LAUREL (WDAM) - More than one year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who were lucky enough to survive the disease are still suffering from long-term effects. Doctors admit the medical field is still learning about the effects in real-time.
Faye Jackson, a Laurel resident, was hospitalized three times for a total of 42 days while she battled and recovered from COVID-19.
She talks about what she is currently experiencing.
“I’m losing all my skin. This is my feet, the skin from my feet that’s peeling and coming all the way up,” Jackson said. “It affects everything, it affects my eyes, I had to go get my eyes examined. I get out of breath, I’m tired constantly, I get out of breath, brain fog.”
She says she is still dealing with long-term side effects. Doctors now call it “long haulers.”
“Long haulers is hard, it’s harder than fighting COVID because it never stops,” Jackson said. “Each day you got a different symptom that’s going to hit you, but you never know when it is. Like I said I have panic attacks…it’s hard.”.
Jackson says she did lose her sense of taste and smell, which haven’t come back fully. That’s why she has lost more than 100 pounds during recovery. She describes more new medical complications, including congestive heart failure and shortness of breath.
“My heart, I didn’t have heart problems. They don’t know what to do for my heart,” Jackson said. “My lung, I’ve never smoked, I’ve never don’t anything but they don’t know. When I showed them my skin they said…'Your skin’s peeling?’”
While her doctors are doing their best to help, they say this a disease that’s never been seen before.
“Doctors are accumulating this information on the fly with anecdotal reports, so the number one thing I would say is speak with your doctor. Have him or her help you get through these and also help him learn - or her,” said Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh of Forrest General Hospital and Hattiesburg Clinic.
Jackson isn’t alone. Hattiesburg native Jennifer Knight got the virus in July and lost her sense of taste and smell.
“I can almost pinpoint exactly when it happened,” Knight said. “It was a burning sensation in my nose for four or five hours, then I woke up the next day and it was gone. I never really regained that. I got sweet and salty back somewhat, but nothing really tasted normal again.”
Losing smell wasn’t her only symptom that lingered.
“I had bouts of tachycardia for about four months,” Knight said. “[I] ended up going to a cardiologist, that has since resolved. Shortness of breath, definitely had that for about four to six months. Rosacea, which is a rash on the face, never had that before, got that about four or five months later.”
In January, Knight describes developing parosmia – a distortion of the sense of smell. She explains that certain foods like onion, garlic, raspberries, peanut butter, cooked meats and coffee, along with many personal hygiene products, smell foul or rancid to her.
“It’s like a sulfur – like you’re standing in front of a paper mill with roadkill around you,” Knight said.
Knight says it affects her everyday life and she is a member of multiple online support groups. She explains that she has gone to specialists and therapies looking for help and answers.
“After losing everything that is in your stomach – you know you just it’s…the anxiety around it. There is some depression because you’re like am I going to be this way the rest of my life,” Knight said.
Knight explains that since food and cooking and eating are such a big part of socializing and networking, she is deeply affected. While she admits parosmia is not life-threatening she describes it as life-changing, to say the least.
As a pediatric nurse practitioner, Knight says it is difficult to be part of an uncertainty in the medical field. Jackson is also a former nurse.
“Being a nurse, to hear a doctor say we really don’t know what to do…that’s scary,” Jackson said.
Rouhbakhsh admits that when it comes to long-term effects, studies are still beginning or are just now underway in terms of learning.
“We don’t know,” Rouhbakhsh said. “We are gathering information as it goes because we are now a year into this and we don’t have any metric by which we can judge this.”
Jackson says her doctor has suggested she enroll in a study about long-term effects.
Both women say they encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
COVID is real. It’s not a hoax, it’s real. Some people get over it and some people don’t, and I’m one of those that haven’t,” Knight said.
Jackson echoed Knight, saying “I want people to know that COVID is real. COVID is not gone. COVID is still here.”
Jackson says that after getting her vaccine, she is finally feeling a little bit better in terms of her “long haulers” symptoms.
“Get your vaccine. I posted mine proudly,” Jackson said. I got my vaccine. You’ve got to take it serious. COVID is a killer. It doesn’t matter who you are, COVID is a killer.”