First Infection – Omicron
In January 2022, I attended an event in NYC and shortly afterward developed flu-like symptoms. A PCR test at my local CVS came back positive for COVID-19, and I started treating my acute symptoms with the recommended aspirin, vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, melatonin and a few other anti-inflammatory supplements. My blood oxygen levels never dropped below 94, and about 18 days later, I considered myself fully recovered.
About a month later, I started to feel ankle stiffness and pain in my left ankle that I had sprained 10 years ago. I though maybe it was from lower body workout intensity, so I went low-impact for my exercise routine. The pain persisted and worsened into May. It got bad enough that I went to a podiatrist who gave me a cortisone injection in my ankle and a 10-day course of meloxicam (pain killer). I felt there had to be something more to this continuing health issue, so I went to a sports medicine doctor for a second opinion. He sent me for a non-weight bearing X-ray which came back with no issues visible, so recommended physical therapy. I did physical therapy (mostly stretches and theraband exercises) through June with modest results. The pain had now spread up from my ankle to the left side of my shin and I started to feel tingling neuropathy along the outside of my left leg and into my foot.
Second Infection – Omicron B4/B5 Variant?
In early July, after visiting friends (who I discovered later were positive for COVID) I came down with an upper respiratory infection, sinusitis, headache, fever, sore throat… the works. So, I went into complete bed rest for three days with all the usual supplements + aspirin to treat what I assumed was round two of COVID for me. On the fourth day, I felt better, so I went out to a car show with friends and then out to dinner that evening. The following day, the pain in my left leg suddenly became excruciating and swelling in both feet developed. I also started to have intense brain fog, memory loss, personality changes, suicidal thoughts, and general malaise. I lost all appetite over this week and stopped eating. I experienced extreme anxiety and couldn’t sleep for any reasonable length of time for several days.
Acute Long COVID Symptoms
At this point, things took a rapid turn for the worst. I experienced the whole package of Long COVID symptoms that included full body histamine flush, severe edema in both legs, adrenaline dumps, panic attacks, “air hunger” shortness of breath, feeling like I was forgetting to breath, chills, full body tremors, heart palpitations, left side numbness and neuropathy from head to toe, swollen blue visible veins, gastrointestinal pain, liver and gallbladder pain, shortness of breath, visual disturbances and “floaters”, fluctuating body temperature, extreme sensitivity to sound and light, dizziness, vertigo, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), left side weakness when walking, electrical shock feelings in my brain, random “smell memories” (where I’d experience strong nicotine smoke or other strong smells from prior life experiences), severe PTSD from negative childhood experiences, derealization, depersonalization, tooth nerve pain, trigeminal neuralgia, muscle spasms, and other symptoms that I’m probably forgetting at this point (the brain has a way of “blanking out” the worst of life’s negative experiences).
Multiple ER Visits – I Am Dying, Right?
Most of this severe period of Long COVID was a blur, but I ended up having 5 ER visits in as many days, trying to find answers for these symptoms. Labs and imaging came back fine for the most part. Bilirubin levels were significantly elevated at 2.6 (likely viral hepatitis), but everything else appeared normal. One doctor scratched his head and just told me point blank he had no idea what it was, but would give me a 5-day course of steroids and see if it cleared up. Another doctor thought I had Lyme disease, so gave me a 14-day course of doxycycline (antibiotic). The steroid gave me extreme psychosis and clinical mania symptoms. My primary doctor gave me a referral to a psychiatrist, but I wasn’t interested in that approach, as I knew the ultimate cause was physiological, not psychological. The antibiotic seemed to have the most rapid positive effect. The night after I started taking it, I woke up during the night drenched in sweat feeling the same way you might after a high fever breaks; exhausted but with significantly improved symptoms. The day after taking the doxycycline, I felt well enough to climb on my bike and ride around the neighborhood. My vision, smell and mental processing had a clarity that I hadn’t experienced in months. Later, my tick-panel came back with positive titer for Anaplasmosis, a severe tick-borne co-infection of Lyme disease. My working theory is I probably had Lyme+co-infections, but my immune system had fought them off until COVID nuked it into total dysfunction which activated this underlying illness.
Long COVID + Co-infections Recovery Begins
I felt better for several weeks until mid August when I over-exerted myself attending a family reunion and crashed hard with a flare up of symptoms. At this point, I had seen my primary doctor who found via testing that I was deficient in Vitamin B1, B12, D and several other vitamins and minerals. I was taking supplements recommended by her and a functional medicine doctor I’d seen, as well as some of the recommendations from the CovidLongHaulers subreddit. I had also discovered Tom Bunker’s Facebook group for curing Long Covid via Fasting/Autophagy and had struggled through my first 42 hour water fast, consuming nothing but water and electrolytes. The day after the fast, I felt terrible. However, I felt significantly better over the next few days. It was enough of an improvement that I decided to try it again every two weeks going forward.
I went into ‘try everything’ mode. It was all fair game. I tried vagus nerve exercises, meditation, breath work, binaural music, “ohm” humming, transcendental meditation, infrared sauna, grounding, red light therapy, cold showers, hot epsom salt baths, massage therapy, foam rolling, an alpha stem device (CES), a low histamine diet, an acupressure mat, sleeping at an incline for silent reflux, cervical neck traction, physical therapy exercises for cervical spine instability (all my joints and neck were cracking and popping and felt extremely weak and loose), extended prayers of thankfulness and requests for healing to God along with Bible reading (mostly the Psalms), a carefully curated supplement stack, a religiously kept bedtime and routine for sleep hygiene, 16/8 intermittent fasting, monitoring my glucose with a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) and more.
