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COVID-19 'long hauler' copes with painful, lingering symptoms

Deb Eleniak takes up to four Tylenol Extra Strength everyday to try to cope with a long list of lingering symptoms she suffers due to COVID-19.

"Even while I am speaking with you there is a painful feeling at the base of my lungs," said the 51-year-old Chipman-area woman, who struggles with fatigue and speaks in a raspy voice due to a persistent dry cough. She is one of a growing number of 'long haulers' - once-positive COVID-19 patients who still have symptoms despite having shed the virus.

"I’ll have a sharp pain in my back. It feels like someone is stabbing me with a steak knife," said Deb, who was on vacation at home when her nightmare began.

She said on July 5 her husband, Terry, a 50-year-old farmer, felt under the weather.

Deb EleniakCOVID-19 'long hauler' Deb Eleniak has been coping with painful and lingering symptoms for months. Photo: Gary Poignant

"He walked in 'white as a ghost' and said ' My  throat is sore. I don't feel well."

It was a sinking feeling for Deb, who has been taking hydroxocholoroquine to treat the autoimmune disorder Lupus and would be considered vulnerable to COVID-19 due to an underlying health condition.

"That was a scary, horrific moment," said Deb, who within days had shortness of breath. By the following week Terry, Deb, their daughter Kelsey, son, Colby and his wife, Emily all tested positive for COVID-19.

 As all five went into isolation for the required 10-day period, Deb was hit with the full force of the virus.

“The fever was so high - up to 39 degrees. I had it for two weeks. I couldn't even move. The joint pain and the back pain were crazy. I could've gone to the hospital but I didn't want to."

Terry, Colby and Emily all had mild symptoms and have not had any recurring effects while Kelsey, a 19-year-old student, had a difficult two weeks and still suffers from a lingering sore throat.

When asked how the family contracted COVID-19, Deb said, ''I don't have a clue, Maybe my husband. Maybe my son. We really don't know."

Deb said Alberta Health Services told her that once the acute phase of her illness passed she was no longer contagious because her body was shedding the virus. In late July she tested positive and when she returned for a third test in late August she tested negative.

And while her condition has improved, COVID-19 has left a lingering effect, forcing her to put virtually all physical activity on hold.

"If I walk a flight of stairs, I’ll feel shortness of breath." said Deb, adding she also suffers headaches and hair loss. "The symptoms come and go. There is no rhyme or reason. It depends on what you have been doing that day."

"They are other crazy symptoms. I have smelled smoke," said Deb, saying she has also lost her sense of taste and smell.

"The brain fog is always there," said Deb. She also copes with what she describes as a tingling in her legs adding, "the kind that makes you think something is crawling around inside your leg, which is creepy as I am terrified of spiders.”

(WTSP in Tampa, Florida, ran a story in late September on a COVID-19 long hauler who is working with neurologists to study the link between COVID-19 and dysautonomia, a condition in which the automatic nervous system does not work properly.

Deb recently joined the 4,200-member-strong COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada on Facebook ( and said it has been a godsend.

"They are so courageous. The group helped because I had not attributed  the sharp back pain to Covid. Now I feel a little less crazy."

 Deb, who had been on a medical leave from her job as a forensic pathology technician at the medical examiner’s office in Edmonton, returned  for a four-hour shift on October 1.

"I came home and slept for two and a half hours. I was drained."

She added, “'It is so important to be useful and productive. That's why it was so good to go back."

And while it was a big boost, Deb is feeling anxious.

“The scariest part for me is I ask myself; ‘Is this the best I am ever going to be?’"

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer with Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.