Audrey Vanderhoek, an RN who lives in Chilliwack pictured here on Aug. 22, 2020, wants people to know that COVID-19 doesn’t stop affecting people after the acute phase of the illness. (Submitted photo)

Audrey Vanderhoek, an RN who lives in Chilliwack pictured here on Aug. 22, 2020, wants people to know that COVID-19 doesn’t stop affecting people after the acute phase of the illness. (Submitted photo)

B.C. nurse one of countless COVID-19 survivors looking for answers

‘I would be considered one of the completely healed cases in terms of statistics’

There are good reasons that survivors of COVID-19 have taken to calling themselves long haulers. All of those reasons are debilitating symptoms of the disease.

Long after the health care system has deemed them recovered, past COVID-19 patients are still burdened with the long-term effects of the illness. There’s the extreme fatigue, chronic coughs, colds and respiratory troubles, headaches, brain fog, body aches, unexplained high heart rates, chest pains, dizziness, kidney problems, and on and on.

Audrey Vanderhoek, an RN who lives in Chilliwack, is one of those survivors. As a long hauler who struggles day after day, she wants everyone to know what “recovered” really means.

For her, and countless thousands of others, it doesn’t mean you’re actually better.

“I want people to start thinking a little differently about COVID,” she says. She’s doing her daily walk and talking on her cell phone for the interview, but it sounds like she’s been running. She gasps, takes deep breaths every few words, and sometimes even struggles with her train of thought.

Her symptoms began at the end of April and she was diagnosed positively with COVID-19 at the beginning of May. Her acute phase of shedding the virus lasted the entire month, until she had her first negative result.

“And I’ve been chronic until now. I would be considered one of the completely healed cases in terms of statistics.”

She thought she was alone at first, but Vanderhoek reached out online and found a whole network of long haulers who are struggling post-infection. As their struggles grow month by month, they are getting connected and getting louder.

READ MORE: Survivors who missed out on polio vaccine hope for breakthrough against COVID-19

They want health authorities to recognize the long-term effects they are collectively seeing. Because COVID-19 is so new, the focus has largely been on understanding its spread, and stopping it. The long haulers are hoping researchers will look to them to learn just how harmful the virus is.

In addition to being a nurse in another city, Vanderhoek has a background in alternative medicine. She has been seeing a naturopath recently, and has been focusing on healing, staying positive, and keeping as active as possible. She is currently able to walk about two hours a day, but needs to keep inclines and speed to a minimum so she doesn’t go beyond her physical limits. If she pushes herself too hard, symptoms like a sore throat will come back.

Still, she’s finally starting to feel a bit better.

“Right now, I have to say as of about two weeks ago, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. Up until two weeks ago, I was still having daily chest pains, my heart rate was elevating for no reason, I had day-to-day shortness of breathe, fatigue, brain fog and memory issues. Now I feel clearer.”

But it could be a year or more before she really heals, she’s been told. She’s not sure if she will get back to running and martial arts and all of the other high-energy activities she once enjoyed. Yet, she’s hopeful.

And that positivity is something she wants other long haulers to embrace if possible. On the Facebook groups where she has found support, she has read “an incredible array of experiences.” And while she had no underlying health issues prior to COVID-19, and is expected to fully recover one day, she says others aren’t so lucky.

“I feel that COVID is highlighting the areas in our bodies that are weak, but not only the areas in our bodies, because it’s a global experience. I think it’s opened a Pandora’s box of systemic problems as well.”

She says the whole pandemic may change how we look at health care, for individuals and for larger communities and the world.

“We can choose the type of change we want to create, and for myself, I’m choosing health, a whole new level of health.”

READ MORE: ‘We’re the pioneers’: Canadian COVID-19 survivors share their stories


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusHealth

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alexander Erikson's award-winning piece, The Provider, on display at the Kitimat Museum and Archives (Photo Frieda Design School)
Kitimat Museum and Archives host Freda Diesing school art exhibition

Local Kitimat art exhibition from students of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art

Security has been stepped up at both Kitimat General Hospital in Kitimat, pictured here, and at the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. (File photo)
Stillbirth reaction leads to more hospital security

Staff, physicians facing threats and harassment

Workers at Kitimat General Hospital were presented with a large variety of food packages in appreciation of the last year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The donations came via local Epicurean representative Kerri Weightman who collected money for the purchases. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Hospital workers receive food donation

Workers at Kitimat General Hospital were presented with a large variety of… Continue reading

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Most Read