Many debilitated COVID-19 long-haulers were never originally hospitalized, San Antonio doctor says

SA patient still living with nightmare symptoms nine months after having COVID-19

SAN ANTONIO – Chrissy McCafferty Gibson’s COVID-19 symptoms started June 12.

“At first, I felt like I had allergies,” she said.

Gibson said she soon felt pretty sick, achy and exhausted, but she never had to be hospitalized. She started to feel better after a full two and a half weeks, but that only lasted a few short days.

That’s when the neurological symptoms started.

“I couldn’t get my words out, and I couldn’t put my thoughts together. I was using a walker and not being able to speak and use both sides of my face. I had tremors on my legs and hands, and all along, this headache is still the most intense headache I’ve ever had in my life,” Gibson said.

She also had a symptom consistent with other long-hauler COVID-19 patients across the country, sometimes called “hot head.”

“My head gets super hot, and my face will get super red, and my head will just start sweating,” Gibson said. “It happens a lot.”

Her husband, a paramedic, thought she’d had a stroke, but all tests and scans came out clean.

Gibson said the doctors she saw initially didn’t know how else to help her.

“I was not able to speak, so when they told me this, tears just came streaming down my face, and I tried so hard to get out the words, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’” she said.

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Chrissy and her husband.

Gibson went to inpatient rehab at the New Braunfels Regional Rehab Hospital for two weeks before finally finding the COVID-19 long hauler clinics at University Health and UT Health San Antonio, which Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez runs.

“We’ve probably seen easily over 200 to 250 patients in our two different clinics, and there’s a wait. Sometimes up to three months,” Verduzco-Gutierrez said.

She said many people are being turned away from COVID-19 long-hauler clinics across the country because they never could get in for a test and don’t have proof they had the virus.

However, Verduzco-Gutierrez is not turning patients away if they don’t have proof. She said most of her long-hauler patients did not have severe symptoms to start. Some didn’t even know they had COVID-19.

“Most of them were mild cases. I would say that in our clinic, 75% of patients were never hospitalized,” Verduzco-Gutierrez said.

For many people, that is shocking information. For Gibson, it was validating. She has been working with Verduzco-Gutierrez and is seeing vast improvements.

Gibson is doing multiple treatments aimed to relieve her never-ending headaches. Some of those treatments have helped other symptoms.

“It’s called an SPG block. It’s like a nasal swab that’s inserted up my nose, just past my nasal bone, to a little bundle of nerves. And then lidocaine is dripped down that, and that helps a lot with my headaches, but especially, oddly enough, it helps with my speech,” Gibson said.

Gibson is continuing therapy and is on many other medications for her list of symptoms.

“It’s so much. The handful of pills I take every day is ridiculous,” she said.

It’s been nine months since Gibson first got COVID-19, and she can’t work, drive or be fully independent. Yet, somehow, she is not allowing that to destroy her positivity.

“I have a wonderful support system. Our community has rallied around us. Our neighbors have rallied around us. We still have contact with the rehab center, and Dr. Gutierrez is amazing,” she said.

Gibson said keeping a journal has been a huge help, as well as joining a COVID long hauler support group on Facebook.

“On the days when you’re feeling like, ‘Oh, my god. Will this ever end?’ there’s a huge community of people out there who are being supportive of each other. People like me who have had a headache for nine months.”

When asked if she’s hopeful, Gibson said, “Very, because I’m not OK with this being my forever. I’m going to keep trying to get better. Keep trying to improve.”

By doing that, she will also keep inspiring other long-haulers who are starting their own scary and confusing journeys.

If you believe you are having long-term symptoms from COVID-19, call 210-450-6470 for appointments or more information. You can also visit the Post COVID Recovery Program website.

For more coronavirus coverage from, click here.

About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

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