A young woman has told of her struggle to be diagnosed with COVID-19 despite worsening symptoms and described how she was dismissed from an emergency room with “anxiety”.
Tobi Marlin told news.com.au she’d been suffering from coronavirus symptoms for close to a month after first developing signs of the infection in July.
The Los Angeles student was admitted to hospital, and “dismissed”, after being told she had “stress and anxiety” only to be eventually diagnosed with COVID-19 through an antibody test.
It comes as the US revised its COVID-19 testing guidelines, saying people without symptoms don’t need to be tested.
RELATED: Follow live coronavirus coverage
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its advice on Wednesday, saying people who have been in close contact with a known case of COVID-19 don’t need a test if they don’t have symptoms. The guidance previously urged people who had recently been exposed to COVID-19 cases to seek out a test.
Tobi said her symptoms were initially “mild” but included “fatigue, dizziness, headaches, muscle aches, and a sore throat”.
“The fatigue affected me the most – I slept for hours during the day and through the night. It was so mild at the time it didn‘t even feel as bad as the flu. My symptoms lasted for six days, and then I felt back to normal.”
Tobi and her girlfriend were tested for the virus in late July, but she said they were given self tests, which she suspected weren’t reliable.
“Unfortunately, my test came back negative, so I thought it was just a virus,” Tobi said. “My girlfriend, who was also sick, took the same test. They both came back negative a few days later, so we thought we were okay.”
But Tobi said after feeling better for a few weeks, her health started to deteriorate again in mid-August.
“Before this I was a normal, healthy 20-year-old college student,” she said. “I don‘t have any pre-existing health issues. I was being careful. I wore masks, used sanitiser constantly, quarantined, and only came into contact with a small group of people (mainly my roommate and girlfriend).”
She said she knew COVID-19 was “serious” but she’d never thought “about how it could affect me long-term”.
She said on the morning of August 14 while on a trip to visit family, she was suddenly hit by an intense bout of dizziness and fatigue after eating breakfast.
“The room started to spin, so I went upstairs to lay down. I originally thought it was just anxiety from school, but then I tried to stand up and I fell over from the dizziness,” Tobi said.
“Later that day I went out with family (safely of course – we wore masks and social distanced). I was still feeling dizzy but shrugged it off as altitude sickness.
“We were sitting outside, and I started to feel my left arm get extremely weak. I asked my mum for her car keys to go sit in the car, and I remember it being difficult to even hold the keys. Then my legs got weak, and the entire car ride home I felt like I was on the brink of passing out.
“Later that night, I got this strange cold sensation in my throat and chest, almost like I had just drank a glass of ice cold water.” She said weeks later, this sensation still comes and can last for hours.
At a virtual doctors appointment a doctor told Tobi “it was most likely something related to my inner ear”.
But Tobi said the initial diagnosis “didn‘t explain the muscle weakness”.
“At the time, we didn‘t know I had COVID in July, so I don’t blame them for not thinking of this. They told me to just eat a banana, drink Gatorade, and it should go away.”
Tobi’s symptoms persisted and she was admitted to an ER two days later, but said her symptoms were “dismissed it as stress and anxiety which brought on positional vertigo”.
“I went home that night and broke down because I was so upset,” she said. “I felt like I was crazy because doctors weren‘t listening to me.”
By August 17, almost a month after she first developed symptoms, Tobi said she was struggling to “breathe, walk, and talk”.
“My muscles were stiff and sore, and I felt shaky and dizzy. My doctor listened to me and checked for everything.”
The test showed she had COVID-19 antibodies but tested negative for a current infection.
“We connected the dots and suspected I had COVID in July, and the symptoms came back even though I‘m not shedding the virus – meaning I’m not contagious.”
Tobi said since that time her symptoms have not improved — if anything, she says, she’s getting worse, and developing more symptoms.
“I haven’t been able to drive most days due to the dizziness, which means my girlfriend has to take me to run errands or pick up medicine,” she said.
“It‘s been extremely difficult for me to keep up with work and school, even though I’ve been doing both from home.
“I just had to withdraw from my accounting class because I was so behind. I can‘t walk down the hall without running out of breath. Sometimes it’s hard to even talk to people because I don’t have the energy.
“Talking has been difficult sometimes because I can‘t think of certain words and it’s hard to think of sentences at times.
“I‘ve been stuttering a lot and having to talk slower than normal to give myself time to think. I feel disoriented and have trouble focusing.”
She said the symptoms have taken a harsh toll on her mental health.
“I‘ve broke down crying multiple times because I’m sad and frustrated. I’m upset that I can’t even get up and walk to the bathroom without the room feeling like it’s spinning,” she said.
Tobi said while her doctors have been “great” there’s little they’ve been able to offer her in the way of treatment. She’s currently on a roster of four over the counter medicines and a B12 supplement for her symptoms, and staying hydrated.