Wendy Cort survived COVID. But that doesn’t mean it's behind her. Two years later, she’s still struggling with the fallout.
“There are days I feel good and there are days I struggle, so it’s been a challenge,” Cort said. “I’d say I’m having more good days than bad, but this experience has changed my life.”
The Novant Health administrator has worked hard at recovery, yet she continues to experience fatigue and brain fog, among other things.
“It can be hard to explain to people,” Cort said. “Just know that post-COVID syndrome, or whatever we end up calling it, is a very real thing.”
Also referred to as long COVID, long-haul COVID or chronic COVID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said post-COVID conditions can happen to anyone who has had it – even if their illness was mild.
Cort’s battle with the virus, however, was anything but.
‘I had to learn to walk again’
The wife and mother of three (pictured in the main image with her children) went home after a three-week hospital stay. And the long recovery process began.
“I had to learn to walk again, dress myself, feed myself and even swallow,” Cort said. “It was a very scary feeling how quickly I lost my functionality and ability to perform day-to-day tasks.”
After seven months of physical therapy, she was able to walk again – a huge milestone – despite some lingering muscle weakness in her legs. Speech therapy and occupational therapy also helped, Cort said.
She experienced hair loss, which has come back with time “and the help of hair-growth supplements like Nutrafol and biotin.” Her sense of smell and taste is “still a little off,” she said, but that, too, has improved.
A lot’s happened in the two years since COVID swept the world by surprise. Mask restrictions have loosened, most kids are back in school and federal regulators approved three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Yet, data shows COVID is killing nearly 1,500 people in the U.S. each day.
While scientists understand the virus better, there’s still a lot to learn – like why some people experience ongoing health problems long after they’ve had the virus. What they do know is that preventing COVID illness is the best way to prevent post-COVID conditions, the CDC confirmed.
It’s why Cort, who recently got her booster, encourages anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to roll up their sleeves. Post-COVID conditions can vary, but people most commonly experience things like:
- Shortness of breath.
- Tiredness or fatigue.
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating, also called "brain fog."
- Chest or stomach pain.
- Headache, joint or muscle pain.
- Fast-beating or pounding heart, also known as heart palpitations.
- Sleep problems.
- Mood changes.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness upon standing.
- Changes in smell or taste.
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Additionally, some people with severe COVID illness have later developed autoimmune conditions, which occur when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body.
The CDC has also noted heart- and lung-related diseases in those who were hospitalized or severely ill with COVID.
Being fully vaccinated is the best way to prevent long-term complications, the CDC said, and to protect yourself and others from COVID. Masking in public, avoiding crowded places and good hand hygiene are also strongly encouraged.
Back to work
In September 2021, after six months off work, Cort returned to her role as director of education and training at Novant Health Medical Group, which oversees hundreds of medical clinics in the Novant Health network. It was a big step forward, but one that didn’t come without challenges.
“I kind of jumped right back in thinking I could pick up where I left off, but whoa was I wrong,” Cort said. “I struggled with a lot of cognitive issues, even just answering emails or small tasks, so it was frustrating to see how much my illness is still affecting me. And I’m constantly taking notes because my short-term memory is gone.”
The former nurse is learning to live with the brain fog, cognitive issues, fatigue and muscle weakness – symptoms that persist but “aren’t nearly as bad as they once were.”
And, more recently, she developed hearing loss and a persistent ringing in her ears (also known as tinnitus). It’s become so burdensome that she’s being fit for a hearing aid this week. Amid it all, Cort remains positive.
The most frustrating part, she said, lies in the unknown. “Sometimes it can be unnerving to go to the doctor because I know something is wrong, but they may not have an answer. We’re building the ship as we steer it, I guess, and there’s a lot we still don’t understand about COVID,” she said.
‘You’re not alone’
Determined to live a long, fulfilling life, Cort shared what’s helped her cope with the lasting effects from COVID.
“First, know you’re not alone, even if it feels like that sometimes,” she said. “And listen to your body. Take care of yourself and recognize when you need to say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to work late tonight. I need to go to bed early.”
She also credits her family, and Novant Health team members, with their patience over the last two years. “Every day is a little different, some are better than others, but I couldn’t have done this without my support system,” Cort said. “Make sure you have someone to talk to. Maybe that’s a therapist or a good friend. Sometimes, I even find comfort in reading articles or learning about other people’s experience with COVID. It helps to know I’m not the only one.”