LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Erin Stewart has spent the past seven months flirting with death.
“It was terrifying," Stewart said. "It was just like the pneumonia that never ended.”
Stewart was hospitalized and eventually intubated with COVID-19 in April. She spent a week in a medically-induced coma, and told WAVE 3 News she woke up one week later as a different person, both physically and mentally.
“You see yourself and you hear yourself saying and doing things and you’re like, ‘that’s not who I am as a person,'" Stewart said. "But it is now.”
Stewart said she still suffers from daily headaches, a constant sore throat and general soreness. She also said her temper has grown shorter and her paranoia is at times unbearable.
“It’s just about limiting the things that you can limit that are going to upset you and really focusing on what you can control," Stewart said.
Stewart is not the only person who’s suffered from long-term effects of COVID-19.
According to a study by The Lancet, there’s a correlation between a COVID-19 diagnosis and mental illness. The study shows the three most common disorders are depression, anxiety and insomnia.
“The change in our day-to-day lives, the isolation some people are facing, that’s taxing,” Dr. Navid Pour-Ghasemi said.
Pour-Ghasemi is an infectious disease specialist for Norton Healthcare, and often works with COVID-19 patients who experience long-term symptoms. Pour-Ghasemi said many of those symptoms are related to the typical symptoms.
“In my experience, the aftermath of COVID is so traumatic in many cases that people who’ve either had a predilection for mental illness or who have had a history of mental illness are seeing their symptoms exacerbated,” Pour-Ghasemi said. “But also people with no history whatsoever are presenting with symptoms of anxiety, fatigue restlessness. A lot of that is a response that you would expect to a change to your normal.”
Dr. Stephen Taylor told WAVE 3 News he’s not surprised people have experienced those symptoms, because of the way COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s life.
Taylor is the chief medical officer at UofL’s Peace Psychiatric Hospital, and said his patients, even those who have not contracted the coronavirus, have had trouble coping with the past year.
“All of us are living through very stressful times that can make us all feel depressed, and we can all feel anxious and we can all struggle to sleep," Taylor said. "So I think it’s very important not to label people with a lifelong diagnostic condition that may be just related to what we’re all going through. We don’t know what the long-term effects are going to be. We’re too early in this story to really know what it’s going to be like a year from now, two years from now. And I think that uncertainty does create a lot of anxiety for all of us.”
Stewart said she’s learned to cope with her anxiety as she continues her months-long rehab, hoping to one day feel close to her old self again.
“I miss the person I was, and I know I’ll never be that person again, but I’d like to be a lot more like her," Stewart said.