Living with long Covid: ‘To this day, I’m like a walking zombie’

accreditation

Thousands of people worldwide are suffering from the lingering effects of Covid-19 – from severe fatigue and struggling to breathe to coping with memory or hair loss. Health24 spoke to a number of long haulers. This is Sherri’s story.

Sherri, 47

Contracted Covid-19 in July 2021.

I don’t know how I contracted Covid-19, but the bottom line is that I was sick. It was excruciating. I woke up and felt like I had been hit by a bus. I was so sore that I was in tears. I had quite a bad migraine and an incredibly sore throat, and then I started to cough incessantly. I phoned my GP and he said I had Covid. I told him, "There’s no way I’ve got Covid," because of all the precautions my family and I had taken. We did a Zoom consultation, and he sent me a script for an antibiotic and vitamins, which left me feeling a little better.

But a week later, I lost my sense of smell. I decided to get tested and it turned out to be positive. The coughing continued, and I can’t even begin to explain the exhaustion. I might not have had a fever and my oxygen levels didn’t drop below 90%, but my symptoms were still shocking. I had never been that sick. 

To this day, I’m like a walking zombie.

I'm on empty, and there's no reserve

I used to do karate and kickboxing three times a week. Now, I can’t do anything. I don’t even have the energy to do a five-minute walk. I have headaches every single day and I'm still battling with sore muscles and brain fog.

I start work at 5 am and work until 1 pm on weekdays, because after 1 pm I cannot focus on anything. Prior to my infection, I was good to go right through until 6 pm, but I can’t do that anymore. Sometimes, I have to take a nap.

Sitting in front of a computer makes me nauseous, which is something that never happened before my illness. My vision has changed and I have an overall feeling of being unwell. I am mentally exhausted. It’s a general feeling of being completely depleted, as if there’s nothing left. I'm on empty, and there’s no reserve. 

It was my husband’s birthday recently. We hadn't had people around for a year and a half, and back in the day I could prepare all the food, set the table, and everything else without even thinking about it. This time, guests were due to arrive at 1 pm, but by noon, while I was making the salad, I just burst out crying. I was so tired and I had such a bad backache. The only symptom that started to improve was my shortness of breath, about a month after my infection. 

long covid
Image: Supplied

My hair has gone grey

There’s also nothing left of my hair. My hair has always been fine and long, but I’ve been losing clumps of it. So I said to my husband, "I’m going to cut it all off." The amount of hair that I have to fish out of the bath and out of my brush is incredible. I’ve actually been shampooing my hair with horse shampoo for the past three months. If I didn’t, I’d hate to know what it would look like now. And my hair has actually gone grey. Although I am in my late 40s, I have never had grey hair. 

My sense of smell hasn’t returned. There are only two things I can smell: my husband’s deodorant and my own. But if I spray my own deodorant, it smells "off". It’s revolting, whereas if he puts on deodorant and walks into our home office, I can smell that he smells nice. To me, my deodorant just stinks, even though my husband confirms that it has a pleasant smell. I also go through phases where I can smell cigars left in ashtrays, but that is it. I can’t smell anything else.

My skin has also been dry since my infection and no amount of cream helps. I’ve bought a popular body moisturiser and use it up to five times per day, but my skin isn’t improving. 

I’ve got old ladies’ skin – it’s flaky and dry.

I try to do a bit of activity every day with my son. When he gets home from school, we go outside and attempt to kick the ball around the garden. I am also helping him to learn to box, so there’s a little bit of activity, but five minutes is the most I can manage. 

From bad to worse

I’m all doctored out and I’m all "vitamined" out. I saw my neurologist in August 2021. She gave me medication for muscle cramps as well as anti-inflammatories which I haven’t used because I’m trying to get off chemicals. I recently went for blood tests to rule out any other possible conditions. The results confirmed that it’s long Covid – my autoimmune markers were elevated, but there were no signs of active autoimmune conditions. I was advised to try and manage the situation, but things are just going from bad to worse.

I got the vaccine because we lost our uncle and I wasn’t going to take the chance of getting Covid again. I carry survivor guilt and feel I have no reason to complain – after all, I am one of the lucky ones that were never hospitalised, and I survived. But I long for the day that I wake up and feel normal again. 

*Many people suffer from the long-term effects of Covid-19, even many months later. If you are one of those people, and wish to share your experience, let us know, and your story can be told in our Living with long Covid series. You are not alone. E-mail your stories to zakiyah.ebrahim@24.com

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | Living with long Covid: People tell the stories of the debilitating symptoms left in the virus' wake

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
29% - 9743 votes
No
71% - 23849 votes
Vote