Kern County has waged a war on COVID-19 for more than a year and a half.
For many, a coronavirus diagnosis did not lead to a hospitalization or deadly consequences. But some residents report the virus’s lingering effects long after they are healed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said these post-COVID conditions — also known as long-haul COVID — can affect the body in a variety of ways. An individual typically displays symptoms for four weeks or more to qualify, according to the CDC.
“We're almost two years into dealing with this, but we're still learning and understanding the implications of this particular disease and its long-term effects,” said neurologist Matthew Ashley, chief medical officer at the Centre for Neuro Skills.
‘SHARD OF GLASS’
Lisa Mundy, 42, was walking around her house when she stepped on a crumb.
But for her, the minuscule pieces were not a minor annoyance. It felt like a “shard of glass.”
Her feet suffered nerve damage after leaving the Bakersfield Heart Hospital in May 2020 following a 40-day battle with COVID-19. The virus debilitated her body, and left her with problems she contends with today.
When she came home, she took about 29 medications “to be alive and functioning,” she said. Now, she takes about 14 to 17 medications per day.
Her morning routine has been completely revamped. Mundy said cleaning her house, from top to bottom, normally took about two hours. The mother and grandmother spends all day cleaning, and sometimes longer.
Fatigue weighs her down, and she must rest at regular intervals. Loss of muscle control, sensitive teeth, hair loss, and gaining 100 pounds are only some of the ways her body changed.
Mundy hopes to check back into physical therapy because she still wants to improve her life.
She couldn’t walk when she left the hospital. Through physical therapy, she learned how to walk, text, type and put on her makeup.
In September 2020, Mundy could finally do her normal routine — showering, dressing and makeup — all by herself. The 42-year-old was taken off 24/7 oxygen support in November 2020.
‘SYMPTOMS THAT NEVER WENT AWAY’
Vicki Rice has been a health care worker for 42 years and a transfusion nurse for 25 years, and still worries she might forget how to care for her patients.
These worries do not stem from her own inabilities. Rather, the coronavirus robbed her memory of skills that once took no thought.
As a transfusion nurse, the 63-year-old couldn’t isolate at home during the pandemic. Rice visited residences to provide people with lifesaving transfusions.
However, she said one such visit proved to be life-changing — Rice was exposed to COVID-19 on Jan. 25 of this year. She recalls the uncertainty as she watched her fiance, Michael, blow her a kiss from the window of an ambulance.
“I’m thinking, ‘Am I ever going to see him again?’” the Frazier Park resident said.
After a stint on a ventilator in the intensive care unit, Rice left the hospital March 15 and checked into Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Bakersfield for physical therapy. She couldn’t walk, but quickly regained that ability and others.
However, something was amiss.
“There were just ... lingering symptoms that never went away,” Rice said. “(I had) fatigue ... neuropathy, blurred vision, headaches, constant itching, restless leg syndrome (and) mood swings.”
She arrived at the Centre for Neuro Skills in Bakersfield, and within 15 minutes was diagnosed with a brain injury.
“I cried,” Rice said, when she heard her diagnosis. “For the first time, I felt like somebody really, truly understood.”
Ashley, of the Centre for Neuro Skills, said the facility's patients have a variety of cognitive impairments. The human body creates an immune response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19, which can potentially result in neurological damage.
Rice graduated from the CNS inpatient program around Halloween, but still attends sessions to improve herself. For her, basic words don’t make sense, her vision is blurry and dizzy spells can often overtake her.
One such spell caused her to fall and break her hip. After surgery and more physical therapy sessions, she is slowly recovering.
NOT JUST THE BRAIN
Thu Yein, an intensivist and chief pulmonologist at Kaiser Permanente, said the severity of the disease, comorbidities, underlying immunity and age can affect how much COVID-19 can riddle lungs with damage.
The sicker the patient, the more impairments are likely. People with these ailments are considered post-COVID.
However, recovery is possible — just not overnight, Yein said. Those individuals may have to work for months to become their former selves.
He recommends receiving the COVID-19 vaccine rather than risking the damage.
“Prevention is better than something happening,” Yein said.