(NEXSTAR) – Every morning, Paul Dougherty walks downhill about a half-mile from his front door to his property’s gate. It’s the voyage back up that causes problems.
Before catching COVID-19 in November, 68-year-old Dougherty could make it to the top of the hill no problem. But by the end of January — months after his initial diagnosis — Dougherty says he has to stop mid-way to catch his breath.
Dougherty and his wife, Kate, 68, were both infected with COVID-19 the last week of November. The Fiddletown, Calif. residents aren’t quite sure where they got it. Their town has a population of only 324.
Paul think he could have contracted the virus on a trip to the grocery store or gas station in the larger, neighboring city of Plymouth. He takes care to always wear a mask and brings hand sanitizer with him for every trip.
When the symptoms did start appearing, the Doughertys knew immediately that it was COVID.
“I started vomiting out-of-the-blue when I got up in the morning,” Paul said, “and vomited all day.”
The next few days were better, before the virus hit Paul “like a ton of bricks.”
“We were sleeping all day, all night,” Kate recalled. “Sleeping, sleeping, sleeping was all I could do.”
Paul said he had a “lot of coughing and breathing issues,” though he never felt the need to go to the hospital. They both struggled to eat, with Paul losing eight pounds and Kate five.
The Doughertys are what’s come to be described as “COVID long haulers,” or people who continue to suffer from symptoms of COVID even after they’ve tested negative for the virus.
Eventually, the major symptoms cleared up for the Doughertys. But two months after first catching the virus, they still feel sick sometimes.
The post-COVID symptoms can be subtle. On the Harvard Health Blog, Dr. Anthony Komaroff describes the sensation as such:
Weeks pass, and while the worst symptoms are gone, you’re not your old self — not even close. You can’t meet your responsibilities at home or at work: no energy. Even routine physical exertion, like vacuuming, leaves you feeling exhausted. You ache all over. You’re having trouble concentrating on anything, even watching TV; you’re unusually forgetful; you stumble over simple calculations. Your brain feels like it’s in a fog.
Kate describes the unending illness as “little COVID spells” — moments where you need to catch your breath or sit down.
“You feel kind of dizzy, lightheaded, like you need to sit down right now,” Kate said. “It actually happened to me this morning.”
They say the spells are decreasing in frequency and intensity as the days wear on, but still occurring with regularity.
Kate says the most frustrating aspect of the experience is not having the energy she once had.
“I just don’t have the get-up-and-go I used to have,” she said. “But I hope it comes back.”
The Doughertys have been hit hard by COVID-19. Kate’s mother died of COVID complications in May. Two weeks ago, she lost a close friend. Her son is an emergency physician, and every day she fears for his health.
But they continue to trudge on because they must. The Doughertys live on a ranch, and the animals — COVID spells or not — need caring for.
That’s part of what keeps them going through all this.
“With the animals, we had to get up every morning and evening to let them out or put them in bed. Somehow, we dragged our bones and did it,” she said.
“If I didn’t have the animals, I would have just stayed in bed.”