Food network

How long has COVID changed my life forever

I consider myself a very efficient, productive and philanthropic person. I am a scientist, a cancer researcher, the CEO of my company Easy Kale (a superfood powder), board member Boys and Girls Club of America and the Mississippi Food Networkand co-founder of the Draw a Smile Foundation, which feeds the homeless every week through our RU Hungry program. I’m constantly on the go and always striving to help others. But what many people don’t know is that since the spring of 2020, I’ve been dealing with debilitating symptoms caused by Long COVID. And even if I don’t show it when I’m on the go, I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do if it weren’t for the help I get from people close to me.

At the start of the pandemic, I sprang into action in my community of Jackson, Mississippi. Food banks were overwhelmed with people in dire need of food, and I worked as hard as I could to distribute food. But at the end of April 2020, I had to stop abruptly because I needed emergency surgery to remove two benign tumors from my abdomen which were suddenly causing me severe pain. Still, after about a week in the hospital, I was discharged and assumed I could go back to my busy life.

Thank goodness my sister came to visit me around this time because soon after I got home from the hospital, she looked at me while I was sleeping and saw that my lips had taken on a deadly blue tint. I shudder to think what would have happened if she hadn’t found me when she did and called 911. I didn’t know it then, but I had contracted COVID-19 during my stay at hospital, and by the time I was admitted to a new hospital, I was already seriously ill.

I spent almost a month in intensive care. Doctors later told me that on several occasions they thought I would not survive. But they didn’t give up on me and tried three different experimental treatments to keep me alive. Luckily I got better and was able to go home, but it soon became apparent that I was not fully recovered.

What does Long COVID look like to me

For months it was painful for me to breathe, almost as if I was inhaling fire with every breath. I ended up going in and out of the hospital with what turned out to be fluid in my lungs. I also started experiencing crippling pains all over my body that felt (and still does) feel like I was being stung by wasps for hours on end. After about nine months, the doctors were able to clear the fluid from my lungs, but other symptoms developed and still persist. Sometimes my legs, feet and hands swell spontaneously and correct themselves later, confusing my doctors. Other times I feel like someone is continuously screaming in my ear. And often, out of nowhere, I feel like all my nerves are firing at exactly the same time, which is incredibly painful and causes my body to twitch involuntarily. My only recourse is to get into bed and stay as still as possible in the fetal position for as long as it lasts, which is usually two to three hours. I heard there might be a connection between the way COVID affects me and the fact that I have autismeven though doctors don’t yet know why.

Now I give and get help

I have at least one episode of severe pain every day that makes me stop everything I do. But the pain is still there to some degree, so I learned to lean on others. My biggest support is my wonderful wife, whom I met after contracting COVID. She sees me at my worst and helps me through my days. People sometimes ask me how I do all this. And I tell them it’s not just me. When you see me working, you see the representation of a whole team including my assistant, my family and my wife. They are the ones who do the extra walking during conferences that I am not able to do. And they’re the ones who take over when I’m in too much pain to function. My wife even flies with me when I have to travel for business which really helps me keep up.

I also have the chance to work on my own and to be able to adapt my schedule when my symptoms bother me. I often work from my bed, turn off my Zoom camera when the pain gets too bad in a meeting, and ask for help when I need it.

The real trick that keeps me going, however, is to focus on others, as I have done throughout my life. If I focused too much on myself or dwelled on my condition, my fears would become crippling and I would do nothing. So COVID may have knocked me off my feet, but with help I’m still trucking.

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