PPF-PA Member Tammy Rojas Reflects on Covid-19 illness, longterm symptoms, and barriers to Covid-19 testing and care

By Tammy Rojas, PPF-PA Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee

I contracted Covid-19 the end of January 2021 and the lasting health effects make it extremely difficult to do the simplest of the day to day tasks. I’m still experiencing fatigue, inflammation in the chest which causes chest and back pain, trouble breathing with the slightest exertion and COVID brain fog which is affecting me in a variety of ways. I find myself feeling wiped out just doing simple tasks like cleaning the cats’ litter box, cleaning the toilet or gathering trash. Walking up and down the steps in my apartment building causes me great pain, exhaustion, and causes my heart to overwork and takes my breath away. 

The COVID brain fog has me experiencing depression symptoms, trouble thinking deeply, forgetfulness, getting my thoughts to come out in words or phrases that make sense to others and the oddest part is I don’t feel the sensations of hunger, thirst or even feeling full. So I have to be really on point that I’m not eating too little or too much.. Covid-19 affects everyone differently and for many the symptoms linger on. It’s been over a month for me since I was exposed/experienced the first symptom and I’m still having symptoms. On top of struggling with these lasting symptoms I have to fight with healthcare profiteer Penn Medicine to demand the care I need. 

My struggle with Penn Medicine began the moment I reached out on January 24, 2021, about experiencing the first COVID symptom, the loss of taste and smell. Communications with them, about getting a Covid-19 test, went back and forth for a few days, until I started becoming really sick and didn’t have the energy to fight with them anymore. I reached out again, once severe symptoms passed, about February 9th, to once again request a test for Covid-19 because I had all the symptoms and someone I was in contact with tested positive and my partner and roommate were both sick. My family doctors office, Penn Medicine, were still reluctant to give me a test and were not going to treat me for COVID until I had a positive test result. After two days of getting the runaround I decided to look elsewhere for a test. I went for my test Friday February 11th at CVS and received my results Sunday February 14th, POSITIVE for COVID! 

I have since been to see my Penn Medicine family doctor and they have reluctantly acknowledged that I do in fact have Covid-19 and lingering symptoms that could go on for weeks and the “care” they are offering is minimal. 

At that visit they decided I should do follow up visits periodically to see if symptoms had improved after  4-6 weeks from a positive test result.  I’m past that point and I’m STILL experiencing covid symptoms, which are currently causing me serious issues that make every day tasks seem like life milestones if I can complete them. With trouble breathing, chest & back pain and a weakened heart, MAYBE Penn Medicine will now grant that I qualify for the “luxury” of getting a scan, xray and/or a specialist referral.  

On Wednesday February 24th I went into the Penn Medicine LGH Emergency Room to be seen because the chest and back pain and trouble breathing I’ve been experiencing had intensified on the days following my visit to my family doctor. I went in scared and frustrated because my concerns about my health up to this point had not been taken seriously by my provider, Penn Medicine, and I didn’t know what to expect and seeing as UPMC had closed St Joseph’s hospital I had no other choice for emergency chest pain care. Thankfully, since I was there for chest and back pain I received an EKG and X-ray, which is pretty standard ER practice when someone comes in with chest pains. The results were upsetting; it appears Covid-19 has left scarring and that scarring is causing inflammation, which is causing the pain and trouble breathing. 

Thankfully I haven’t been alone in this fight and struggle to get the healthcare services I need. I have been supported by friends in my community who relate to my healthcare struggle and other fellow members of Put People First! PA (PPF-PA). As a form of “Community Care” a member of the Healthcare Workers Team in PPF-PA joined me, via phone, for my visits with my family doctor where they helped advocate for the services I need. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through this crisis if I didn’t have the support that I received from both friends in the community and my comrades in PPF-PA. 

I’m a Medicaid recipient, I don’t make Penn Medicine money, so to them I don’t matter. Instead of treating me for Covid-19 and examining me in a way to get a thorough look at how COVID has affected my body and thus overall health, i.e. the necessary medical tests that should be done, they have decided to just manage my symptoms, not treating the cause itself. I’ve been prescribed an inhaler and multiple pain medications.

This virus is NO JOKE and it’s high time the working class demands we get healthcare as a human right because hundreds of millions of us need it and tens of millions are needlessly suffering without it. 

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