Before coming down with COVID-19, Marjorie Roberts was known by friends and family as someone who always smiled.
On the morning of March 26, 2020, she was walking to her mailbox when she suddenly lost her balance and stumbled. At the moment, she didn’t think much of it, but later that day, she describes feeling as though “someone had [taken] a vacuum cleaner and sucked the life out of [her].” At 61 years old, she had never felt more sick in her life—she couldn’t eat or sleep, suffered severe diarrhea and nightmares, and struggled to breathe. From that point on, she says, her life has not been the same.
Now, in 2022, her situation is only grimmer. She has developed spots on her liver, sarcoidosis in her lungs, and swollen lymph nodes. She also developed dry mouth so intense that “it felt like someone was stuffing cotton in my mouth,” as well as horrible bad breath. By the time she got to the dentist, seven teeth needed to come out. “I always was the person who smiled, but now when I smile, the whole bottom of my mouth is gone,” she says. “Even if I wanted to take my mask off, I won’t take it off, because COVID took my smile.”
Pamela Bishop was a healthy, active, career-oriented professor at the University of Tennessee who had just launched her own research center before coming down with COVID-19 in December 2020. For the next three weeks, she says, she “thought [she] was going to die every day.” She suffered hallucinations, severe insomnia, and debilitating pain.
Bishop eventually recovered and returned to work in January 2021, but soon, she began having episodes of fatigue, brain fog, and nausea that forced her to lie down between meetings. The episodes increased in frequency until she realized she was horizontal more than she was up. “I was sitting down to dinner with my husband [in March 2021] when I told him I didn’t think I was getting better. I was damaged—something was wrong with me,” she says. “This started the quest for figuring out what to do next.”
Frank Ziegler used to go on long walks several times per week before January 14, 2021, when he thought he had developed a sinus infection. With a long history of these, he recognized the familiar pressure, stuffed ears, and drainage. But when he lost his sense of smell and received a positive result on his COVID-19 PCR test, he realized this wasn’t a typical infection. Two months later, he began noticing hand tremors, cognitive issues, shortness of …….