Recovering Slowly from Covid

Jennfer Puhle

Jennifer Puhle doesn’t have Covid-19 anymore. That’s the good news.

The bad news? “I am not myself — and I can’t stand it.”

Two months after contracting Covid-19, Puhle said she “can’t walk more than 10 minutes before I’m totally winded and down for the count for the day.” She can speak for about 45 minutes and then her voice gives out, for hours, “which is difficult for me because I’m a large chatterbox. I need to adjust speaking and breathing at the same time. It’s still tight in my chest.” Her senses of taste and smell are nowhere near normal.

But at least “it’s definitely not getting worse.”

Puhle, a Bedford resident since 2010, is a former middle school math teacher and current tutor who is one of the public faces of Bedford TV, where she is administrator, co-anchor of the news, and producer of the program Neighbors to Know, featuring local stories and profiles. For some time she ran the “Boxtops for Education” promotion for the schools.

“The doctors say I’m doing all the right things — which I hate hearing. Because if I am doing all the right things, then the effects should go away.” Puhle lamented. “They can’t give concrete answers because the virus is so complex. It’s so different for each person.”

Is she one of the thousands of people known as “long-haulers?” That, she was, would be “very depressing. I don’t want to label myself as anything. There’s a psychological aspect to all of this. The lungs are actually coated in something and it takes time to go away. The doctor said, ‘Don’t expect to feel like yourself for two or three months.’”

Puhle, 50, manages an unrelated condition that causes both narrowing and enlargement of medium-size arteries. So this fibromuscular dysplasia made her especially concerned about coughing. “My arteries can change and I have a higher risk of stroke, though in general, I feel fine,” she said. “I really have to watch my blood pressure. I didn’t want to cough so quickly that I ended up dissecting an artery. But nothing ended up happening.”

The lingering effects are more than physical. “I am angry. It’s hard to not see people,” she asserted. “The social media groups are really depressing. I need support that’s optimistic in some way. People say, ‘Hope you feel better,’ and assume once you are out of isolation it’s all good. For me, there was no hard stop.”

Her sense of humor – and irony – is intact. “I literally watched every episode of Lost – again – covering six years. I fell asleep through most of it.”

For Puhle, the virus arrived with spring. She was in the middle of the action at Bedford TV’s fundraising virtual trivia event on the evening of Saturday, March 20, tallying scores, setting up Zoom breakout rooms, answering questions offline.” It was fast-moving but I was keeping up.  That’s what I do,” she said. “I was on an adrenaline high.”

That’s just a memory now. Sunday morning, “I just assumed I was run down so I took it easy.” The following day, while on a Zoom meeting, “I started getting tired and hot. I couldn’t concentrate. I rarely get fevers; I check in at 97.1 all the time. When I checked it was 99; an hour later, 100.5.”

By 5 o’clock, “the symptoms came on, fast and hard. Your body feels like you were in a bar fight – the left side hurts, the right side hurts, every part of you is sensitive to any touch. Everything ached in a way I’ve never experienced before. You can’t stand, sit, or lie down. I had four blankets on for the chills and cold cloths on my head for the fever.”

A call to her doctor elicited an opinion that Puhle had a case of Covid-19 and a test on Tuesday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Waltham confirmed it.

She still can’t figure out how she caught the virus. “I have been ridiculously conservative. I have only been around two people socially since this started. It has probably been two months since I had been out.” Her son Caleb Goldman, a Bedford High school junior, is at home “but he pretty much has his own pod. I was on everyone’s case about being safe — and this happened to me. Even now it makes me somewhat paranoid about anything I do.”

Puhle said she isolated herself as soon as her symptoms arrived. “The contact-tracing people eventually called. I was very nervous for me because I am a single mom and it’s just us. Who is going to take care of stuff? It’s a lot to put on a 16-year-old’s plate when mom can’t leave her room.”

Caleb had to quarantine, but never contracted the virus, she said. “He left meals by my door and I’d text him when I needed things like Gatorade, ice, whatever.  He even arranged a ride after his quarantine to get his vaccine.” His brother Maxwell, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, isn’t living at home but stopped by to help with chores after she was out of isolation, Puhle said.

“I did reach out to First Parish and it was like a godsend – no pun intended,” Puhle recounted. Church members put meals together, and the pastor, the Rev. John Gibbons, brought by food and flowers. “I don’t know how I would have gotten through things without that group.”

As nurses checked in every couple of days, some of the symptoms waned. “The nurse said, ‘Don’t get too excited. It usually comes back on day seven or eight.’”

Puhle said she lost her senses of smell and taste – but not completely. “There was a sulfur taste in my mouth. Everything was like sucking on a bag of nickels. I didn’t want to eat anything because everything tasted like sulfur and chemicals.” Donated meals would spoil, but Puhle said she couldn’t tell. And her digestive system paid the price.

Emerging from quarantine in early April, Puhle has been taking baby steps. She had a Covid test and it came back negative – “psychologically it made me feel better.” She added, “I purposely have not read a lot of the science behind what happens.” She is slowly regaining lost weight.

What about the vaccine? Puhle said the World Health Organization reports that those who had the virus have two or three months’ immunity; the National Institutes of Health say eight months.

The virus, she conceded, “changes your identity. I’m not the fun mom right now, not the fun friend. I’ve come out on the other side of this thing, and there’s a life lesson for me somehow.”

Before her illness, Puhle was dealing with kidney stones. She has some major dental work on the horizon. “In life, I have come through things with shining colors. I’m a fighter, but it’s damn frustrating,” she sighed. “I just want to slowly get back to doing things that I used to. But when I try, for the most part my body is like, ‘No, sister, slow down.’”

“This stopped me in my tracks. I don’t know how I’m going to be when everyone’s out and about and doing their thing. People can’t live in fear. That’s not the wise thing.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

2 Comments

  1. Dear Jennifer, So very sorry to hear about your COVID19 ordeal. Glad to hear you’re on the mend. I recently heard about an orthopedic surgeon in Chelmsford who uses laser to treat inflammation and pain with great success. He recently did a pilot study treating long hauler COVID patients who have persistent symptoms with good results. I think that he is enrolling in a larger trial to build on the results from the pilot study. He has been able to resolve lung inflammation in the patient’s in the pilot study resulting in resolution of the pulmonary symptoms. I don’t know if he has anything to offer you but here is a link to his practice: https://ortholazer.com/locations/chelmsford-ma/
    in the event you want to follow up on it! I do hope you will soon be back to yourself, symptom free!
    Sending positive healing energies your way!

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