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Bainbridge Island man says he experienced COVID-induced psychosis

A drive-thru COVID testing site. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

You may have seen a piece in The New York Times about Ivan Agerton, a photographer on Bainbridge Island. He contracted COVID-19 in November, but it didn’t go away, and he experienced some intense psychological symptoms as a result.

“So after I was diagnosed with COVID, of course I quarantined. Around December 14, I came out of isolation. My wife and children tested negative for COVID, which was great. We did everything right. And then just a few days later, I got a spam phone call, and it was just like a light switch went off. I had this intense paranoia that just enveloped me. I had this overwhelming feeling that I was being watched, and surveilled, and followed,” Agerton told Seattle’s Morning News.

“My rational brain was still intact, thankfully,” he added. “And so I was saying, ‘OK, something’s going wrong. This isn’t right.'”

Agerton says the intense paranoia soon morphed into auditory hallucinations, with fears that he was being watched and monitored.

“But it was so real that I ended up downloading like a police scanner app on your iPhone. And I started listening to that, and that’s when the auditory hallucinations kicked in,” Agerton said. “And so I started hearing things that were relevant to me, like I would take my dog for a walk and I would hear voices saying, ‘He’s walking his dog right now.’ I mean, it was very, very real,” Agerton said.

While he initially tried to handle it on his own, he told his wife a few days in what was happening.

“So at that point, I felt like people were tapping into my phone and listening to all of my conversations on my phone. … I kept that to myself for about 48 hours. I just lived with it internally. And then finally, it just got so overwhelming that I had to tell my wife,” he said. “That was a scary moment for her because I had asked her to come into our bedroom, and I had her leave her phone on her dresser, and I walked her into our closet and shut the door, and I was whispering to her that here’s what’s happening to me right now.”

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“And, of course, she was shocked and concerned and terrified herself,” he said. “And at that moment, she called a friend of ours who used to be the head of the psych ward at Harborview to get a consult from her. And she said she had told my wife to get me to an emergency room right away, and she found a bed at Swedish in Ballard for us.”

It was soon determined that this was COVID-induced psychosis, and Agerton received anti-psychotic medication.

“There were documented cases of COVID-induced psychosis in Europe and a lot of studies. And so we started getting all of that research,” he said. “So we passed this on to the psychiatrist, and at that point they connected the dots. We took an MRI, and that showed some hyper-intense areas in my brain, … and they concluded that it was COVID-induced psychosis. This happens. I mean with meningitis, it’s a known thing, people have had psychosis with meningitis.”

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“I still have these little twinges of psychosis, of paranoia. But … they put me on a regimen of anti-psychotic medication and some anti-anxiety medication, and that seems to be doing the trick. And I am starting to feel a lot better,” Agerton said. “… I’m not a doctor. It’s as your body tries to fight this infection, your immune system takes over and really goes into overdrive. And so they think there’s a connection with your immune system causing the psychosis. They really don’t know a lot about it. They don’t know exactly how it’s happening.”

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