On December 28th, 2020, I got home from filming some promotional videos for the Owensboro Museum of Science and History's upcoming New Year's Eve celebration. Within a couple of hours, I started feeling abnormally cold. Twenty-four hours later, I knew exactly what was going on. I had contracted COVID-19 (that horrid, initial strain) and I immediately went to get a test to confirm my suspicions. That test was positive. I knew it! What I didn't know or anticipate was the extent to which COVID was going to affect my body.

Look! I am 52-years-old and in really excellent shape and health. In 2020, I was 49, in the exact same the shape and I was a guy who always boasted about the fact that I "never get sick." But, in one of the early peaks of the pandemic, my fortunes changed- dramatically.

I lost friends my age to COVID, so I acknowledge that, in the grand scheme of things, I was relatively lucky. However, that virus kicked my ass. I had some of the worst noted symptoms of COVID-19. I had heart arrythmia for months. I got a blood clot- a deep vein thrombosis in my lower right leg. My brain fog was horrendous. My mind was literally chaos for months and I had to keep lists to try to keep myself focused and on task. Here's an example.

Chad Benefield
Chad Benefield

My mind felt as frantic as that looks. I would constantly have to write down objectives, then try to remember to scratch through them when I completed the tasks. I honestly don't know how I managed to make it through work each day. But, as formidable as the brain fog was, it didn't hold a candle to this.

Very early on in my infection, I experienced fizzing, which remains the single worst thing I have ever experienced in my life.

I woke up on New Year's Eve, 2020 fully aware that "something was wrong with my skin." For the next 36 hours, I couldn't move. If anything touched my body, it felt like I was being stabbed and/or set on fire. It was as if someone had poured kerosene on every nerve ending in my body, then lit a match to set them ablaze. It was agony. Torture.

While the most serious of my COVID-19 symptoms eventually faded away, I still carry a few of them with me. Yes. After all this time- a full three years- I still have some leftover baggage from SARS-coV-2. The one symptom that persists the most is tinnitus.

I developed tinnitus in my right ear shortly after my COVID diagnosis and sought treatment for it- both from my family doctor and an ear, nose and throat specialist. The ringing that quickly settled in during the early days of 2021 has never subsided. As I type this story, my right ear continues to ring. Loudly! There are days when it feels like someone is driving an ice pick into my ear canal. I never experienced tinnitus before COVID, but it certainly has become that virus' gift that keeps on giving.

By the way, there are a variety of studies that suggest a link between COVID-19 and tinnitus. Many pandemic patients reported that particular symptom as a notable holdover from infection. Some patients claimed that they may have gotten tinnitus from a COVID vaccine. There are studies about that too and none have shown a conclusive link. I can tell you that my first vaccine was in early March of 2021 and my tinnitus was firmly established before I ever received that shot.

Some COVID long-haulers also report being overtaken by really strange smells. The proper medical term for that condition is parosmia. I certainly experienced that as well and, believe it or not, still do occasionally. Among those smells- sewage, rotten garbage, smoke and fire. I realize that sounds royally unpleasant. Trust me. It is!

For a long stretch of time post-COVID, I smelled those scents routinely. Today, they are fleeting, but they still live inside my nose (and brain) from time to time. Thankfully, gone are the nights I would wake up in the early morning hours convinced that my house was on fire. That's how pronounced the 'burning' smell was. But, I still get random whiffs of sewage and my friends think I am insane when I ask them if they can smell it too.

It's weird. Looking back on the last three years, I feel like so much of the world has changed. Honestly, it has. Personally speaking, I can assure you that my world has changed. There's no doubt that I carry emotional and physical baggage because of that virus. Every single day there's a ringing in my ear that reminds me just how aggressively and loudly that bell tolled for me. Physically and psychologically, my COVID-19 is still here and I would give anything for it to just go away.

Answers to 25 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

Vaccinations for COVID-19 began being administered in the U.S. on Dec. 14, 2020. The quick rollout came a little more than a year after the virus was first identified in November 2019. The impressive speed with which vaccines were developed has also left a lot of people with a lot of questions. The questions range from the practical—how will I get vaccinated?—to the scientific—how do these vaccines even work?

Keep reading to discover answers to 25 common COVID-19 vaccine questions.

Gallery Credit: Stephanie Parker

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