COVID long-haulers feel abandoned and invisible

This story was originally published by Source New Mexico.

In southern New Mexico after a monsoon rain, you can catch the earthy, dusty smell of creosote bush. Even if you’re indoors, so long as the windows are open.

During dry parts of the year, the scent of creosote, sometimes called chaparral when used as an herb, is not nearly as sharp.

About a month after Heath Haussamen was infected with coronavirus in August, he couldn’t smell anymore.

The area around Haussamen’s home near the Gila National Forest has a lot of creosote bush, and he remembers sticking his hands in it and breathing in through his nose, trying to get a sense of it.

When his nose started working again, most of the scents he regained were rancid, like the smell of rotten food.

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In this detail of a photo from December, Heath Haussamen tried to capture visually how smelling creosote again made him feel.

On Nov. 8, 2021, he was near the middle of a creosote area, with the plants up above ground all around him. He realized he could smell it, and it was the first good scent he could detect since his diagnosis.

“This was much more faint, and it had a dusty quality to it because it was well after the monsoons,” Haussamen said. “I remember just — it brought me to tears. I had to sit down and just weep.”

He soaked in the scent, trying to commit it to memory. He didn’t know how long it would be before he would get another good one again. It gave him hope he and others might be able to heal.

That was just one part of Haussamen’s life that seems to have permanently changed since he was infected.

Creosote with the Organ Mountains in the background.

Elsewhere in northern New Mexico, Sitara Trumbull got a phone call in October from a friend in Chicago who was dying from cancer. She and her husband asked Trumbull to come help her.

Trumbull, who worked as a nanny and a death doula at the time, didn’t fly because she was scared of getting COVID. So she took a train. She wore a mask throughout the trip.

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