NOTItaly Barry and her husband Aaron Bazzone were infected with Covid-19 at the very start of the pandemic in 2020.
Without much knowledge about the virus or the consequences it would have on their bodies, they decided to self-quarantine at their home in California until their symptoms subsided. Despite intense fatigue and congestion initially, Bazzone improved within a few days.
But just weeks after his recovery, he began to exhibit psychiatric symptoms he had never had before, says Ms Barry. The Independent. Bazzone would see demons, spend the night in hotels convinced their San Francisco home was bugged, and punch holes in his face because he believed aliens were implanting themselves in him.
On April 30, 2022, two years after her first psychiatric appearance, police knocked on Ms Barry’s door with the heartbreaking news that Bazzone’s body had been found in a remote mountainous area. He was 52 years old.
Ms Barry believes her husband died by suicide following a long battle with an illness known as Covid psychosis.
“It was two years of hell,” Ms Barry recalls three years later as she fights back tears. “He was wielding an ax and turning off people’s lights around their houses because he was afraid of the EMFs (electric and magnetic fields) he claimed were coming from his phone and at night he had this ringing in his ears. ”
Like Bazzone, North Carolina teacher Jonathan Hartley, 35, had an unexplained and unexpected psychotic breakdown after recovering from Covid-19 nearly a year and a half ago. His wife Caitlin defended him to doctors who insisted Mr Hartley had bipolar disorder, despite having no prior history.
After their concerns about a potential link between Mr Hartley’s Covid-19 infection and his sudden symptoms were dismissed for months, Mr Hartley was finally diagnosed with Covid psychosis.
“No one would listen. There is research that says Covid can cause psychosis in some people,” Ms Hartley said. The Independent. “They kept telling me, ‘No, we haven’t seen that, that’s not a thing. It can’t be due to Covid.
According to the National Library of Medicine, there is a causal link between Covid-19 infections and mental disorders. The institute cites a study conducted in China, which found that Covid had effects on patients’ attention, depression and anxiety levels and could potentially cause memory impairment and insomnia.
Another study by UK researchers in 2021 also found that 0.42% of Covid patients developed a first psychotic episode within six months of testing positive for the virus. While that percentage may seem low, it is not when put in the context of the nearly 700 million reported Covid cases worldwide.
The Covid psychosis left an irreparable impact on Ms Barry and the Hartleys. Now they are trying to raise awareness about this rare and devastating disease.
“I knew it was not my husband”
Bazzone was both a web designer and a talented musician, having attended Berkeley College of Music, according to his wife.
At the time he was infected with the coronavirus in February 2020, he was working from home for biotech company Genentech. He had briefly worked with other companies, including Google, Cisco, Apple and Walmart Labs.
“It was early in the outbreak, so Genentech being involved in medicine and genes, they still quarantined us,” says Ms Barry. “I had been with him for 21 years and in that time I had never seen him have the flu or stay in bed. He went to bed for three days. He would not seek medical attention.
The symptoms quickly disappeared, but then Bazzone started behaving oddly. He stared at his computer for long periods of time and became paranoid about his surroundings.
“He lived in hotels for four months, running away from aliens,” says Ms Barry. “I saw him alienate his family members. And the more he alienated them, the longer he remained on the run.
Bazzone has been committed to mental health facilities several times, but doctors dismissed his wife’s emphasis that his symptoms emerged just weeks after he recovered from Covid. He was prescribed psychiatric drugs, but he refused to take them after being released from the treatment centers.
Ms Barry says she tried to support Bazzone and inquired about Covid psychosis. But despite her best efforts, her condition continued to worsen.
“I knew the time. He’s not my husband, he changed overnight. I knew right away because I saw the link,” she says. “We were both sick and we were told to consider ourselves positive and he started having these symptoms and they never stopped.”
After suffering a heart attack, Mrs. Barry became unable to continue caring for Bazzone as she had planned. In the later stages of his life, they stayed in separate parts of their home as Bazzone struggled with his condition and his wife recovered from her health scare.
“The last six months he hasn’t been nice to me,” Ms Barry said. “But those two weeks before he died, he said ‘I love you’ to me twice.”
When authorities showed up on her doorstep in April 2020, Ms Barry expected to hear that her husband had again been interned. Instead, she was told he died of emphysema, a lung condition that causes shortness of breath and emaciation.
His body was found in a remote area.
Mrs. Barry thinks her husband died of starvation.
She didn’t realize it until after her husband died, but he had finished her can of coffee “every last bean” and had fixed things around the house that she had forgotten were broken. On his bed, he left behind tiny squares that he said protected humans from aliens.
“I want people to know if I can stop some suffering,” says Ms Barry. “People can get help immediately.”
“I now face the trauma”
Jonathan Hartley continued to work after testing positive for Covid. He led remote lessons for his high school students and when he was in his 40s, he resumed teaching in person.
“I went back to school on a Friday. And I came home and felt really tired,” Mr Hartley said The Independent.
The following Monday, Mr Hartley’s symptoms persisted and he called his wife so she could take him to the emergency room. By the time Mrs Hartley came to pick him up, her husband’s mind was “spinning fast” and he “almost felt like he could see the future”.
“He was starting to say something, but then his brain was already on to something else,” Ms Hartley says. “And then his mouth would go to that. He wouldn’t finish all of his statements and we had a friend who had bipolar disorder, so I was really scared because it seemed like he was a bit of a maniac.
Ms Hartley says she feared her husband’s cancer had returned and was in his brain, but his request for an MRI was refused. She asked if Covid could have affected her brain, but doctors told her her husband was having a manic episode.
Mr Hartley was initially confined for a week and released on medication for bipolar disorder. He alleged that nurses told him to take a drug that previously caused him temporal paralysis of the face and aphasia – or speech problems.
He was hospitalized a second time for nearly three weeks after failing to adjust to another medication, with doctors at the mental health facility refusing to even consider the possibility that his mental breakdown stemmed from his previous HIV infection. Covid.
“I asked for medical tests while he was there and they refused,” Ms Hartley says.
Mr Hartley says his mental health declined while in hospital as he could not see or talk to his wife and children. Even after being released and receiving treatment for Covid psychosis, Mr Hartley said he struggled to integrate back into his life.
For three months he could not return to work and felt depressed and anxious.
“We struggled as a family unit for about a year afterwards. One of our daughters is in therapy and she was suffering from extreme anxiety…they saw their dad like this and then he left and they,” says Ms Hartley. “Every time he left the house, they panicked. They said: ‘Dad will not come back to us’. Dad won’t be coming back. It was hard.
The Hartleys say medical professionals’ refusal to explore a link between Covid-19 and Mr Hartley’s sudden breakup, and the medication he was prescribed exacerbated his mental anguish for months. The family consulted with a lawyer about the possibility of suing the hospital, but were told no case could be filed due to North Carolina’s Covid Liability Act, which grants vendors liability exemptions civil.
A year and a half after being infected with Covid, Mr Hartley is still dealing with the aftermath of his experience. To cope with the frustration he faced as his wife desperately defended him, he often volunteered at local mental health facilities.
“I kind of deal with residuals. I had a lot of anxiety and my therapist basically told me I was in survival mode,” Hartley says. “And now I deal with all the trauma of when I didn’t take the time or really had the choice to deal with it at the time.”
“I was grateful to have someone, (My wife) help me,” he added. “But there are a lot of people out there who don’t have anyone and they’re just stuck in the system.”