A year ago Jennifer MacLean was on stage reciting lines from Shakespeare. Now the part-time actor has to concentrate to read to a recipe book.
Before she contracted COVID-19, MacLean used to hike with ease, but now she has a hard time breathing when she exerts herself.
“Breathing is difficult when I exert myself a little bit. I walk very slowly because if I breathe too hard I will start to cough,” MacLean said.
The 42-year-old Calgary woman was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-January.
“I was coughing so bad for so long I couldn’t get up off the bathroom floor,” recalls MacLean.
“It is an awful feeling that I really don’t want anyone else to experience. It is atrociously terrifying,”
MacLean said she still coughs, her chest still burns on occasion and she suffers from brain fog.
“It takes me longer to do stuff, and driving feels like I’m in a new city — where you have to really pay attention to everything, because it seems like you’ve never been there before even though you have. It’s a very odd thing to experience,” MacLean said.
MacLean is now on a waiting list for one of Calgary’s two COVID-19 follow up clinics. One opened at the Rockyview General Hospital in September and a new one opened in early March at the Peter Lougheed Centre.
“When we saw the cases explode especially in the northeast, we just realized we were going to need more than one doctor seeing all these patients as the numbers really went up,” said Dr. Jason Weatherald, respirologist and University of Calgary assistant professor.
Weatherald works at the Peter Lougheed Centre and was seeing many COVID-19 patients who he knew were going to need a place to be seen closer to where they live.
“I have seen a lot of patients who live in multi-generational homes, and their whole family is sick and they don’t have transportation,” Weatherald said.
“I was talking to these people when they were sick in the hospital, and I was thinking there is no way they are going to drive to the Rockyview hospital because they don’t have a car or they share a car between three of them.”
Weatherald is part of a team of three doctors at the new clinic. They are adding this job on top of their normal weekly demands. He’s seen a wide range of symptoms ranging from extreme fatigue to brain fog.
“Some of these people were completely well previously,” Weatherald said.
“I saw one person who used to run half marathons and now can barely get out of bed and they can’t go back to work.
“This is over six months after they had COVID.”
Weatherald said working at the clinic has shown him there’s a need for more awareness about the long-term effects of the virus.
“The patients have had people tell them that this is all in their head, and that’s really distressing to them — when they are told that and they are profoundly unwell still,” he said.
“These are people who were active and worked at jobs and they really can’t get back to their old life so they are really frustrated.”
Weatherald said around 100 patients have been seen so far at the two Calgary clinics and as of Tuesday, there were 69 on the waiting list.
The clinics are accepting patients who tested positive and have had symptoms for at least 12 weeks.
As for MacLean, she’s optimistic about getting better.
“Hopefully by the summertime I will be able to walk home from work,” MacLean said.
“I am way better than I used to be. Every day is a little bit different but every day is a little better too.”
She credits the support of her boyfriend, family and friends for helping her get through this and hopes everyone will be able to learn from the pandemic.
“I think one thing that people need to take away from this is: nobody knows what they’re doing and we are all doing our best,” MacLean said.
“No matter how they decide to cope with it, whether it’s through anger or buying people food and bringing it to their homes and making homemade masks, this is new for everybody.
“I think if we are able to, after this is over, sit down and actually listen to each other and try to figure out why people are acting a certain way, it would make us feel a lot better.”