TOLEDO, Ohio — It's been over a year and half since the pandemic started, but there are still people who had COVID at one time that are suffering from the virus long after testing negative.
The so-called long haulers, or those that suffer COVID symptoms, weeks, and even months, after contracting the virus, are growing in number. And for those who find themselves in this group, it has not been easy.
"I'm 55 and completely disabled due to COVID," said Earlene Roberts, a former nurse of 25 years and long hauler.
She tested positive for the coronavirus back in May 2020. She spent 28 days in the hospital with a stubborn fever and breathing issues. She was eventually released, but that was only the beginning of her struggles.
"Some days, I can't taste or smell anything," said Roberts. "Some days, I smell cigarettes all day long."
Roberts also suffers from nausea, fevers that are hard to break and shortness of breath. But the biggest problem perhaps, has been uncertainty, and people not believing her.
"To suddenly not be able to do the things you enjoy and to be able not to get an answer from a doctor," said Roberts.
Dr. Ted Barber is a neurologist with the Toledo clinic and currently treating long haulers. He says the number of them rises every week and is "more than he expected." The biggest symptom he has seen is fatigue, which greatly impacts people's quality of life.
"The fatigue is also compounded by depression, because you can get a depression from this illness as well," said Dr. Barber.
But other symptoms like brain fog are also causing Roberts and others trouble. For example, she says she has found herself lost in her own hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina.
"This has been my home all my life and I now will get lost in the town I grew up in," she said.
Just last month, Roberts was officially diagnosed as a long hauler. And she says she wants others out there to know they're not alone.
"We are long haulers. It's not in our heads," she said. "We do have these symptoms and we fight to live every day."
Dr. Barber recommends anyone with lingering COVID symptoms to seek out available treatment. But he stressed that they are still learning about the virus and while he is confident in the ability of our immune systems to bounce back, he says it may take longer for some people than others.