What Recovery From The Dreaded Coronavirus Is Really Like | Women Who’ve Survived It Tell Us

Since the deadly and dreaded coronavirus hit the world, most of our attention has been focused on how to avoid being infected and how to help those infected beat it.

What’s getting less attention is what happens after you’ve recovered from the disease. Every day, people recover from the virus and many are experiencing unexpectedly long-lasting and intense symptoms.

“This is a very real issue,” says Paul Pottinger, MD, director of the Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic at the UW Medical Center. “Infectious disease doctors around the country have known for a long time that certain viral infections can do this. It’s not unique to COVID, which is good news — it gives me hope.”

While there are no official figures yet on how common persistent symptoms of coronavirus are, Dr. Pottinger says that one in four people who’d had the SARS-CoV-1 virus (which is similar to SARS-CoV-2, the strain that’s causing the current pandemic) were still experiencing symptoms a month after recovery.

In a recent study, two to three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, 35% of people still didn’t feel back to normal, according to a report on the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention siteAnother new paper found that around 75% of recovered COVID-19 patients had structural changes to their hearts, two months after recovering.

“We don’t know why it happens. It’s a neglected area of science. But it’s very real,” Dr. Pottinger says. “It may be that these patients survived the viral infection because they have a very robust, active immune response. That kills off the infection, but it has consequences for the entire body.”

He says the repercussions of this immune response likely include long-term symptoms such as chronic, debilitating fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances.

Dr. Pottinger adds that many COVID-19 survivors also report that their sense of smell and taste remain altered for weeks or months. “The olfactory nerves that provide us with a sense of smell can be harmed by the virus, and nerves are slow to grow,” he explains. “It remains to be determined whether all those people will make a full recovery, but I wouldn’t lose hope.”

Another common issue is chest pain, shortness of breath, and difficulty exercising. Dr. Pottinger adds:

“It makes perfect sense. For some patients, the virus goes into the lungs. When that happens, it may cause collateral damage. Lungs are delicate, but they also have a robust ability to heal themselves, so while we need more time to understand how these patients will make a full recovery of pulmonary function, I’d remain optimistic that they will.”

While there’s not much people can do to speed up their recovery from symptoms like fatigue and loss of smell, lung repair might be accelerated by exercising, he says.

After they get the okay from their doctor, a person suffering from this symptom should start by doing whatever physical activity they can — even just walking for 10 minutes — then gradually push the duration and/or intensity of their activity.

Dr. Pottinger also urges people going through this to reach out to their medical provider to see if additional screenings are necessary. If chest pain is a real problem, for instance, they may need their lung damage assessed; if the mood-related symptoms are debilitating, they may need screening for depression.

He adds that social support is key to recovery: People should tell their loved ones what they’re going through, and consider participating in a support group for survivors (some of whom call themselves “long haulers”), which are popping up on online forums, on Facebook, and on Reddit. Dr. Pottinger further says:

SEE ALSO: Nigerian Woman, Lucy Okechukwu, Who Survived COVID-19 Shares The Timeline Of Events From Its Start To Recovery

“It’s still so early in the pandemic. But the fact that we don’t understand these disorders and can’t treat them doesn’t mean they’re not real want to emphasize: We can’t predict who will have bad symptoms, regardless of age, lung health, and other risk factors.

We could really break the back of this within six weeks, it just requires everyone to do it. So please, follow the rules regarding covering your face and maintaining personal space. Many people really wish they’d never been infected.”

Below are three women’s narrations of what recovery from the virus is really like.

Mariah Driver, 25, California

“It’s been over 80 days since I first tested positive for COVID, and about 60 days since I first felt like I’d recovered from it. In the past 60 days, though, I have experienced mild but persistent symptoms that match my initial symptoms almost perfectly.

I’ve experience a low-level of nausea almost everyday, and had gotten so used to it that I stopped paying attention to it. The nausea has been so persistent that my appetite has almost disappeared completely. I’ve lost weight.

