My partner and I were living in New Zealand when we got the COVID vaccine. I’d had vaccines previously and not had an issue. We were also pro-vaccine for the greater good, but looking back on that now, I wonder whether being stuck in New Zealand, trying to get home to Australia influenced our decision.
In New Zealand the tune was very different. It seemed everyone was pro-vaccine, compared to Australia. Coming back home, we realised how heavily influenced everyone seemed to be by Jacinda Ardern. Anything anti-vaccine was considered really outrageous over there.
The first Pfizer vaccination was in August 2021. I just had a regular sore arm and went straight back to work afterwards, I was a bit tired but that was all. I was doing factory work. Little did I realise that I would eventually be hospitalised 12 times, develop pericarditis and other complications.
My issues with the vaccine started with the second shot and really came out with the third. My second Pfizer vaccination was on 28 September. I did get a little bit ill immediately with cold and flu symptoms, but otherwise I was fine. I went home and rested.
Every day after that I started getting chest pains, first thing in the morning and late at night. They would come on when I inhaled deeply and laying down. I’d never had chest pain previously. When it got to the seventh day, I thought I should call a helpline.
I called it on the eighth day and the nurse told me to go straight to hospital, saying it was far too coincidental. I was shocked to be honest, but she insisted I get it checked out. I went there that night and had a chest X-ray, bloods, and a full workup, but they didn’t find anything. I mentioned the reason we went in, and the doctor at the time said it was absolutely not vaccine related.
I went home with no discharge summary and was told if it continued, to follow up with my GP. I didn’t have any other symptoms until my Pfizer booster shot on 20 February, and I got really sick; very fluey. I had it in the afternoon and went straight home to bed and in the morning went to work but had to go home again. I was very tired, had the sweats, and was achy with muscle weakness. This went on for two days.
I didn’t go to work on the second day, but returned back to work on the Thursday and was still low on energy. On the Friday I was in the warehouse carrying a light box, and apparently my boss was speaking to me and saying my name, but I didn’t respond and then just collapsed. My boss was shaking me, I was hyperventilating and couldn’t breathe, so they called an ambulance. She said I was shaking uncontrollably, and it went on for 20 minutes, and my heart rate was also high.
Once the ambulance arrived, a volunteer assessed me, and he was useless. He took a long time to take my vitals, and just said I’d fainted because I was a woman and because I was stressed. He asked if I was pregnant, on my period, or stressed at work. My partner took me home and I rang my GP, who said I should have been admitted to hospital. My chest was sore, and I was exhausted for two days.
On the Monday I had an ECG which came up slightly abnormal, with a few different rhythms that weren’t right. I got a cardiologist referral. We still hadn’t put two and two together that it was the vaccine. We were preparing to move back home and put my symptoms down to the move. Then on my next appointment with the GP he asked if anything had changed, but the only thing that had changed was my booster shot. He asked if I had a reaction to my first vaccine, and I told him I’d been hospitalised for the second, but he didn’t really respond to this news. However my bloods showed my cholesterol was abnormally high, so he told me to go the hospital if I had persistent symptoms.
A week later on 5 March, we were going camping two hours away from where we were living, and were driving to the campsite when I suddenly became really disorientated. I was the passenger and told my partner to pull over. I felt dizzy and my heart rate was going up again. When we arrived at the campsite things just got worse, I felt like I was going to pass out or vomit.
My partner got me back in the car and started driving me to the hospital. I began passing out then my partner panicked and called the ambulance. They met us halfway. I was falling in and out of consciousness. My heart rate was up at around 130 bpm and it wasn’t coming down. The ambulance officers did an ECG and saw issues. They gave me Endone and an Aspirin to bring my heart rate down. They also thought I could have been having a stroke because I couldn’t feel my face and felt pins and needles in my arm. Arriving at the hospital, they could see something was happening with the ECG. But doctors there just told me to continue to follow up with the cardiologist and not to drive for four weeks because of my dizzy spells.
I followed up with my GP on 6 March, and told him how concerned I was getting, asking whether there was anything else I should be doing. He just advised me to lie flat and put my legs up when I was dizzy. He reassured me it wasn’t caused by the booster shot. I emphasised that I’d never had anything like this before. My heartbeat at rest was at 120 bpm. A hospital doctor had told me to monitor my heart rate and said someone my age shouldn’t have a heart rate this high. I told him it was starting to affect my work and that I was exhausted.
