Elle Webster – Severe Adverse Reactions to Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID Vaccines

This is Elle’s story:

I had AstraZeneca back in March 2021 when it was first rolled out in 1B.  I work in healthcare and I wanted to get it because I wanted to protect my patients and myself, I was complete for the Vaccine, and figured that the risks were so rare that I’d be fine.  I had the flu vaccine every year with no issues so I wasn’t concerned.  I’m not a huge fan of needles so I was nervous getting it, the nurse was very kind and let my friend come in with me to help with my nerves.  We headed home both feeling fine and grabbed dinner before heading our separate ways.

I woke up the morning after at 2 am with horrible flu symptoms, which was fine I had fully expected that, took some Panadol and went back to bed.  I woke up to a text from my friend saying she was feeling the same so I wasn’t worried.  Next day was the same, shivering, nausea, feeling like I had the flu.. but expected it so still brushed it off.

Day three I started vomiting, couldn’t keep anything down, horrible back and stomach pain, and felt awful.  By this point my friend symptoms has disapeeared and I hoped that it meant it was nearly over.  So I left it because I thought that I was having expected symptoms as stated on the fact sheet and my friend said that she went to sleep feeling crappy and woke up feeling fine, which is what I was thinking would happen.  

It wasn’t until day 5 (Easter Saturday) that I went to my parents for Easter weekend and they saw how bad I was, my sister described me as a looking like the walking dead (charming as always!).  We agreed that we’d see how I went overnight and go to the local urgent care centre the next day if needed.  I was convinced that it was mostly anxiety at this point and that by worrying about side effects I was having I was making it worse.

Another night of vomiting continuously, and not even keeping small sips of water down my mum dragged me to the UCC.  The couldn’t run bloods as it was a public holiday and they’re only a small center but ask for a urine sample, I told them that I hadn’t passed urine for three or four days (I assumed I was dehydrated from vomiting so this hadn’t actually struck me as a concern), the immediately panicked and sent me straight to the ED.  The ED rushed me straight back, took bloods, and asked for a urine sample.. I told them the same, I hadn’t peed for about four days.  They pulled out an ultrasound machine to scan my kidneys and added more tests to my bloods.

I only remember fragments of here on as I became so out of it as I got sicker.. but the doctor said that my kidneys and liver were both failing.  Kidneys were functioning at barely 4% and my liver ALT levels were around 3900 when healthy levels should be below 30.  I was taken to admissions where they placed a catheter to confirm my kidneys were shut down and not producing urine (they weren’t) and began calling specialists to see me.  The doctor was incredibly calm through it all, explaining what was happening, how long I could expect to be in, and where I would go from here. 

My parents were warned that it wasn’t looking good and I may not make it.  I can honestly say that I have never felt so horrific in my life, my blood sugars and ketones were dangerously low and the trauma of laying there unable to ask for help as I felt myself dying will probably never fully go away.

I was incredibly lucky with the efficiency of the doctors and nurses who didn’t take any chances and made sure that I got the best care.

From here I ended up in the ICU having tubes cut into my neck and down my artery (the pain of that was like nothing I’d ever experienced) and placed on CRRT (chronic renal replacement therapy) for 20 hours, where I vomited and retched for the first four hours, before they gave me additional ondansetron to stop it.

It’s basically emergency dialysis, the blood isn’t warmed before re-entering the body, so you lay there with room temperature blood being forced back into your body shivering and shaking so violently that you end up pulling muscles all over your body even with a heated blanket over you.  This was one of the hardest parts, physically unable to stop myself from shivering and shaking until they gave me drugs to make me drowsy and I finally passed out for a few ours (by this point I was running on no sleep for a good 48 hours).

Whilst this was happening I had an arterial line placed, it took four attempts to place it as my arteries were so narrow and hard to access.  The doctor was great, but it was just more unbearable pain as the local anaesthetic wasn’t working and the four attempts were excruciating.

I was getting hundreds of scans and test run amongst everything, they had concerns about clots as my d-dimer levels were elevated but fortunately there were no obvious clots that showed up so they surmised that my body was handling any clots I may have had.  I had doctors in and out asking for more tests and trying to explain what was happening and why things were being down and what they’d show.  Every doctor I saw explained that they had to run the tests to rule out the vaccine as the cause because when they made the report to the TGA they would ask for the tests to be run.  If they hadn’t run them the TGA could reject the report.  All of the tests came back showing that I was in perfect health for my age, EXCEPT of course the organ failure.

I was initially discharged after 12 days, sent home to my parents for care and ongoing dialysis as an outpatient.  When I came in for my first dialysis (two days after discharge) I collapsed during it and had a blue code called.  I was readmitted immediately and stayed in til I no longer needed dialysis.  I spent a month in the hospital all up, receiving dialysis and being monitored before discharge home with strict instructions.

I was fortunate that after five months my kidneys and liver bounced back to normal levels, there is scarring in my kidneys but it is minimal and they’re hopeful that they won’t fail again.

Amidst all of this I ended up with severe hearing loss in my left ear, a side effect of AstraZeneca that others have reported, and whilst I can manage most days I do have hearing aids for when I’m in busier environments and manage to hear what people are saying to me.  I hate wearing them though as the noise becomes overwhelming (my ability to manage sensory input has drastically diminished, something I’m told isn’t uncommon post a medical trauma like this) and I can’t cope.  I didn’t mention the hearing loss whilst in hospital as I thought that in the scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal and thought it could have been stress.  I’ve since been told that there is a high chance it was actually an ear stroke and should have been immediatly assessed.

Following the vaccine I also developed two chronic conditions that became apparent once I was home and tried to return to my life. I’ve been diagnosed with POTS/dysautonomia and mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), it’s had me in and out of hospital looking for answers and have led to further admissions.  I end up tachycardic everyday, on a good day it doesn’t go above 155 and on a bad day it can hit 200.  I’m constantly dizzy, off balance, nauseous, and having chest pains has become a daily occurrence.  There have been multiple episodes where my body couldn’t tolerate the HR and I’ve fainted.  The MCAS had me reacting everyday to my cats, foods and allergens would set me off.  It’s only in the last month since starting Xolair injections that the symptoms have come under control and I feel like I’m not spending my days waiting for a reaction to occur.

I wasn’t given an exemption for the second vaccine.  I was told to get Pfizer instead as I could safely have it, and this worsened my POTS symptoms to the point that I can’t manage to work at the moment.  Because of the dysautonomia my proprioception is now incredibly poor and I often fail.  I am waiting on a referral to a rheumatologist as my right leg often loses colour, gets pins and needles, and my ankle will roll and foot will drag as I can’t lift it high enough.  My physio noted that capillary refill in my right foot was drastically slower than in my left as well.  So far no one can explain why this is happening and we are hoping a rheumatologist may have answers, for now I use an ankle brace or strap my ankle to keeo my foot in the correct position and try to prevent me from falling and tripping.  I use a walking stick and walker to get around to assist with my balance, poor proprioception, and POTS.

My GP has put in an application for an exemption for the third vaccine, but I am still waiting for the government to approve it.  I don’t think that I’d survive another vaccine and another hit to my body.  But if they mandate it I will need to get it to return to my job, or make the decision to lose my job, something that I cannot financially afford when I am already unable to get up with my medical costs.

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