Though I am back to running five to six miles every day, I have to stop on my runs at least two or three times — not because of fatigue but because there is a buildup of fluid/phlegm in my throat and lungs that make it impossible to breathe. My doctor prescribed me an inhaler, so I now take my inhaler and Camelbak water pack with me on every run.

The fatigue is still present as well. In the past three months, I have been able to stay awake past 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. only once or twice. I think the persistent fatigue is one of the hardest symptoms to cope with, especially because I suffer from cyclical depression and tend to blame myself for feeling tired or unmotivated.

Until now, there has been very little information about persistent symptoms. Because of this, I had been misdiagnosing many of my symptoms. Though I’ve never had allergies before, I thought that my congestion and cough must be allergies because of how persistent they were. I spent more than $80 on allergy medication.

Though my ADHD medication has never made me felt nauseous before, I thought that maybe that was the cause of my persistent nausea. I switched ADHD medications, and the nausea hasn’t gotten any better.

The only new “symptoms” have likely been due to a compromised immune system — I’ve had a stye for about three weeks (I never get styes), and have had at least three canker sores since April (also rare for me).

I finally decided to talk to my doctor about my symptoms last week. They said that the symptoms were likely lingering COVID symptoms, but that there is no estimate for how long I should expect them to persist.”

ALSO SEE: New COVID-19 Research Has Information Everyone Should Know Of

Morgan Swank, 28, California

“I had COVID-19 sometime between December 11 and January 14th. It’s hard to know when I actually got it, since I had such an early case — before it was even being talked about in the U.S. yet. I also tested positive for the flu, but the doctors at the time were unsure what to do with my other ‘pneumonia-like symptoms’ that lasted longer than the average flu and were more severe. I didn’t find out until March it was in fact COVID-19.

“At the time, it was the most ill I’ve ever been in my life. I had a fever for over three weeks, shortness of breath that forced me to faint publicly twice. I had a cough like you would not believe! I lost my voice for the duration and my sense of smell and taste and seriously thought it wasn’t ever going to come back. The worst of it was just feeling unable to breathe. It just made me weak and feverish for a month. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

“I’m a really active person, so I couldn’t wait to get over with the sickness and get back to the gym. When I tried initially in the month of February, I passed out in a weightlifting class. Months passed and I still need an inhaler just to do simple cardio exercise.

I noticed that my heart would palpitate when it wouldn’t before after a minor coughing fit. It took a really long time to recover and not feel a certain weight inside of my chest after I was sick and I thought I was crazy.

“I have spoken to a doctor and apparently this is not uncommon. I have minor lung damage from my experience and I’m worried what will happen when the next respiratory infection hits — how much more my body can take.

“I still use an inhaler from my experience and I’m just much more cautious about wearing a mask literally everywhere I go to protect my lungs. There isn’t much else I can do.”

Marjorie Roberts, 59, Georgia (Pictured above)

“I have been riding the Coranacoaster for 16 weeks. My symptoms started the week of March 26, and I was rushed to the emergency room on April 4. I was told I tested negative for COVID-19. I proceeded to develop more symptoms that lead to two additional trips to the emergency room.

“My primary doctor wanted to prescribe anxiety medications for me because I was “only sick in my mind.” She told me to watch “feel good movies” on Lifetime, instead of the news. I felt cast aside — by my doctor of five years, who I thought knew my body. I found a new primary physician, who ordered a series of blood tests immediately, and was able to conclude that the test administered in April was indeed a false negative, and that my body had been invaded by COVID-19. It was now late June!

“It was determined that I needed to be seen by a pulmonary doctor ASAP due to breathing issues, scar tissue, and nodules that had formed in my lungs. Currently, I have had a series of lung tests done due to still suffering from difficulty breathing and fatigue. I also need a procedure called a Bronchoscopy, which will allow provide insight into the level of scar tissue within my lungs.

“I am now in a better place simply because I feel vindicated. By grace I am alive, and I have decided to ‘make my mess my message.'”

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