm care.

“These patients are still having to be on oxygen, most of the time it’s low flow oxygen," Easterling said. “They still have the cough. It’s like a dry congestion. They’re so short-winded with minimum exertion during their daily living activities.”

Easterling said this virus doesn’t discriminate.

“I have seen 20-year-olds that are having these long-term effects, and I have seen 80-year-olds that are having long-term effects,” Easterling said.

Easterling’s care goes beyond the physical. She said she reassures COVID-19 patients as they fight depression.

Dr. Geralyn Datz, a psychologist with Southern Behavioral Medicine, said those emotions are natural among COVID-19 survivors.

“We know that depression and anxiety are very prevalent with coronavirus, that these are common mental health symptoms that follow because people become very isolated,” Datz said.

Datz said the virus brought anxiety across the nation that’s fueling feelings of embarrassment or shame for contracting COVID-19.

“My advice is to keep a broad perspective to know that your mental health and your physical health can interact,” Datz said.

Datz said whether you’re dealing with mental or physical symptoms of coronavirus, reach out for support from others and help from healthcare providers that can understand your symptoms.

Like Thoppil, who said COVID-19 reminds us this is not a single person’s battle, it’s everyone’s battle to take care of ourselves and our community.

Many people have lost loved ones that will never be able to say they recovered from COVID-19. Here in the Pine Belt, we have lost 358 lives to the virus.

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