Havasu resident struggles for months to shake COVID symptoms
LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. — Debi Patterson first started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms on June 26 and although doctors have Patterson that she is no longer infectious, she is still waiting to recover.
The 63-year-old Lake Havasu City woman is part of a group of people known as long haulers who are infected with coronavirus and remain symptomatic for much longer than most. It’s an unfamiliar position for Patterson, who said she is otherwise healthy and rarely gets sick.
“I knew right away that it wasn’t a normal flu,” she told Today’s News Herald. “It didn’t feel anything like a normal flu would.”
Patterson said her first symptom was a fever that lasted for about 12 hours on June 26 – a Friday. That weekend she and her husband Mike Patterson both felt fine, so they went about their business as usual. On Saturday they went out dancing and on Sunday they hit the pool at the Nautical. At the end of the weekend the Patterson’s still felt good.
But by Monday morning both Debi and Mike Patterson had fevers, headaches, and body aches.
“We couldn’t even get out of bed,” Debi Patterson said. “We must have just done nothing for three or four days. Both of us were so sick that neither one of us really remembers what happened. I don’t even know how we took care of ourselves, took care of our dogs, or anything. It is all just a blur.”
Patterson said she called her doctor that Tuesday and, after a tele-health visit, went to a drive through test site the day after.
While waiting for her test results, which she said weren’t returned until much later, Patterson got a pulse oximeter which monitors oxygen saturation. On July 6, about a week after becoming bed-ridden Patterson noticed her oxygen levels were dropping below 90. A couple days later she woke up and knew she needed to go to the hospital.
Her husband was already starting to get over the symptoms and recover, so he was able to drive her to Havasu Regional Medical Center but had to drop her off at the door.
“He couldn’t even go inside – and he works at the hospital,” Patterson said. “But he couldn’t go in because he was tested at the hospital and was positive. So he just had to drop me off outside. It was so hard. That was probably the worst part of it, just knowing that he wouldn’t be able to see me.”
Patterson said once admitted into the ER, the hospital administered a COVID test because her initial test still had not been returned. She was confirmed to have the virus and after an X-ray and some blood work doctors told her she had developed bilateral pneumonia and was in respiratory distress with a blood oxygen level in the low 80s.
She said she was put on oxygen, but never had to go on a respirator.
“I was pretty lucky. The hospital started me on the antibiotics, blood thinners, and steroids right away,” she said.
Patterson said she also developed some heart issues, likely due to waiting a couple days after noticing her oxygen levels started to dip.
After five days, Patterson was released from the hospital and returned home.
“I came home to recuperate and I kept waiting to get better,” Patterson said. “It was really bad for the first three or four weeks after I got home. My husband finally had to go back to work, so I was just kind of here by myself. It was hard to even get out of bed in the morning or make myself eat anything.”
More than two months after contracting the virus, Patterson says the headaches have largely stopped but she has recently developed neuropathy in her feet. Most all of the other symptoms persist.
“I’m still really short of breath, I still have a cough, and the fatigue I think is one of the worst things,” she said. “You are just tired all the time and you get insomnia. It is so weird because you are so tired and you can’t sleep. Then I’ve also gotten some brain fog – just struggling to find the words. I was trying to talk to some friends the other evening and I couldn’t even find the words to tell them what I was trying to say. I was just looking at them like, ‘I have no idea what I am trying to tell you.’”
Patterson said she had her first appointment with a pulmonologist on Tuesday, but said there isn’t really a lot doctors can do at this point for people in her position.
“You just have to ride it out,” she said.
Patterson said she has been riding it out with the help of people all over the globe who are in a similar conundrum. She joined the Facebook group COVID-19 Long Haulers where people from all over the world can share their experiences and ask questions.
“Some people on the long hauler site have been sick for five months. A lot of them got sick in March so it has been five to six months for some of them,” she said. “There are starting to be some people who are starting to recover. I think a lot of it is just a really good positive attitude, which I have kept through the whole thing. I try to stay positive, I meditate a lot, and I just try to take care of myself. I think being positive is the biggest thing.”
Patterson said she is no longer infectious, but that hasn’t made much of a difference in terms of her day-to-day life as symptoms continue to hound her.
She said she has been able to get out of the house a couple times in the last few weeks, but with mixed results. She said she went to lunch with her husband a couple weekends ago for their first outing since July.
“I was down for three days after that one,” she said.
Patterson said she recently went to a friend’s house and sat in their pool. Later that day she was still feeling alright, so her husband took her out to dinner.
“From pretty much the next day on I’ve been on the couch,” she said. “I’m trying to go out a little bit at a time and just take it easy and take it slow, but it’s not working out really well.”