On 7 March, my partner drove me to Emergency again for heart palpitations, light headedness and extreme fatigue. I would be resting and be very calm then suddenly my heart rate would jump up to 140 bpm. I had a smartwatch measuring it and I felt like I was going to pass out.
At hospital, the medics kept asking me if I had any anxiety. I told them I didn’t, I was always very calm when it happened, but that the feeling of the constantly racing heart was starting to become anxiety-inducing. They tried to convince me it was in my head, but I was confident it wasn’t, especially since I had abnormal ECGs and bloods.
We were planning to travel overseas in April for a month to see my partner’s family, but the more this happened, the more I was concerned about getting on a long-haul flight.
The next Emergency admission was a week later on 18 March, and by then we had to put it down to the booster shot. We mentioned it every time and the doctors were quite defensive even though I told them how pro-vaccine I was, otherwise I wouldn’t had gotten three.
The episodes of having sudden heart rate spikes kept happening. One time I was at work when my heart rate hit at 140-160 bpm. I drove myself to hospital, where it was extremely busy. By the time I arrived, my heart rate had come down and they told me I was fine. I had to sit in the waiting area and was told by a nurse to monitor my heart rate on my smart watch. I was told if it got above 120 bpm to come to reception. Because we lived five minutes from the hospital, we decided to go home.
Later that night we were having dinner when my partner noticed I didn’t look right. My heart rate was up to 130 bpm and I had chest pain, so I went back to hospital and they monitored me for a few hours. My heart rate settled to 100 bpm but it felt like I was running a marathon. They finally started noting on the paperwork that these episodes had happened post-booster shot. Nurses began telling me that they were seeing patients with post-vaccine palpitations, but the doctors continued to deny it.
I went back to the GP and he couldn’t guarantee I’d see a cardiologist before we were due to travel overseas. By then it had gotten pretty bad and I was missing days at work. My GP put me on beta blockers to bring my heart rate down, but they had bad side effects, making me dizzy and feeling like I would fall down when I stood up. I then had a mark show up on my neck, which progressed into a full itchy body rash that lasted two months. I showed my doctor, and he said it was an autumnal change of seasons rash. He gave me a cream for it which didn’t do anything.
On 21 March I was driving home from work when I felt like someone had suddenly hit me hard in the back of the head. My heart rate climbed and I pulled over and called an ambulance. I had blurred vision and couldn’t see properly. They picked me up and by then my heart rate was at 160 bpm and the paramedics were getting really concerned.
I arrived at hospital and waited for a few hours. I was given an IV with magnesium and a beta blocker, but no chest X-ray. A very intense doctor informed me she had gone over my notes and that every doctor who’d treated me previously had written down that I could be experiencing anxiety. I felt quite defeated but I insisted it wasn’t anxiety at all. She left me alone on a bed and as I fell asleep my heart rate shot up to 160 bpm, prompting nurses to rush in and demand to know whether I’d tried to stand up. The same doctor then conceded there may be an issue with my heart and that I needed to see a cardiologist for further tests. They advised me to continue with the beta blockers. I was fuming and started to become really distressed.
My partner and I then didn’t feel safe enough to stay in New Zealand given the poor level of medical care I was receiving. We tried calling all the cardiologists around our area, but they had months-long waiting lists and couldn’t see me until June which was four months away.
We decided to go back to Australia. The beta blockers were really knocking me around with dizziness and were also starting to become ineffective at regulating my heart rate. The heart palpitations were continuing despite being on the beta blockers. I was forced to reduce my work to two days a week, and I was no longer allowed to work alone in the factory because of my fainting episodes.
On 27 March, I was driving to see friends when I felt a severe bang in the back of my head again. My heart rate was also high, so we turned around and went to the hospital. There they diagnosed me with variant migraine, the numbing kind of migraine, despite never having had a migraine in my life. The doctor gave me a nasal spray and recommended a migraine preventative. He didn’t think it was vaccine related at all and just shrugged it off. I do recall him saying it was normal for a woman of my age to have fainting spells, migraines and autumnal rashes. It was just ridiculous. They wouldn’t consider the vaccine at all. They tested my troponin levels which were up to two.
At this point we had become extremely frustrated and I was exhausted, so we decided to bring our flights to Australia forward. I called my doctor in Australia and arranged a telehealth consult. I sent him all my medical records. Immediately, he confirmed I’d 100% had a reaction to the COVID vaccine: the rash, the migraines, heart rate, and chest pain. He believed I had pericarditis, and he arranged cardiologist referrals for me in Australia.
