Smelling cat urine, chronic pain, and extreme fatigue: my experience with long-haul Covid

When I got my discharge papers to leave the hospital, I was ecstatic. I was so eager to put Covid in the rearview and move on with my life. But little did I know, my hospitalization was just the beginning of my journey.

The early weeks of my recovery seemed to be going well. Yes, there were endless doctor's appointments, but it seemed like a small price to pay to be out of isolation and back at home. That rosy perspective started to wilt away about 6 weeks into my recovery.

When I left the hospital, it took me two weeks to build the confidence and lung capacity to walk up a single flight of stairs. Weeks later I noticed I was suddenly more winded than ever and experiencing some Covid-like symptoms that I never experienced with my initial diagnosis.

Twelve steps down a hallway and my heart would beat so heavily, I could hear it in my ears and physically see my heart beating through my chest. My Apple Watch would congratulate me for completing a full workout, when all I had done was take a few steps from the couch to the kitchen.

READ MORE: Maurille Lue returns home after week in hospital with COVID-19

After the sudden onset of shortness of breath came what seemed like forgetfulness…forgetting where I put my keys or wondering if I locked the door, but it escalated quickly. I knew it was more than forgetfulness when I couldn't remember if I had fed my dog. 

I tried to come up with tricks to remind myself to feed him, I tried to make charts and notes but nothing worked. I second guessed myself so much that I ended up over-feeding my dog! 

Hampton enjoyed the extra food, but his waistline did not. He gained extra weight and had to be put on a special diet and exercise routine. I was so weak one of my neighbors kindly volunteered to walk him twice a day until I was strong enough. It was a terrible feeling.

I started losing weight. I had zero appetite and even though I never lost my sense of taste or smell when I had Covid, suddenly my sense of taste came in waves. The self-proclaimed queen of sugar could no longer stomach a cookie or a piece of cake. 

It was not a healthy decision, but I often went days without eating, I just wasn't hungry - nothing tasted the same. Nothing smelled the same. You want to shock your brain? Try eating tomato soup that tastes like hot bananas. 

Imagine a piping hot plate of your favorite food coming to the table, you lean for a big whiff and nearly lose it because all you can smell is that very pungent - very specific - stench of cat urine. I have a cat, so naturally I thought my cat had finally taken her revenge for getting a dog. I scurried out of grocery and department stores, dry heaving at the cat smell odor so strong I could taste it. 

I was so isolated, it was nearly a month before I realized that I was the only one who could smell it.

I stopped taking phone calls because I couldn’t hear the person talking to me over the ringing in my ears. The more I longed to get back to my old self, the more I felt like a shell of who I used to be. 

I would plan social experiences with friends only to feel so fatigued that I was physically incapable of getting out of bed. Fatigue and chronic pain are two symptoms attributed to long Covid, but those words don't feel severe enough. 

When I first returned to work I was so happy to be back with my friends and doing what I loved. However, I quickly realized nothing would be the same.

There were days that I would have no choice but to get back in the bed before the day even started because just getting dressed for work completely wiped me out. More often than not, I wake up with limbs that feel so heavy I think my knees will buckle with every step. The muscle stiffness and joint pain are so severe that I can only describe the experience as "early onset rigor mortis".

Symptoms for Long Haul Covid range from shortness of breath, anxiety and depression to organ damage and short term memory loss. For me, the cognitive distortion, known as brain fog, has been the biggest obstacle to overcome. 

I have been driving to FOX 2 for almost 10 years, now I use navigation to drive to the office because sometimes I forget how to get to the studio. 

It feels impossible to complete a simple task without getting distracted enough to forget entirely what I was doing. Important names, dates and special memories for now are all gone. I am praying they come back. I have no recollection of last Christmas or the last time I saw my family. Intellectually, I know It was in May, but I don't remember it. 

I see pictures of myself out with friends or at an event and am instantly confused because I don't recall anything about the evening or why I wore that sweater.

I am learning to cope with my new normal. There is still so much to learn about Covid and Long Covid. Our understanding about why some people are affected differently by Covid is evolving every day. Why do some people have no symptoms at all, while others are left with organ damage and lasting disabilities? 

Long Haulers are scared, we feel alone, we need support.

wjbk maurielle lue

Maurielle Lue reflects on her fight with COVID-19 weeks after her recovery.