After enduring Covid-19 or receiving the vaccine, many people have noticed the reemergence or never ending round of different Covid symptoms. Doctors have begun calling the phenomenon Long Haul Covid-19 Syndrome. Many of the Long Haulers have to travel to find a clinic that specializes in finding treatment for the symptoms created by the Long Haul Covid-19 illness.
Sister Pam Randall has been a United Methodist Minister for 17 years and has spent the last four years leading Quitman United Methodist Church. After being diagnosed with Covid at the end of August in 2020, she had thought the worst was behind her. When she saw an opportunity to take the vaccine at the beginning of the year, she decided that she would take it as a way to further protect others.
“The vaccine was offered to clergy members at a Hattiesburg clinic because clergy was considered essential employees the same way health care workers were. I wasn’t old enough to get the vaccine otherwise,” stated Pam. “I took my first shot in January and got my second shot in February. With the first shot, my arm stayed sore for a week, and the site ran fever. The second shot was like having Covid all over again for a 24 hour period. I had every symptom I had before and even added a new one: dizziness. Little did I know how prevalent and long lasting the dizziness would be.”
After she got the vaccine, she noticed that her health continued to dissipate, but she at first thought it was just from overwhelming stress from everything that has taken place over the last year.
“Over the next several weeks, my overall health and mental status began to decline. At first, I thought I was just having a bad day. I continued to push myself as hard as I could, thinking things would get better,” continued Pam. “I chalked my health struggles up to stress and trying to cope with the loss of several church members and friends to Covid. After all, I had nearly lost my husband to Covid just a couple of months prior. He had developed Covid pneumonia in both lungs. Several weeks later, thinking he was over the worst of it, he threw Covid blood clots.”
After several weeks of sickness, she knew something was wrong and took a short leave to see if she could get better.
“At the beginning of May and after a couple of visits to my primary doctor in Meridian, I took two weeks off for a medical leave in hopes that I would improve. The opposite happened. It seemed I was getting worse,” stated Pam. “Seeking answers, my primary doctor started making referrals for me to see a specialist in Jackson.”
While the specialist did find something that could explain a small amount of the symptoms Pam has faced, it couldn’t explain everything or even the extent of her symptoms.
“The only thing the specialist was seeing from my lab work was Adrenal and Vitamin D deficiencies. Those two deficiencies alone could be the cause of my extreme fatigue, but it couldn’t explain all the other symptoms I was having,” expressed Pam. “The fatigue had gotten so bad that I couldn’t make it through the day without having to lie down and rest for at least an hour or two. I also found that eating a meal would wipe me out for the rest of the day. I began waiting to eat anything until 3:00-5:00 p.m. because I knew that I couldn’t function after I ate. This is not a good practice for someone who is already a diabetic, but I felt I had no other choice.”
Fatigue isn’t the only symptom that has plagued her. Since she received her second shot of the vaccine, Pam has struggled with intense dizziness.
“Along with the fatigue and change in my eating practices, I was having headaches every day,” explained Pam. “I couldn’t walk across the floor without being short of breath and experiencing the worst dizziness I have ever had. If I bent over, I was dizzy. If I turned around, I was dizzy. If I stood up, I was dizzy.”
As if the physical symptoms weren’t enough, Pam noticed a major problem with some mental and emotional symptoms as well.
“To make matters worse, I was emotional about everything. I’ve always been easy to cry, but it was ridiculous. I would go from crying to feeling anxious, having chest pains, and wanting to isolate myself from others,” informed Pam. “All of these things were out of character for me, but the most difficult symptom was yet to come: brain fog. I couldn’t remember things, couldn’t keep my train of thought, and couldn’t remember why I walked into a room or what I was supposed to be doing. My attention span was reduced to seconds. I couldn’t even read the Bible without forgetting what I had just read. My brain fog got so bad and concerned me so much that I asked my doctor to order a CAT scan of the brain. I thought I could possibly have brain cancer or had a mild stroke. The scan turned out normal, praise God, but I was stressed about it.”
After suffering and trying to figure out what was going on alone, Pam decided that it was time to take stronger measures and seek more help. She met with the Staff-Parish Relation Committee and requested an extended leave to visit with a doctor and different specialists at a Long Haulers Covid clinic.
“One reason I wanted to have the time off is because I knew it would take weeks, if not months. It takes that long to get in with a specialist. I’ve been to see numerous specialists,” declared Pam. “Mississippi has no Covid Long Haulers clinics. The closest one to us is UAB. I did reach out to them; however, I have a home two and a half hours from Atlanta. I went to school at Emory University to do my course of study for my ministry, and my husband went to Emory. They have a Covid long haulers clinic. I see Dr. Valasquez, and he told me that pretty much all they could really do is treat the symptoms. There is no cure for Long Haulers because everything is too new.”
She has been actively seeking help with the different specialists to work on the different symptoms she has. One symptom in particular that she has been receiving therapy on is phantom smells.
“I see a Rhinologist because I have phantom smells, and I’m over a year outside of having Covid. In the afternoons, I smell weird things that aren’t there.
There are times I’ll smell something baking or food cooking on the stove when there is nothing there. Usually, it’s something weird like burning wires or car fumes. The car fumes are my biggest problem, especially at nighttime when I go to bed. It’s like sitting in a car with a car in front of me has horrible fumes, and I can’t get away from it and can’t stand it. It usually gives me a headache,” described Pam. “Typically, people have taste issues where everything will taste a certain way, so the specialist told me that this is not real typical and sent me to see a Rhinologist. She has me doing some therapy treatments at home where I’m supposed to smell specific essential oils for six weeks to retrain the nerves in my nose. She told me since I’m a year out, that the smell problem will most likely be permanent and that if I don’t feel like the treatment is working then I can stop it.”
While she still suffers greatly from all the symptoms she noticed appearing since February, she feels blessed with the level of support and care she has received. Her family and church family have supported her every step of the way and only want to see her improve.
“My church family has been the absolute best that I could possibly ask for. I have seen the generosity, encouragement, love, and support that they have shown me. If love could make you well, I would be well quick because they have been nothing but loving and supportive of me,” proclaimed Pam. “They have given me four months off. We’ve been in North Carolina where I’ve had the best place to recuperate and build myself back up physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m very blessed to have this time off.”
Although she doesn’t enjoy having the symptoms, she does look for a positive aspect of the ordeal. She truly believes that somehow all of this will work out for a greater cause in the end.
“God can bring something good out of me struggling with the long haulers, even if it’s to help others validate what they’re going through and let them know they’re not alone,” said Pam.
She still has about a month and a half to continue to recover before she returns to position in the church. Although she didn’t start having any of the symptoms until after she received the vaccine, she still believes she would get the vaccine if given the chance to do it again. She has seen both positive and negative stories involving people’s experience with the vaccine and believes that obtaining it should be the choice of each individual. She only wants others to know her story so that they can know that they are not alone if they have Long Haulers, and they have not gone crazy.