By Scott Blair
Two and a half years ago, Heather Elizabeth-Brown tested positive for COVID-19, and since then, her life has been torn apart. Originally, Brown went into the hospital with symptoms of COVID but tested negative and was sent home with instructions to treat her illness with hydroxychloroquine, a lot of fluids, and not to come back unless she experienced breathing problems.
She came down with a 103-degree temperature and pain in her lungs, so she returned to the hospital, this time testing positive for the virus, and was subsequently admitted. Shortly after, she was put into a medically induced coma.
Brown stayed in the coma for 31 days and had a stroke, blood clots, and complications from bleeding. She said, “When I woke up, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, I had a feeding tube, I was in the ICU for almost two weeks. I had to relearn how to walk. I was in inpatient rehab for about six weeks. I had all sorts of therapy … pretty much everything that you can think of.”
She still feels the effects of the virus almost three years later. Her body is ravaged, and her life has drastically changed. Black people are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than whites. The black community saw a peak in COVID-19 deaths during April 2020, and the deaths finally bottomed out in April 2022, climbing slightly since then.
Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five adults suffers from long-form COVID, which is having symptoms more than three months after being diagnosed.
More Problems for Brown
On top of the previously mentioned issues, Brown developed diabetes due to COVID. She also dealt with swelling, brain fog, hair loss and lymphedema [a condition that causes swelling of the leg or arm]. Brown said, “I do wonder if I had gotten a different level of care earlier if that would have resulted in not ending up on a ventilator and not ending up in a coma, which was obviously an incredibly traumatic experience.”
She had just started a new job when COVID hit, but luckily her employer kept her job waiting for her until she could return. She said, “I was out for almost six months between being ill and being in the hospital and then recovering and getting back to being able to do some semblance of work. I was just incredibly blessed with that situation.”
Brown is currently getting vitamin B shots and taking other supplements to help with her recovery. She also wanted to stress how crucial it is to be vocal about your needs with your doctors.
“I just want to re-message the importance of being an advocate for yourself, [especially] when it comes to your health and getting care and not being a shrinking violet when it comes to speaking to medical professionals about your health, your body, and your wellness.”
Teresa Akintonwa, Another COVID-19 Survivor From the Black Community
“It’s funny how you can be afraid to die, but at the same time you want to kill yourself, and that’s kind of where I was in the summer of 2020,” – Teresa Akintonwa, COVID survivor.
Over the summer of 2020, Ms. Akintonwa regularly felt disoriented and had such a hard time breathing she thought she would die in her sleep after dealing with COVID-19 since February. She even began to have suicidal thoughts from struggling to breathe for so long.
“I had to go to my family and tell them, here are my weapons. I need you to take these and put them away for me. I thought about it quite often, almost obsessively. That was the first time in my life I’d ever thought about suicide or hurting myself like that,” Akintonwa said.
According to a study by Elsevier, suicide ideation rates practically doubled during the first three months of quarantine.
Akintonwa said she was never admitted to the hospital because they told her that her symptoms weren’t serious enough. She had extreme anxiety, difficulty breathing, massive headaches, problems speaking, and her memory was shot, which were all causing problems at work.
“At one point, I did go on a family leave. I took off three months because I was extremely overwhelmed between the absent-mindedness, anxiety, headaches, and dizziness,” she said.
COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns affected so many lives in different ways, and suicide or thoughts of suicide were a major component of that. However, there are ways we can help each other.
How You Can Help
If you suspect someone in your life is having suicidal thoughts or if a friend or loved one has made certain comments lately, here’s what you can do to help:
Help them find a therapist — psychologytoday.com offers a network of therapists who can help
Call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress
The Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support through text messages to people in crisis when they dial 741741