There was a time when Mantachie’s Lynsey Vanstory didn’t wear a mask.
It’s not that she was “anti-mask,” specifically. She didn’t doubt that they might help prevent her from catching the virus COVID-19. It’s just, she was more or less indifferent to catching it, leaving whether she contracted the virus up to fate, luck of the draw, or the like.
“I had the flu the second week of February, and it knocked me on my tail. I didn’t get out of my bed for six days,” she told The Times via phone call last week, on her 21st day of quarantine after being diagnosed with COVID-19. “I have made the comment, more than once, that there was no way COVID-19 was any worse than that flu I had in February.”
It was worse. Far worse.
“This virus is real,” she said. “You can be a 32-year-old healthy woman and it knock you on your tail for four weeks. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.”
‘We’re way past that now’
When Vanstory, 32, tested positive for COVID-19 on June 22, she was more heartbroken than afraid.
“Honestly, I was an emotional basket case,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to get to see my kids for 14 days. I wasn’t going to get to see my kids, touch my kids, for 14 days.”
She laughed lightly, but there didn’t seem to be much humor in it.
“That was the good side of it,” she said. “I just didn’t know it then. We’re way past that now.”
Her 4-year-old son, Cross, and 10-year-old daughter, Lyla Cate, went to stay with Vanstory’s ex-husband, their father, while she self-quarantined.
For approximately the first two weeks, the period it usually takes for the virus to run its course, Vanstory suffered what might be considered the typical symptoms of COVID-19: extreme fatigue, headaches, fever, etc.
But on July 3, something changed. She began struggling to do simple daily tasks, found herself at a total loss for how to tackle what was normally routine.
“I couldn’t figure out how to change the head on my razor blade. I put the wrong type of soap in the sink to wash the dishes. I tried to fix a cup of Keurig coffee without having a pod in there,” she said. “Just basic stuff like that was, literally, a thought-out process.”
The next day, she nearly wrecked her car when she missed a turn and nearly drove into a ditch. She just didn’t turn the wheel, she said. Didn’t think to.
It’s hard to describe the sensation, Vanstory said. She likened it to tunnel vision, said it was a sudden inability to function correctly. It’s a “brain fog,” she said, and a little like being drunk.
These moments seem to come at random.
“Like, right now, I feel like I can carry on an intelligent conversation,” she said. “In two minutes, that may not be the case … I can be in the middle of a conversation and just have to end it, because I don’t know how to continue.”
Although rarer than the common ailments COVID-19 patients usually suffer, a growing number of people infected by the virus are showing symptoms of neurological disorders. Like Vanstory, they may suffer lapses in memory or confusion. Some endure periods of dizziness or loss of motor functions. A few have strokes.
On July 6, a full two weeks after first testing positive for COVID-19 and a time when symptoms of the virus usually begin to fade, Vanstory was retested. Doctors still found active infection in her, and she returned to quarantine.
Two days later, new symptoms developed.
‘The unknown of it’
On July 8, Vanstory lost all feeling in the tips of her fingers and toes.
She contacted her primary care physician, Crystal Nichols, who recommended a CT scan and blood work. Vanstory agreed and was tested.
Everything came back normal.
“Basically, the answer was, ‘Well, this is COVID,’” she said.
Because the virus is new, health care experts are still learning how it affects people differently. There are still a lot of unknowns.
“They just don’t know,” Vanstory said. “Everything’s brand new.”
Nichols recommend Vanstory consult the University of Alabama Hospital’s neurology team in Birmingham since her symptoms seemed to be getting worse in what is normally late in the virus’s typical lifespan.
That was on July 9; by the next day, two days after losing feeling in the tips of her fingers and toes, the numbness had spread up to her knees and elbows.
“I couldn’t feel anything at all,” she said.
Although scheduled to travel to Birmingham for tests, Vanstory said she knew she wasn’t physically capable of making the trip. Instead, she visited NMMC in Tupelo, where they ran even more extensive blood work and another CT scan.
All of it came back normal. There was nothing wrong with Vanstory – except for COVID-19, of course.
The doctor apologized, said he thought the feeling would eventually return to her arms and legs, but couldn’t be certain.
Again, it’s all new.
“It’s frustrating for me and the doctor. I know they see me as a healthy, 32-year-old woman who cannot feel anything for no reason at all this late in the virus,” she said. “It’s as new to them as it is to us. Everybody is just basically a test dummy at this point.”
That, she said, is the worst part of all of this. It’s not that she’s sick; it’s that no one knows what the sickness will do next, how it will affect her body, her mind.
“Just that right there caused so much anxiety. It’s the unknown. For everybody. Is this going to get better? Is today the worst day? … That’s been the hardest part of this. The unknown of it.”
‘Don’t be selfish’
On July 10, Vanstory made a Facebook post urging people to take the virus seriously.
“This virus has been unlike anything I have ever experienced in my lifetime, and that includes the Type A flu that I had in February,” she wrote in her post, which has since been shared more than 360 times. “Let’s be good people and stop complaining about doing what may be inconvenient at the moment, but [is] certainly what is best for those around us.”
It’s her desire to keep others from enduring the physical and emotional pain the virus has caused her over the past month that led her to make that post, to push her friends, family, and acquaintances to wear masks in public. Over the past month, after experiencing firsthand how the virus can impact a person’s health physically and mentally, she’s completely changed her thinking on wearing masks.
“If I have learned anything from these last four weeks, it’s that there’s so much unknown,” she said. “Everybody, including the health care professionals, are navigating through this together. We’re just kind of in the dark about it.”
That’s why she’s encouraging people to take any steps they can to stop spreading it, including wearing masks, which medical experts initially didn’t believe prevented the spread of COVID-19, but have since come to near-unanimous agreement that they can dramatically slow the spread of the virus.
“It’s something you have to do,” she said. “Look out for other people. Don’t be selfish.”
Only July 13, three weeks after first testing positive for COVID-19, Vanstory was tested again.
The test came back positive.
Since then, most of the feeling has gradually returned to Vanstory’s arms and legs, leaving both with a similar tingling sensation to having fallen asleep. She still can’t feel anything in her hands or feet, however.
“From my wrists to the tips of my fingers, from my ankles to the tips of my toes,” she said. Her senses of smell and taste remain largely absent.
If she doesn’t regain feeling in her hands and feet, doctors plan to test for nerve damage to see if the virus has done any permanent harm.
On Monday, Vanstory was tested again. As of The Times’ publication deadline, she was still awaiting those results.
Physically, she’s feeling better than she has in weeks. But even though she doesn’t feel sick, Vanstory remains in quarantine. It’s painful … especially being away from her children.
She does it anyway. She stays at home not because she wants to, but because it’s the right thing to do.
“I don’t want to be the reason – just because I’m sick of being at home – I don’t want to be the reason somebody contracts it,” she said.