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Life after COVID-19: For 44-year-old woman, 4-month ordeal more than just physical challenges

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    DANVILLE, Virginia (Danville Register and Bee) — She endured delusions and paranoia. She was on a ventilator so long, it left a pressure wound on her back.

Now she is on oxygen 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, and has to use a walker to move around the house. She has also noticed cognitive problems and increased anxiety.

Though she has been out of the hospital for a month following treatment for COVID-19, Rebecca Wright faces a long, bumpy road to recovery. It will likely be six months to a year before she gets back to normal, she said.

Some days are better than others, Wright, a former employee of the Register & Bee, said during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.

“Today’s a good day,” she said. “I have my good ones and bad ones. Today has been a pretty good one. I’ve been home a month as of today.”

She is nowhere close to her normal condition from just four months ago in December.

Wright, 44, tested positive for COVID-19 within a week after a family Christmas Eve gathering, where she likely caught the disease. At the time of the event, no one in her family showed symptoms or suspected they were sick.

But seven of nine family members ended up testing positive for COVID-19 afterward.

Wright had been trepidatious of going to the in-person gathering.

Soon after the occasion with her parents, son and her brother’s family, she started experiencing chills, aches, fatigue, coughing and heavy congestion.

Her breathing become worse and worse.

In the hospital
She went to the emergency room at Sovah Health-Danville on Jan. 6 and was intubated five days later. She was put under a medically-induced coma until later that month.

She was transferred to Select Specialty Hospital in Greensboro, N.C., on Feb. 1 before being moved to Novant Health Rehabilitation Hospital in nearby Winston-Salem on Feb. 25.

She was discharged March 15 and has been home since.

During her hospitalization, Wright’s family went through ups and downs as Rebecca’s condition fluctuated. She had pneumonia at one point and she also has asthma.

But Rebecca’s ordeal was far more than physical.

She has almost no memory of the first part of the year.

“Things are still fuzzy until about mid-February,” Wright said.

She had what she described as “ICU psychosis,” a condition in which patients in intensive care experience paranoia, delusions, disorientation in time and place, hallucinations, agitation, increased anxiety and other symptoms.

She thought she was in a hospital in Washington, D.C., and had been asleep for five years.

“These things happened when I was semi-conscious,” Wright said.

She was convinced that her husband, Ben, had divorced her.

“When I was completely sedated is when I had ‘dreams,’” Rebecca said. “I ‘dreamed’ that my husband divorced me, sold our house and moved to Myrtle Beach with another woman, furthering my delusion that five years had passed when I started to come to.”

Wright, who thought she was being used as a guinea pig for testing, believed staff were torturing her when they played a music CD her husband had made for her “because they knew he divorced me,” she said.

She had other types of ‘dreams,’ or visions, as well.

“There were other dreams involving alternate careers, the health of friends and family, the state of the nation, all that were so bizarre, they would have made for a great sci-fi novel If I could remember the details,” she said.

More anxiety
Wright, who already had mild anxiety she managed mostly with meditation before catching COVID-19, now has heightened anxiety and is on medication.

“My anxiety is much worse,” she said.

She cannot lie down flat on her back or she will suffer a panic attack.

COVID-19 “brain fog” has been another challenge. While in rehab in March, she was given an exercise to balance a checkbook.

“I was flip-flopping numbers,” she said, adding that she has trouble thinking of words.

While texting someone, she could not remember how to spell the word “taught.”

Her attention span is shorter than before and she can’t keep up with conversations between two other people in a room.

Rapid-firing talk show hosts or high-energy television shows make her anxious.

“It triggers ‘fight-or-flight’ response,” Wright said.

Her time has been packed with doctor appointments.

Physical side
Physically, she has diminished lung function. She has to use a walker to get around the house and is on oxygen.

“When I go out, which is only for doctors’ appointments, I have to make sure I have enough oxygen in the tank to get through the wait in the doctor’s office,” Wright said. “Even with the walker, the most I’ve been able to walk is about 300 feet before I have to sit and rest. Before, I just got up and went wherever I needed to go.”

She cannot drive and she feels a sense of accomplishment when she moves to the kitchen to prepare a meal.

Wright, who was already on medications for asthma before testing positive, has lung damage from COVID-19 and an injury to her back from being on the ventilator.

“It’s a pressure wound,” she said. “We’re not sure when or where it occurred.”

Financially, she feels lucky to have good coverage under her husband’s insurance. Her hospital bill from Greensboro alone — not including those from doctors — was $100,000 for three weeks there.

She has been awed by the support from so many people, even those she doesn’t know.

“That’s been overwhelming at times,” Wright said.

Though she continues to struggle, she expects to see brighter days. She’s also thankful that she has forgotten part of her ordeal.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Wright said. “I’m think I’m very lucky not to remember the worst of it.”

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