SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — Some of the first Americans to get COVID-19 were infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, traveling through Southeast Asia. The ship garnered international headlines after thousands of passengers and crew members were forced to quarantine.
“Back then, I was the epicenter of the media, as was all the Diamond Princess. My wife and I own the local radio station. We happened to be one of the first to go public with what was going on at the Diamond Princess,” said passenger Carl Goldman.
On the flight home, Goldman began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. He tested positive for the virus and was forced to quarantine in a bio-containment room in a Nebraska hospital for 29 days.
"I didn’t have a major impact with COVID. I had the spike in fever when it first hit me, I had over 103 fever, and it stayed with me about eight, nine, 10 hours during the flight," said Goldman. "Other than that, a dry cough and later on a little shortness of breath. I ended up with a very mild case of the COVID."
A few weeks after he was released, Goldman and his wife traveled to the White House to meet the president and other COVID-19 survivors.
Not long after, his health began to decline.
"By the end of April, I could no longer walk. I could no longer write with my hands, things that required dexterity, like button a shirt," said Goldman.
He couldn't smell, had no appetite, and was lethargic – sleeping 12, 13 hours a day.
“I felt like a man on an island at first," said Goldman. "At that time, the doctors and the research were pointing to it being psychological.”
Now there’s a name for patients like Goldman: COVID-19 long haulers. Patients report experiencing continuous symptoms for weeks or months.
“My memory left me. The short-term memory was gone over a three-month period; that has since come back. I would struggle for certain words," said Goldman.
Before he got COVID-19, Goldman was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare disorder where the body's immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
Goldman believes the coronavirus may have impacted his body’s ability to fight his pre-existing condition. He says traditional GBS treatments were making him worse.
“I think it may have sped up my body trying to fight it and losing the battle," said Goldman. “They performed every test in the world at Cedars to try and figure out what this is, and in the end, I’m an enigma. So right now, they’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.”
Thousands of other patients have since reported lingering symptoms after recovering from COVID-19. While much is still unknown, researchers are devoting funding to treatment and care for this group of people.
With physical therapy and now care from a homeopathic doctor, Goldman's finding some relief. He's able to get around with a walker, lifts weights, and recently started using a stationary bike.
“I can’t drive a car. I can't, there's a lot of things I can’t do, but there's a lot I can do," said Goldman.
His wife, who never contracted COVID-19, took over running the radio station and is also his caregiver.
"Like every other small business, it's had its challenges with COVID. For us, though, we had an additional challenge about a month ago when someone hijacked our 66,000 followers on Facebook. We're building Facebook up all over again on KHTS radio," said Goldman.
But Goldman says small victories throughout his recovery keep him going. He has his mind set on being able to do everything from mundane chores to skiing.
“I hope to be able to interview with you, Amanda, a year from now and do it on the slopes! Both of us will have skis and earmuffs on instead of headphones.”