Supplements and Drugs I took for Long COVID:
I’ve linked to the brands/products that worked for me.
- Loratadine / Claritin to reduce full body histamine response early in illness
- Famotidine / Pepsid AC to reduce severe neurological and vagus nerve related symptoms early in illness
- Magnesium to help nerve pain and muscle spasms
- Benfothiamine (B1) as I was severely deficient
- B-complex (all the B’s)
- Vitamin D + K2
- Low-Histamine Probiotics
- Nattokinase and Serrapeptase initially, followed by Lumbrokinase as micro-clot busting agents
- D-Ribose (big energy boost early on)
- NAC for NAD+
- Betaine HCI for low stomach acid (my PCP tried to give me PPI’s… I didn’t take them)
- Peppermint pills to calm IBS-C symptoms
- Licorice root to heal GI and antiviral, anti-parasitic, antibacterial properties
- Slippery elm bark powder in smoothies to heal GI
- L-glutamine to heal GI
- Mastic gum to heal stomach lining and what felt like ulcers, though H.Pylori test was negative
- Quercetin for autophagy and potential mast cell stabilization (MCAS)
- Ivermectin (for Babesia blood cell parasites, prescription required in the US)
- Fish Oil pills for Omega 3’s
- DHEA taken sublingually to fix my hormonal imbalances related to the HPA axis including adrenal insufficiency
- CBD for sleep and anxiety reduction
- Adaptogenic Mushrooms (no, not psilocybin): lion’s mane, cordyceps militaris, reishi, chaga, maitake, shiitake, and turkey tail
- Slow-release melatonin for sleep
- A toxins binder including bentonite clay, activated charcoal and chlorella
- Cistus Incanus tea with stevia, a potential antiviral combination (persistent viral spike-protein theory)
- Turmeric / Curcumin for anti-inflammatory
- Grass fed beef organ meat supplements: pancreas, stomach, intestines, adrenal glands, thymus, liver, etc
- D L-Phenylalanine for cognitive restoration
- Beet root supplement to increase nitric oxide and support liver and gallbladder function
- Custom tick-borne illness herb formula: Japanese Knotweed, Dokudami, Cats Claw, Gou-Teng, Andrographis Paniculata, Sida Acuta, Alchornea cordifolia, Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, Sarsaparilla
- Diamine Oxidase (DAO) supplement to block histamines
- Antiviral Herbs: oregano oil, red sage, holy basil, fennel, garlic, rosemary, echinacea, elderberry, astragalus, ginger, dandelion root and leaves
By September, some extensive labs from my functional medicine doctor came back showing I had Babesia, a tick-borne parasitic infection of red blood cells that can cause anemia. I also had a low CD4/CD8 ratio indicating I had an immunocompromised state. Rather than throw more high-test antibiotics and antimalarials at my shattered body, I decided to start the herbal antibiotics recommended by the functional medicine doctor, as well as Ivermectin (a powerful anti parasitic treatment effective against Babesia, that has become quite infamous during the pandemic). At this point, I was into my third extended fast and seeing some small daily improvements in symptoms and energy.
As October rolled around, I completed my fourth extended water fast. My bloodwork had also shown low potassium levels and an imbalanced sodium:potassium ratio. I started supplementing with potassium daily and the combination of these two actions ushered in an incredible boost of energy with a complete disappearance of most of the symptoms. Feeling great, I took a risk and did a full body strength training workout for the first time in months, followed by an infrared sauna session. I waited for the PEM crash. It never came. I woke up the next morning feeling energetic with almost no soreness in my muscles.
This is where I am today. I decided to create a website sharing what I feel made the most difference in my Long COVID recovery journey as well as the Lyme+co-infections I am recovering from. The treatments for both post-viral chronic illness and Lyme+co-infections are virtually the same, though the specifics may have some variables mixed in.
If I had to rank the top 5 things that made a difference for me. They would be:
- Mindset – once I knew I wasn’t imminently dying, I started fighting to survive with a positive outlook.
- Time – the human body is a miraculous living machine, but it takes time to heal from serious trauma of any kind.
- Fasting / Autophagy – the level of improvement I saw after each extended fasting session was absolutely incredible!
- HPA Axis Homeostasis Support – The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has a mind-blowing level of complexity and is still not fully understood by the world’s brightest immunologists. There are enough clues though, that with extensive lab testing, supplements, hormone therapies, physical therapies, breath-work, sleep hygiene and ‘doing all the things’ that it IS POSSIBLE to rebalance this vital part of healthy human existence.
- Human Connections Giving Hope – I can’t tell you how validating it was to find people on Reddit and Facebook groups who were going through the exact experiences as me, having rude doctors telling us it is all in our heads, and worse. We are nothing without community and human connections. Hearing others’ stories of survival, successful treatments, and a return to health is what gave me HOPE in the darkest moments when suicide was a real consideration. I am also thankful for the incredible support from my wife and friends in my life who stepped in to help with all sorts of practical things during the worst of my disability.
I hope my Long COVID recovery story encourages those still in the thick of debilitating symptoms. And may we all find healing from the deep psychological trauma of this illness.
All the Love, all the Joy, all the Peace to each of you!
— Josh Champagne, October 2022