COVID-19 Survivor: "Leaving the House is The Hardest Part"

Mimi Grabovenko is all right despite a persistent, painful cough. It's the tendency to panic in public places now—not her multiple sclerosis—that keeps her close to home. 

Mimi Grabovenko has MS and survived COVID-19. Despite a persistent, lingering cough her health is all right but she has developed a new, related symptom—panic attacks.

Anamaria (Mimi) Grabovenko, who has multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system), first came down with the symptoms of COVID-19 on March 31 and tested positive for the virus in early April. The Long Island mother battled fevers, shortness of breath, an incessant cough, vomiting, and diarrhea for a few weeks while isolating from her husband and daughter in the family’s guest house. 

She also experienced the loss of taste and smell, a rash from her chest to her knees, and sores on the tips of her toes. After three additional COVID-19 tests, she finally tested negative for the virus on May 27. She moved back into the house to be with her family, and neither her husband nor her daughter got the virus.

But she still has a lingering cough, she rarely goes out, preferring to get her groceries delivered, and she’s only recently been strong enough to start back on her MS medication. Practical Pain Management first reported Mimi’s storyin the spring of 2020.  Here’s an update on what her life is like now.

Not Sick Enough for the Hospital 

Mimi, who was diagnosed 17 years ago with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, had been running two preschools near her home for decades. Both schools closed due to the pandemic on March 13, 2020. Two weeks later, Mimi first experienced fatigue, fever, and coughing. When she was diagnosed with COVID-19, she was not sick enough to be hospitalized, but her doctors called to check in every day to see how she was doing.

During the next several weeks, she would be fever-free for a few days but then the fever would return. The cough was ongoing. Her doctor recommended that she stop her treatments for MS because her system just wasn’t strong enough.

Having MS does not increase the risk of dying from COVID-19, current evidence suggests. But people with MS may be more susceptible to having a severe case of COVID-19 if they do get the virus.1

Certain MS medications may increase the likelihood of developing complications from a COVID-19 infection but these risks should be balanced with the risks of delaying or stopping treatment, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.2

In general, individuals with MS who currently take disease modifying therapies (DMTs) may continue with their treatment but those who test positive for COVID-19 or develop symptoms of the virus should consult with their health care provider to find out the best course of action.

Besides testing positive for the virus for several weeks, Mimi didn’t develop any detectable levels of antibodies to COVID-19.

“My doctor thinks the reason I didn’t develop antibodies is because of the chemo medication I am on to treat my MS,” Mimi says. “Yet another person I know who had COVID and is on the same medication did develop antibodies, so it’s hard to tell.”

Shaking and Tingling: MS or COVID-19?

Meanwhile, back in the spring of 2020, because she hadn’t received her MS medication for two months, she began to experience MS symptoms.  “My classic symptom is that I start having trouble closing my left hand and I can’t grab things,” Mimi recalls. “Usually, it starts in my pinkie finger. It becomes very easy for me to drop things. But my doctor recommended that I not get my treatment at that point.”  

Her symptoms did not abate and it was sometimes hard to tell what was from MS and what was from the virus. “I would get the shakes and have the tingling in my fingertips during these two months,” she recalls. “But I was getting the shakes from COVID, too, so it was hard to tell which was what. Personally, I felt that it was due to the MS.  I’ve had MS for a long time, and I know my body so well.”

Mimi normally gets two infusions of her MS medication (they are spaced two weeks apart) every five or six months.  After not getting her medication since October 2019, She was finally able to get two infusions of her MS medication two weeks apart, receiving one on July 9, 2020 and one on July 23, 2020. and says she is feeling better after the second dose. “I totally feel the difference,” she says. “I can feel my fingers again.”

Panick Attacks, A New Symptom  

But while Mimi’s MS symptoms have improved now that she can take her medication again, she still doesn’t feel completely recovered from COVID-19. Her persistent cough is painful and when she takes a deep breath, it hurts. “And I still can’t sleep on my back,” she says. “I still have this funny feeling in my esophagus when I try. So I sleep on my stomach now.”

She bought a pulse oximeter while she was ill, and says her oxygen level is usually between 95 and 97. When she is having a coughing fit, it can go as low as 90.

Mimi’s doctor does not feel that she faces long-lasting effects from COVID-19, although he does want her to see a cardiologist at some point for an evaluation. Physical symptoms aside, Mimi says that having COVID-19 has left her psychologically traumatized.  She has become hesitant to go out. “I went to the mall recently and began having a panic attack because the person next to me was too close,” she recalls. “Luckily, my daughter was there and pointed out to the woman that she should not be that close.”

Mimi sold the building that housed one of her preschools, and that school closed permanently. The other preschool, housed in a church, is closed this year but may reopen next year. If so, Mimi may go back to running it again. “But right now, the health risks for me are just too high,” she says.

Still, she ventures out more and more. She’s even been to the supermarket. But if she gets there and the line is out the door, she won’t stay to do her shopping as she doesn’t want to be around crowds. Nearly seven months after her diagnosis, she is still having a hard time sleeping, waking up at 3 am and not being able to fall back to sleep until 5am.

But Mimi remains determined to move forward. “I don’t believe that my body could go through this again,” she says. “I can’t just sit still. I definitely want to take on some new projects but I need to figure it out. I just know that I can’t handle a lot of stress right now.”


Updated on: 10/02/20
Continue Reading:
How Two Immunocompromised Sisters are Fighting the Coronavirus Quarantine