A day or two later I ended up in hospital again with pain radiating up to my neck. I also had a high heart rate and faintness. The nurse saw that I’d been there a few times and a hospital doctor finally asked me if my symptoms were vaccine-related. I replied that I had an appointment with my doctor in Australia and he believed it was. He immediately changed his tune. He fetched two other doctors and asked me to tell them everything that was happening in Australia. He claimed he hadn’t seen young people like me with heart symptoms coming through the hospital, but I told him Australian doctors were seeing it a lot. So the hospital doctors were essentially interviewing me, asking for detail on what my doctor had said and how they were treating cases back home. We just told them what we knew and at the end of the consult they finally stated on the written notes that my symptoms could be a reaction to the vaccine. They also conducted a small echocardiogram after we told them what the Australian doctors were planning. I returned to my GP to see if it was safe for me to fly, and he prescribed me anti-psychotic and antidepressants to make my final week in NZ, in his words, ‘more enjoyable’. I was appalled. I didn’t take them.
I finally got to Australia safely, and after arriving, had a few more episodes where I presented to Emergency in Victoria. It was great to be back with family to support and help. In NZ, vaccine injuries were such a taboo topic that we couldn’t talk about it, so we had felt very isolated. But back here in Australia, everyone knew of someone who had similar symptoms.
My hometown doctor was very reassuring and helped with the pain – a completely different attitude. I was given a Holter monitor, stress test and echocardiogram. The Holter results came back as sinus tachycardia and abnormal higher heart rate. My doctor put me on colchicine and ivabradine straight away. I then had a cardiac MRI that revealed there was fluid in the pericardial sack, confirming I did have pericarditis. The medication helped after adjusting the dosages.
I still had episodes – three in Queensland and two in Victoria, even after the medication. Each time we went to hospital, the nurses and doctors were great, telling us they’d been seeing lots of people with pericarditis and myocarditis. I haven’t had a single Australian doctor question it at all, and many nurses have said it is quite common for people of my age now, which is very unfortunate. They’ve done chest X-rays, ECGs and full bloods on each admission. Some have been abnormal, some normal.
My Australian doctor also diagnosed my rash as a drug allergy rash. Once I was kept overnight in the cardiology unit to ensure that nothing had been missed. They were concerned I had chronic pericarditis, which is what happens when the condition goes undiagnosed and untreated for too long. Now when I get sick, it can cause an autoimmune flareup. It was the cardiac MRI that caught the fluid in my heart. Not all echocardiograms see it.
I’m now out of pocket by thousands of dollars, plus loss of wages, and my doctor deemed me medically unfit to work for six months to late November this 2022. I’m meant to wean off the medications in December, so I won’t know if it’s lifelong.
Twice in Queensland they used high dose anti-inflammatories to get the flare ups under control. I took 12 Nurofens a day for two weeks and then weaned off but I developed a duodenal ulcer from the anti-inflammatories. Now I’m on new medication for that and they’re worried about it perforating.
My symptoms are now under control, and the ulcer seems to have healed. But I still haven’t returned to my exercise routine. Before, I was always quite a fit person. I used to hike, gym, do yoga and play netball. But I’ve lost 8kg and don’t have my energy back. I still don’t feel 100%. In New Zealand, the treatment was horrific, demoralising and made me lose trust in the medical system.
But I do commend the doctors here in Australia. My message at the end of the day would be to trust your gut and keep trying for answers. It took me having to travel to another country to finally get mine. If you think something’s wrong, don’t be afraid to say it. I honestly don’t know what would have happened to me if I’d stayed in New Zealand. One of the doctors there actually thanked me for my ‘sacrifice’ for everyone else, saying I’d kept everyone safe around me by having the vaccine. I don’t know that I wanted to sacrifice my life… It was shocking to hear that.
A year has been taken from our lives, and financially my partner and I have had to start all over again. My partner has been waiting on his visa and he hasn’t been able to work either.
My doctor was supportive of my getting compensation, but when we tried to submit it, we were deemed ineligible because the vaccine was administered in New Zealand. After talking to family and friends, they’ve reassessed how they feel about the vaccine. A lot of them said they’d like to do more research. I really didn’t do any research and I wish I had. I trusted too much.