WORTHINGTON — With COVID-19-related restrictions relaxing, people have tossed aside their face masks and are moving on with post-pandemic life.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for many who contracted the virus and continue to experience some of its debilitating side effects.
Earlier this year, The Globe shared stories of three area women dealing with a range of symptoms from exhaustion to neurological issues. Susanne Murphy was the first to be featured.
Diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-December, she is now six months into Post COVID Syndrome and has no idea if or when she will be back to her pre-COVID health.
When an unusual early June heat wave descended upon Minnesota two weeks ago, Murphy said her symptoms really amplified.
“I didn’t expect it to be this bad,” she said, noting how simple tasks like walking from the car to the house sap her energy. Some days, all she can do is lay on the couch — not at all conducive to her once busy lifestyle of work and volunteer service to the community.
“I’m still having exhaustion and intermediate headaches,” Murphy shared. “And the nerve pain on my right side flares up without any prompting. I can’t figure out what triggers it.”
The nerve pain wakes her in the middle of the night, and is bad enough to bring her to tears.
“It was nerve pain like I’ve never experienced before. It lasted all day,” she said of recent pain in her right arm and hand. “I forced myself to do some things because the rest of my body didn’t hurt.”
While Murphy said she has more good moments than bad, the bad moments are the worst. In those times, she tells herself the pain will go away eventually.
“It comes, but it always leaves. I focus on the fact that it’s going to leave again,” she said. “I never know how long it’s going to last. When I get exhausted, I think I’m going to rest for 10 minutes and I’ll be out for two to three hours. I won’t hear the phone or anything unless Mocha barks.”
While the exhaustion has been with Murphy since the beginning of her battle with Post COVID Syndrome, the nerve pain is more recent. Earlier last week, she experienced her first — and hopefully only — digestive issues.
As of June 1, Murphy joined an online research group in a three-month trial spearheaded by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Based on her symptoms and what they’ve gleaned from other long-haulers, they suggested she try a gluten-free diet.
“They seem to think there’s a connection between gluten and the inflammatory system,” Murphy shared.
No easy answers
People living with Post COVID Syndrome have a wide array of symptoms, and there’s no quick pill or easy solution for any of them.
“Everything is new — there’s no history,” Murphy said. While she has nerve pain, digestion issues and exhaustion, others experience vision trouble or have lost their sense of taste.
Murphy has tested some essential oils, and found turmeric in capsule form to be helpful for her nerve pain.
“Listen to your body; rest,” she said. “You cannot drink enough fluids. I’ve been drinking a lot of Pedialyte and Gatorade because I don’t want to get dehydrated.”
Murphy received both her first and second vaccinations to ward off another bout of COVID-19, and didn’t have a reaction to either dose. She was hopeful they would lessen some of her post-COVID symptoms, but that wasn’t the case.
After six months of health-related issues, Murphy admits the exhaustion, brain fog, lack of focus and pain has chipped away at her spirit.
“I’m a person that likes to be true to my word,” she said. “One of the hardest things for me is when I say I’m going to do something and then I have to cancel.
“My thought process tells me I want to do these things and my limitations won’t let me,” she added.
It hasn’t been easy to accept help — she learned to be independent when her husband died suddenly 22 years ago — but Murphy is so thankful for understanding and supportive friends.
“Someone will come and water my flowers or offer to get my groceries,” she said. “I’m blessed with a very supportive team.”
After the first story was published in February about Murphy’s bout with Post COVID Syndrome, she and another local long hauler, Jolene Wieneke of Adrian, created a Facebook Group for area residents living with impacts from the virus. Murphy hopes to bring the group together for an in-person gathering this summer.
“In reading about other people’s struggles, it’s bittersweet,” she said. “Sometimes you’ll read that they’ve been feeling OK for months and then, wham, something knocks them over.
“You worry that will happen,” she added. “Then again, you hear of someone who’s had it for nine months and is starting to feel better and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I know there’s people out there fighting for every breath they take. I am not going to complain once about this — it’s annoying. We all deal with it in our own ways.”