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PT Perspective: Recovering from Long Haul COVID

When Sammy Stryke started her career as a PT assistant in Florida, never in her wildest dreams would she have predicted just how much her specialization in the human movement system would assist her in recovering from a global pandemic.

Much like the rest of the world in 2020, Sammy’s “normal” had to change. Her physical therapy clinic in California created a COVID practice, and Sammy volunteered to work directly with those patients.

In December of 2020, she contracted COVID-19. While initially ill with COVID-19, Sammy often found herself either lying in bed or on the bathroom floor. Even taking a single bite of food could leave her sick to her stomach. She also developed the “COVID headache.” At first, it was thought that she potentially had suffered a minor stroke, but soon realized that it had to be connected, somehow, to COVID-19. Since she had been working so long with patients with COVID-19, she already knew the nature of symptoms and how to help herself recover. The first recovery requirement was rest. Sammy is an avid athlete who completed an ultra marathon (50 miles) just weeks before falling ill, so making her body rest was difficult but necessary.

Combining her experience as a PTA working with patients and as a patient herself, Sammy tracked her vitals. The previously passionate runner noted that it would take her 30-minutes to walk half a mile—after which her body would require a three-hour nap. But even then, rest was not enough.

When Sammy contracted the virus, the long haul COVID diagnosis did not yet exist. It was generally thought that the recovery period, to be fully and truly recovered, would take up to three months. But that was not how Sammy, nor many of her patients, were tracking. There was clearly a correlation.

Sammy sought out a doctor who would listen to what she was going through and work with her to find the right solution to heal her whole body. Sammy found recovery in physical therapy. Her physical therapist and physician understood that the combination of rest, as well as PT targeting the pulmonary, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems could all work together to help her heal.

Sammy’s PT also encouraged her to keep a journal and to help track how she felt, as well as track her vitals and oxygen levels. She stayed in constant contact with her PT, and he helped her navigate the uncharted territory of long haul COVID-19.

While Sammy still struggles with “COVID brain,” sometimes finding it hard to remember how to read, tie her shoes, and even follow basic conversations, she says the integration of physical and mental support from her physical therapist was invaluable. Sammy strongly believes, from her perspective as both a clinician and a patient, that PTs are critical to long haul COVID-19 recovery because they are equipped to grasp the whole picture of the human body, its movement system, and how the brain, heart and lungs must work together. “The experience of having COVID has provided me with a deeper level of empathy for my patients,” Sammy says. I have a unique understanding of how it feels to be frustrated about not being able to do something that was previously easy, and then getting so fatigued over trying.”

Although her battle against long haul COVID, is still ongoing, Sammy says that physical therapy continues to give her hope of regaining the active and movement-filled life she knew and loved.


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