“At this point, I don’t know if I will ever get my old life back. This could be my life going forward, and that scares me.”
It was March 12 when Christopher Ruggles noticed he felt a little more tired than normal.
The self-employed Peoria dog trainer felt fatigued and had a slight cough. He shrugged it off as nothing more than a long workday and a result of a recurring sinus issue.
But five days later, he still felt off and suspected something wasn’t right.
He called a COVID-19 hotline, where a nurse told him he wasn’t eligible to be tested and he just needed to hunker down and stay home.
Then the sickness ramped up to a level Ruggles had never imagined.
“It seemed like every four to six days a new symptoms would pop up on top of all the previous,” he told The Copper Courier.
The 49-year-old had been healthy and active before the illness, doing yoga every morning, hiking, and walking and running 10-12 miles per day for work.
But now he feels like he can barely function.
Over the past five months, more and more health problems keeping popping up on Ruggles’ plate.
So far, they have included:
“The fatigue got really bad. At its worst I couldn’t make it from my bed to the bathroom without help. It just was so bad.”
“That’s left me with limited mobility of my left arm. I really wanted to give myself a haircut and I can’t do that because I can’t get my left arm up to work the clippers.”
“Like you’ve taken Vaseline and you’ve just smeared it over your whole eyeball.”
Brain Fog/Memory Loss
“The brain fog is the latest, and that started about a month ago. It started off with just having difficulty pulling up words … and then I started forgetting conversations that I’d had with people, and then I started losing entire days. That was the scary one. That one was the one that really pushed me over the edge. … I’ve lost about a week in total that I just don’t remember. I see evidence that stuff happened, I talked to people, and I made phone calls and I was on Twitter. I have absolutely no memory of any of that happening.”
Distorted Taste and Smell
“It wasn’t like an actual loss [of my sense] – I woke up one morning and you know that smell of a latex balloon? … That was all I could smell and taste. It was like everything I put in my mouth was me licking a balloon.”
“I have a constant pressure, like small child is sitting on my chest, but I’ve never gotten to the point that I can’t breathe.”
Other symptoms have included, in Ruggles’ words, disorientation and hallucinations, hyper-sensitive and peeling skin, hoarse voice, sweating, heartburn, diarrhea, burning blisters, and the feeling of pins and needles in limbs.
And Ruggles is not alone in facing symptoms for much longer than the two weeks the illness was first believed to last. One study found only about 13% of patients were free of symptoms two months after they began.
A Mishandled Response
Ruggles said the way the country and state have handled the pandemic has added to his frustrations.
After first feeling sick in March, he wasn’t able to get tested until mid-May. Ruggles wasn’t eligible for a test during that period of about two months. Because tests were in such limited supply, only people hospitalized with serious symptoms or who were known to be exposed could receive one.
When he was finally able to get tested, he waited in his car for about two hours––shorter than some Arizonans who have waited up to 13 hours, but still a long time.
“Testing shouldn’t be that difficult to acquire and you shouldn’t have to wait that long,” he said.
Ruggles went in for a second test in early July because he wanted to see if the virus was still active in his system, considering he was still so sick.
Two weeks later, he still didn’t have a result. Then about a week after that, he was told his sample had been lost.
Throughout the entire time he has been sick, Ruggles said it was difficult to watch people continue to go out and congregate.
“The original stay-at-home order really upset me, when Gov. Ducey made a half-hearted attempt to shut everything down,” he said.
Ducey enacted the order at the end of May, which closed most non-essential businesses but still kept some places, like golf courses and parks, open.
Ruggles said he remembers looking outside his window and seeing the recreation area next to his home packed with people.
“I was just looking at these people and I’m like, ‘What are you doing? You can’t be that out-of-touch,’” he said.
Ducey lifted the stay-at-home order May 15 and began allowing certain businesses, including salons, gyms, and restaurant dining rooms, to reopen days before.
But a resulting spike in COVID-19 cases led to a push for stricter measures, causing Ducey to once again indefinitely shut down bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, gyms, waterparks, and tubing June 29.
The state is still averaging thousands of new cases per day and has topped 3,000 deaths.
“It’s just so mismanaged,” Ruggles said. “It shouldn’t have been like this.”
Lately, Ruggles’ biggest problem has been his too-high blood pressure.
“And couple that with chest pains, which is intense––it’s like having your sternum ripped apart––that is a terrifying future to look at, to think that something is just wrong and it’s never going to get better and could possibly down the road lead to a transplant. That was never in the life plan,” he said.
After having it spike dangerously high in mid-July, he headed to the emergency room.
He said he felt like the staff didn’t take him seriously, and they failed to conduct what he believes are important tests, including bloodwork and a urinalysis.
“I’m terrified of the very real possibility that I could have a stroke before I get to see my new doctor,” he said after he had returned home.
Ruggles said in his moments of clarity––meaning, when his brain fog isn’t so bad he’s forgetting how to unlock his bathroom door––he considers the scary possibility that he may be forced to find a new life path.
“At this point, I don’t know if I will ever get my old life back. This could be my life going forward, and that scares me. And that should not be an acceptable reality for anybody,” he said. “I don’t know if the decreased lung capacity is going to be ongoing. I don’t know if the fatigue is going to be ongoing. I don’t know if the memory loss is going to be ongoing.”
But one thing he is certain about is how important it is to take this disease seriously.
“Wear a mask, wash your damn hands, and stay at least six feet apart,” he said. “It’s not that hard. And it’s not only someone else’s life that you’re going to save, it could be your own.”