Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.
It was jarring to be back in a doctor’s office waiting room today, to hand over my insurance card and driver’s license to be copied, to fill out the paperwork answering questions that were just going to be asked again by a nurse and then the doctor, to sit there and wait for answers I have given up finding.
I made the decision last month to just… stop. Stop all the doctor’s appointments. Stop being a guinea pig for doctors who are trying to get a handle on this Longhaul thing. Stop thinking the medical establishment has any answers right now. Just. Stop.
I have this disgusting taste in my mouth. It was my first COVID symptom back in November. It was metallic. Foul. Gross. Now it’s just… oh, I don’t really know. It’s like a friend who’s overstayed his welcome. I want him gone, but I’ve gotten used to having him around so all those annoying things have become regular part of life.
It’s just… disgusting. It feels like there’s a film on the back of my teeth, a goopy, smeared-on crap that just isn’t there. My tongue isn’t quite numb but is far from “right.” The left side of it is particularly bad. It feels… rough? Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s not. I’m a word guy, but after this long, words tend to fail me.
Last month, my mouth started to hurt. Dentists and dental specialists couldn’t figure out why, but they knew that when they tapped on my bottom-left wisdom tooth, I climbed out of the chair and put a fist through the wall (figuratively, of course). So they said, “How attached are you to that tooth?” and I said, “The only thing that hurts me this badly that I think I’ll keep around is my mortgage, and I don’t have a choice about that one,” so they yanked it (the tooth, not the mortgage), still not knowing exactly why it had become a problem child. The pain went away. The horrible taste and gunky feeling did not.
I brush. I use mouthwash. Tic-Tacs. Whatever. Occasionally, there’s some temporary relief. But nothing lasts. Nothing fixes it. And, apparently, it’s not going away on its own.
So I made an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, knowing that the very specific definition of what she treats does not include “disgusting mouth crap” but also not knowing where else to turn. Before making the appointment, I had asked my primary care physician and the doctor at the COVID clinic who’s supposedly on top of all this stuff what they would recommend. I got different versions of “I got nuthin’,” so I said, “What about an ENT?” and both said different versions of “Couldn’t hurt.”
And so, there I was today, waiting for Dr. Boone to come in. I picked her from a list of about four ENT’s in my area based 100 percent on the fact that she had no one who said in a Google review that she was a monster and because I had some weird intuitive feeling that, at the very least, she wouldn’t irreparably harm me. The jury is still out on both.
She came in with a whoosh to the small exam room, and the first thing I noticed was that she was wearing this… thing on her head. It was like what a spelunker would attach before heading into the deep, dark cave. I gotta admit, it takes guts to wear something so incredibly stupid while doing it so incredibly confidently.
I told her my schpeel and realized… holy shit, I’m going to cry. I was pissed. Pissed! Fuck this stupid virus! For a month I have not thought too much about it as I went about trying to find the sweet relief of sleep now that I have been diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea. And here it was again. Right in my freaking face.
Maybe she noticed my fragile emotional state. Maybe she didn’t. Whatever the case, she was awesome. She told me straight-out, while she has been seeing tons of Longhaulers and has even coined a new term for those of us with sinus problems (COVID Nose), my particular set of symptoms is unique to her. We were in speculation territory.
But she said that it sounds as if it justmaybemightcouldbe something to do with my chorda tympani nerve. Yes, I googled it. Apparently, it’s like the rambling river of nerves, this thing that runs from the taste buds throughout the mouth, through the middle ear and ultimately to the brain. And yes, it is one of the main things that tells the brain, “This thing I’m sensing? Yeah. You should think it tastes like…”
We all know COVID hates nerves and that COVID is all about inflammation, so, in her opinion, it justmaybemightcouldbe an inflamed chorda tympani nerve. That would explain why my mouth feels like a gnome crawled in and took a dump but that, when she examined it, there’s nothing visibly wrong with it. No tumors. No film. No teeth issues. No tongue issues. Nothing.
My favorite person, Someone From Scheduling, will be calling me to set up an appointment for an MRI. The hope is that the nerve will be obviously inflamed. Then the treatment is steroids. Big-time, badass, Jose-Canseco steroids. Even if it’s not, she might still go that route, she said. The side effects of that treatment sound awful. But then again, so is living for five months with a mouth that tastes like a gnome took a dump in it.
I have had so many tests, so my procedures for this Longhaul crap, all of which have, in the end, shown exactly nothing. But maybe… maybe… maybe-just-maybe this MRI will show the “something” that has been hidden. I’ve adjusted to life with sometimes crippling fatigue. I’ve adjusted to life with random shortness of breath. I’ve adjusted to life with brain fog.
I don’t want to adjust to a life with a mouth like this.