The unknown suffering of COVID-19: “Survivors will have a completely upset life”

40-year-old Luc (not her real name) considered him to be in great shape before COVID-19 hit him in early May. After his partner tested positive for coronavirus, he decided to get tested too. The result was positive.

For a few days, he felt the usual symptoms of the disease, including severe fatigue, burning lungs, shortness of breath and palpitations. The pain was such that he went to the emergency room, thinking he was having a heart attack.

However, he was not hospitalized. The problem is, 10 weeks later he still hasn’t healed. The heart ultrasound and chest x-ray he took did not reveal any problems.

“ It goes and it comes back, ” he said. “ It’s like waves. If there are days when he feels good, there are others when he has trouble getting out of bed. ” Today I’m in my basement, I’m not going out, I can’t do anything ,” he explains.

“ If you do a big sprint, run 200 meters at maximum speed and feel your heart struggling, that’s what I feel at rest. “, He explains.

A roller coaster is also what Arianny Gonzalez, a 35-year-old nurse, also experiences. She tested positive for COVID-19 in late March, was very sick for a few days, and then, feeling a little better, tried to return to work.© / Courtesy / Arianny Gonzalez Arianny Gonzalez on his hospital bed.

But even though it had been more than two weeks since the onset of her symptoms and the new tests she had taken had turned out to be negative, she could not start again. ” I was breathing too quickly and I felt dizzy,” she says. My colleagues told me to go home. “

That same day, she had to return to the hospital, but this time by ambulance. “ I felt that my heart was going to fail me,” she said. My pulse was 153 [beats per minute] and I was shivering. “

Doctors feared pulmonary embolism, but examinations revealed everything was normal. On two other occasions, she tried to return to work, but without success.

Although she has been prescribed medication since the onset of symptoms, she continues to have heart palpitations, severe chest pain and difficulty breathing today.

To seek support, like many people with post-COVID symptoms, she turned to online support groups.

An online community

On social networks, testimonials are multiplying. Specialist groups have sprung up, bringing together thousands of people who say they suffer from persistent symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches and headaches after 40 or even 60 days of illness, and who have found little listening with doctors.© / Screenshot – Facebook Julie Breton founded the group “I had COVID-19” on April 27. It is the first surprise of its success.

The Quebec group I had COVID-19 already has more than a thousand members who share their questions on the forum.

Eugenia Pineiro Cota also turned to online support groups, faced with skepticism in the health system.

Even though she has had all of the symptoms of COVID-19 since the beginning of April, the two tests she passed were negative. Extremely tired, short of breath, suffering from terrible gastrointestinal pain, she is unable to work and does not know which way to turn.

While some compassionate doctors tried to help her, others sent her home saying she was just anxious. “ It’s tough psychologically and morally,” she says. I sometimes wonder if I’m crazy. “

Be aware that tests for COVID-19 can sometimes give negative results even if the person has actually been infected, depending on how they are carried out or the patient’s stage of infection.

Symptoms that take a long time to disappear

How to explain the situation of these patients suffering from persistent symptoms?

We cannot put everyone in the same basket, argues Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, director of the research center of the Montreal Heart Institute. ” It is not the same thing if someone says that they do not have the same level of energy as before as if they say they are out of breath when they try to make an effort, ” he specifies. he.© / iStock Illustration of the human respiratory system.

More and more, we are realizing that COVID-19 affects more than the respiratory tract . ” It is a disease that is multisystem, which can mean that before we regenerate and heal all the organs, it can take some time,” says Dr. Tardif. This may explain cases of patients whose symptoms last a little longer. “

If he is not worried about a slow recovery, however, he believes that one must be vigilant if the respiratory symptoms are severe.

The World Health Organization estimates that recovery time for COVID-19 patients ranges from two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the cases.

An online support group created by an American collective called Body Politic conducted a survey of 643 of its members who have suffered from COVID-19: 91% of those who responded to the survey say they have had symptoms for more than 40 days . It may be fever, cough, fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain or dizziness.

Are the residual symptoms caused by the virus or by an immune reaction of the body? Doctors cannot answer the question yet.

A study published on July 9 in the medical journal JAMA revealed that among 143 patients who had been hospitalized with COVID-19, 87.4% still had at least one symptom 60 days later and 44.1% complained of a deterioration in their quality of life. These were mostly fatigue and difficulty breathing.

A completely upset life

” It is a new virus that we are still learning about. In the most severe cases, we can expect [a recovery that could last] roughly a year, ”said Dr. François Marquis, head of intensive care services at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.

Inflammation in the lungs takes a particularly long time to subside and manifests itself in shortness of breath and lack of air, he explains.

The situation is even more dire for those who have been so ill that they have to be hospitalized in intensive care. Their recovery may be extremely long, worries Dr. Marquis. “ I have a patient who took two and a half weeks [after his stay in intensive care] to have enough working muscles to be able to hold his head upright,” he says. We are far from simple shortness of breath. “

Dr Marquis is concerned about the long-term consequences of the drugs that must be administered to patients with severe COVID-19 infection. The combination of dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory , with muscle paralyzers seems to create a particular weakness in the case of patients with COVID-19.

” Are they going to have to do months and months of physiotherapy?” he asks himself. Will they need significant assistance for the rest of their lives? “

He also wonders if we have the physiotherapy and occupational therapy resources that will be necessary to help these people regain their independence. ” In the next few weeks, the next few months, […] people will start raising their voices saying,” I was sick, I survived, thank you, but now how do I get back to work? How do I take care of my family? ” “

It’s time to start thinking about it, he believes, before the second wave of COVID arrives.

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