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A Firefighter’s Journey Through the Flames of Long COVID

My name is John. I was a career firefighter/paramedic who was exposed to a person with COVID at work in December 2020 before vaccines were available. Three days later, I was symptomatic and tested positive.

For the next four weeks, I battled symptoms of high fever, chills, extreme fatigue, head-to-toe muscle ache, and crushing headaches, requiring two trips to the emergency room, once by ambulance.

At that time in the pandemic (still similar now), they could only administer fluids and pain medication. While my oxygen sats did drop below 90, for the most part, it spared my lungs.

Feeling “better,” I returned to my job in February 2021. But I soon found that I had problems getting through my 48-hour shifts, with headaches, heart palpitations, fatigue, and concentration problems. In March 2021, my doctor referred me to a long COVID program at NJH hospital in Denver.

In May 2021, the long COVID program began assessments and “treatment”. They diagnosed me with long COVID syndrome and counseled me that if I exceeded physical, mental, or emotional boundaries, I would set my healing back and suggested pacing my activity and ramping them up slowly. 

I laughed because that is not possible as a firefighter.

Anyway, I slogged through 2021 and into 2022 taking sick time often and never getting better, and having symptoms come and go. In the spring of 2022, I was positively diagnosed with POTS / Dysautonomia.

In March 2022, while driving to work, I passed out fully and was taken to the hospital. Of course, they found no cause. I went off from my job on short-term disability.

My cardiologist implanted a loop monitor to try to catch heart arrhythmias that might explain my syncopal event. In June I passed out again, and they found a sinus pause and implanted a pacemaker.

This helped me from passing out again, but meanwhile, neuropathy and headaches and fatigue that I had since 2021 began to get worse, impacting my ability to walk.

As a result, I filed for and received permanent total disability from my career as a firefighter.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME / CFS) Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), Fibromyalgia Leading Research. Delivering Hope.Open Medicine Foundation®

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