nAt the beginning of two years after contracting COVID-19 for the first time, Lori Hennings is still not entirely sure what could make her so exhausted that she has to pull back on her couch and sit limp with her head between her knees .
She can usually take her dog on the one and a half mile drive to the dog park near her home in Aloha, but that’s all she can do. Sometimes when she picks up her cat and just carries it to her chest, she loses breath. She’s back to work full-time as a scientist at Metro, but by the end of the week she’s mentally exhausted. Food still doesn’t taste right; She drinks a lot of Safe.
As someone with long-term COVID – a disease that affects between 10 and 30 percent of those infected with the virus and where health problems persist for months – Hennings lives with the pandemic’s biggest question mark.
Nobody really knows yet whether the lifespan of long COVID should be measured in months, years or decades. What We Know: It manifests itself most commonly in brain fog, extreme physical and mental fatigue, and related depression and anxiety.
With the pandemic getting closer to its terrifying twos, medical researchers, caregivers, and the long-haul drivers themselves are working the way forward together.
“My Facebook long-haul COVID group really saved my life – watching what other people were going throughto find out how they’re doing when there’s something that applies, ”says Shelly Prothro, a special education educator from Vancouver, Washington, whose brain fog was so intense months after she first got Covid in December 2020 that she once forgot she was cooked, stepped outside, let herself be distracted, and left a smoking pan of oil on the stove that charred her kitchen before finally realizing the ringing she heard was a smoke alarm.
Medical specialists are also investigating the phenomenon, including in Oregon, where a long COVID clinic at Oregon Health & Science University has treated hundreds of patients since it opened in March 2021. (Even that’s a fraction of the need in Oregon; with 300,000+ COVID cases, we can reasonably expect more than 30,000 people to be able to cope with long-term COVID.)
There’s no magic pill that can treat patients like Prothro and Hennings, says Eric Herman, the doctor who runs the OHSU clinic. