Before he got sick with COVID-19 last spring, Baton Rouge resident Harold Touchstone enjoyed an active semi-retirement that including playing golf, skiing, reading and doing occasional consulting work in plant manufacturing.
What he thought was the flu in late March 2020 turned out to be the novel coronavirus. By the time he went home after two lengthy hospital stays, he was consumed by side effects and symptoms much worse than his original illness.
For example, walking just a few steps left him gasping for breath. He also had to re-learn how to keep his balance, including using a walker for five months.
“I have no sense of balance, I wobble back and forth,” Touchstone said.
He also suffered damage to multiple organs, along with hearing loss and a recurring brain fog so bewildering it’s impossible to focus enough to read a book or have a conversation.
“I have 11 doctors now,” Touchstone said.
Harold Touchstone is what’s known as a “long hauler,” someone who recovered from their original COVID-19 infection but now faces a bewildering wave of side effects and complications that can come and go or persist for months.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common complications include fatigue, shortness of breath, persistent cough, joint pain, chest pain, difficulty thinking and concentration (brain fog), depression, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever and fast-beating or pounding heart.
Although less common, long haulers can also experience more serious complications such as heart muscle inflammation, lung function abnormalities, acute kidney injury, loss of smell and taste, difficulty sleeping, depression, anxiety and changes in mood.
COVID-19 is so new that doctors and researchers are still trying to figure out causes for these complications, as well as how long they will persist. Many studies are ongoing.
What is known is that even patients who had mild initial symptoms and did not require medical treatment can experience debilitating complications.
Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group now offers support for long-haul patients through the COVID-19 Recovery Resources Program, led by Brittany Roussel, FNP-C.
For Touchstone, the recovery continues. He hopes one day to be able drive a car again and resume playing golf and other activities he enjoyed before the pandemic.