Tuesday, 20 Oct 2020

‘It’s Not in My Head’: They Survived the Coronavirus, but They Never Got Well

With 7 million known cases of the coronavirus across the country, more people are suffering from symptoms that go on and on.

By Sarah Mervosh

They caught the coronavirus months ago and survived it, but they are still stuck at home, gasping for breath. They are no longer contagious, but some feel so ill that they can barely walk around the block, and others grow dizzy trying to cook dinner. Month after month, they rush to the hospital with new symptoms, pleading with doctors for answers.

As the coronavirus has spread through the United States over seven months, infecting at least 7 million people, some subset of them are now suffering from serious, debilitating and mysterious effects of Covid-19 that last far longer than a few days or weeks.

This group of patients wrestling with an array of alarming symptoms many months after first getting ill — they have come to call themselves “long-haulers” — are believed to number in the thousands. Their circumstances, still little understood by the medical community, may play a significant role in shaping the country’s ability to recover from the pandemic.

By some estimates, as many as one in three Covid-19 patients will develop symptoms that linger. The symptoms can span a wide range — piercing chest pain, deep exhaustion, a racing heart. Those affected include young and otherwise healthy people. One theory is that an overzealous immune system plays a role.

Some are unable to work. Many may need long-term medical care.

Still, many say their biggest challenge is getting other people simply to believe them.

“There is just a lot of misunderstanding,” said Marissa Oliver, 36, who, long after she experienced classic virus symptoms, dragged herself to an urgent care clinic in New York because she was still struggling to breathe. The medical professional’s advice? Go home and have a glass of wine.

“I started sobbing in the lobby,” Ms. Oliver said, adding that she was misdiagnosed as having anxiety. “I’ve never been this sick in my life.”

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