HOUSTON - A Houston woman who was hospitalized with COVID-19 thought being discharged to go home meant she was on the mend. She soon learned, while physically she was getting better, mentally, severe COVID-19 symptoms were just beginning.
The beautiful lake view was one thing Sarah Francis always loved about her home. But after surviving COVID-19 and a 4-day hospital stay, Francis learned what doctors now also know, the virus is leaving some people with dark thoughts.
"Before COVID, this has never happened to me before ever in my life," says Francis.
Battling COVID-19 has left Francis, even now, struggling to breathe. She was expecting a COVID-19 diagnosis earlier this month. What caught her completely off guard were the tragic thoughts that followed, particularly when she looked out her window to the lake.
"And I was in a trance, I kid you not, in a trance. I saw a vision of myself walking out my front door and jumping in the lake. I had a panic attack. I just started screaming Jesus help me, help me."
"If the virus attacks part of the brain involved in how I feel then I can have for the first time in my life the symptoms you're describing in this poor woman like depression, suicidal thoughts," explains UTPhysicians Neurologist Dr. Paul Schulz.
"We do not know exactly what's happening here. Is it the virus itself that damages certain parts of the brain or is it part of the body's immune response to the virus that may be causing this?" asks Dr. Gerard Francisco Chief Medical Officer for Houston's TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehab Hospital. TIRR is known for its excellence in treating Traumatic Brain Injury patients and now has a COVID Rehab Program.
"What's interesting with COVID-19 is there is no pattern. There are some people who describe they are feeling that they're in a fog," says Francisco.
"We're seeing lots of strokes related to COVID," adds Dr. Schulz.
UT Physicians now also has a dedicated Post COVID Clinic in the Texas Medical Center treating everything from prolonged heart and lung issues to..."Persistent neurologic symptoms, nightmares, mood changes," says Schulz.
Francis has sought treatment. She and the doctors fear many others may not.
"Please do not be afraid to seek medical help," says Francisco.
"No matter what you're going through you're not alone. My daughter sent me a Bible scripture from Jeremiah 17:14 declaring I am healed and that has helped me tremendously," adds Francis.
The physicians now treating and studying this aspect of COVID-19 aren't yet sure how long this will plague patients, but they say if this turns out to be like other viruses, the majority of people should slowly get better.