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With Long COVID: ‘If I stood up to do dishes, I felt like I was gonna have a heart attack. It was crazy.’

Joelle Thompson.jpg
Becca Newton
/
KBIA

Joelle Thompson is an elementary school art teacher from Independence, Missouri. She spoke with the Missouri on Mic team at the State Fair last August.

She contracted COVID-19 in September 2020 and shared about her experiences with long COVID and some of the lasting health effects she’s dealt with since then.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Joelle Thompson: Seven months into my first year of teaching was March 2020, the pandemic happened and lockdowns happened, and I taught virtually for two months as an art teacher – which is really hard at the elementary level.

Then I taught in person last school year, and I came down with COVID pretty early in the school year. I was sick for about seven months.

Thankfully, just by God's grace, I was able to come back to work, but I was pretty weak and I was on a walker, at first, and I had to take steroids for a while and change my diet.

I couldn't do a lot of things by myself for a while – like grocery shopping and stuff like that. It was just kind of like I was hanging on to my job by my fingernails, and I had to get accommodations and everything.

It was really scary.

I had to definitely fight like depression-inducing thoughts for a long time with it because you don't know if it's permanent lung damage, and you're gonna live this way for the rest of your life, or if your heart rate is ever gonna go down to normal.

Before the pandemic, I was always – I'm still a pretty active person, and my resting heart rate was maybe 60 beats per minute? Because I had done a lot of running in high school, and then at its very best [after COVID-19], it was 90 beats per minute.

If I stood up to do dishes, I felt like I was gonna have a heart attack. It was crazy.

"I had to definitely fight like depression-inducing thoughts for a long time with it because you don't know if it's permanent lung damage, and you're gonna live this way for the rest of your life."
Joelle Thompson

I found a lot of support on a Facebook group with other long haulers and followed a lot of their advice because for a while I couldn't even navigate the medical system to get seen for an appointment.

Because even though I tested negative for COVID, I was still exhibiting symptoms, and there are those screening questions, and if you can't pass the screening questions – you can't get into get seen.

So, there was a lot of bureaucracy that I had to battle.

I felt sick for about six weeks after contracting the virus and then I actually felt back to normal for about a month or so. Then I had one really stressful week at work and a pretty long day at the zoo – we just went to the zoo and walked around a lot, and I guess I pushed myself too far or triggered something because I had this big relapse.

All through December, January, February, parts of March – I was just very short of breath. I felt dizzy all the time. I had to wear compression socks to just get through a day at work.

Then slowly through diet changes and taking a lot of antihistamines and following some other supplements and advice that I saw with other long haulers online, and kind of some trial and error to see what worked for myself – I just slowly improved.

And a lot of it was rest.

When your body is battling something like long COVID, sometimes it kind of mimics old age in a way.

Giving your body that time to recover helps, and so, I just rested a lot on top of it all. That's what gave me the most improvement.

I would say I'm 99% now. I can do a lot of things I couldn't do before like I'm playing tennis and I'm just enjoying it all.

Katie Quinn studies radio journalism and political science at the University of Missouri- Columbia. She comes from a small town outside of St. Louis called Fenton.
Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.