Anna Kern, 33, a nurse practitioner, was among the first group of healthcare workers in Detroit to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. She got her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in Dec. 2020 and her second dose in early January of this year.
But in April, she tested positive for COVID-19. She has blamed a co-worker for this. Kern said her co-worker was unvaccinated and was not diligent about wearing a mask.
As a result of her infection, Kern became one of many “breakthrough” coronavirus cases. (Related: “Breakthrough” coronavirus cases still being reported, some even dying despite being fully vaccinated.)
Kern struggling to return to work due to coronavirus symptoms
Kern has been struggling with “long COVID” ever since her initial infection.
Long COVID is the term commonly used to describe the symptoms that continue and develop after the initial coronavirus infection. Coronavirus “long-haulers,” as they are often called, may test negative for the virus despite experiencing lingering symptoms.
In Kern’s case, her symptoms last a minimum of three weeks but can sometimes drag on for months. She even said her symptoms have been getting worse.
Her long COVID symptoms started appearing in early May. At first, she started experiencing chills and was forced to cut back on her work hours as a result. She then started experiencing extreme fatigue after doing activities that should not be physically demanding, such as walking or going for a light jog.
Kern even recorded her heart rate while she conducted her regular morning routine. She found out that her heart was beating at around 130 beats per minute while eating breakfast, brushing her teeth and washing the dishes. She said her heart rate normally only went this high while she exercised.
By Memorial Day, Kern could barely move after working a shift at the hospital.
“I remember waking up and knowing that I needed to drink some water and maybe eat some food, but being so tired that I was trying to figure out if I could actually do that,” said Kern. “I ended up crawling from my bed to the refrigerator.”
Kern’s symptoms show that she is suffering from a rare and severe form of long-haul COVID-19, wherein former coronavirus patients suffer from the virus’ symptoms for weeks or even months at a time.
Her situation became worse when she found out her position at the hospital had been cut. With her life upended and her main source of income gone, she turned to a long-haulers support group. Here, she found other people who also experienced breakthrough infections. She also found others who still have not fully recovered despite also being fully vaccinated.
Kern’s support group has helped her deal with her guilt. Her job as a nurse practitioner puts her at high risk of coronavirus infection. She wonders if she could have done something differently to prevent getting COVID-19.
“Before I went into my apartment, I would, like, take off my clothes and put my scrubs in a bag and take bleach water and rubbing alcohol and wipe down everything that I was bringing inside,” she said. “I wasn’t even taking a coat in April of last year, even though it was kind of chilly, because I didn’t want to have to deal with it afterwards.”
“You feel lots of guilt,” Kern added. “Like, what did I do wrong? How could I have been more cautious?”
Kern has not questioned whether the coronavirus vaccines she took in December and January are responsible for her current predicament.
Dr. Noah Greenspan, one of the foremost experts on long COVID, warned that the condition usually appears in younger and healthier people like Kern. Long COVID may even be linked with people who experienced a milder form of the infection and did not seek out treatment.
“Usually people with severe COVID, people who either had severe cases, people that were hospitalized, people that were in the ICU … they don’t have the same type of situation as long-haulers,” said Greenspan. “These people, although they were very very ill, once they kind of get on the road to recovery, it’s been a fairly predictable uphill climb for them.”
Greenspan warns that, as the world returns to normal, society should not forget people like Kern who are still dealing with the after-effects of their past coronavirus cases. Kern believes the same.
“It’s worth remembering, as everything starts to open back up, and some normalcy returns, that for a lot of people, this really isn’t over,” she said.
Learn more about the breakthrough coronavirus cases and the people struggling with long COVID by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.