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COVID-19 Long Haulers: How some are living with post-virus symptoms

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EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) -- For two Western Wisconsin women, waking up every day is not entering reality.

"Joint pain, muscle aches. You just feel all around like you have the flu, but a really bad flu," Tara Selisker said.

It is more like a reoccurring, daily nightmare as they continue to feel the impacts of COVID-19 months after beating the virus.

"I feel like my bones are lead. I feel like every cell in my body is sick," Reyna Geist said.

Both women, who have never met, are COVID Long Haulers: people who experience post-viral symptoms after kicking the virus.

"I get out of breath walking up the stairs now," Selisker, a Hudson resident, said. "I have been to countless appointments: echocardiogram, EKG, CT Scans. Everything comes back normal. Just when I thought it was getting better, two, three days later, I'd be knocked down again."

The symptoms vary from person to person.

"[I have] muscle pain throughout my entire body, from my head to my toes," Geist said. "The headaches are 24 hours a day. I go to bed with them, I wake up with them. I'm pretty much sequestered at my house and it's been that way for 5 months."

An article in the American Medical Association estimates about 10% of COVID-19 patients become long haulers.

"This happened with the polio pandemic," HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital In-Patient Rehabilitation Director Dr. Eric Spears said.

"People would have what's called a post-polio syndrome, long term effects from that. There is probably a post-COVID syndrome that is just starting to happen, and we're just learning about."

These lingering symptoms could be attributed to how the body reacted to the virus when it was still active.

"If you look at the pathology, like under the microscope of the lung tissue in someone with COVID, a lot of it is the body's inflammatory response causing the damage more so than the virus itself. We're not just dealing with the virus but the body's inappropriate or reactive response to the virus as well," Dr. Spears said.

As the feeling of isolation continues for long haulers, there is a sense of community forming on the internet as people continuing sharing their symptoms.

On the Wisconsin Covid Long Haulers Facebook page, Selisker has found refugee.

"Finding the Facebook page was my answered prayer in so many senses because I finally found people. I'm like, 'I'm not crazy, that is exactly what I am going through,'" she said.

While an official diagnosis of long haulers from her doctor has Geist ready to accept her new normal.

"One day, I might wake up feeling okay, but, by noon I'm right back in bed. It's like it's laughing at me saying, 'haha never mind,'" she said. "My doctor said it's like becoming paralyzed. You lived up to a point one way, and then you may have to live a different way forever."

Both want others to know that they might survive COVID, but they could also end up in that 10%.

"If there was a cure, if there was something, we would be taking it. We'd be doing it. No one is choosing to live this way. No one would ever choose to live this way. My life has been turned upside down," Geist said.

"You think COVID is nothing because you survived it and it was no more than the cold, [but] just be aware that there are people out there that are getting sick. Just because we weren't hospitalized, we're still suffering for months and months from his virus, and we have no idea if we're ever going to be okay again," Selisker said.

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Stephanie Rodriguez

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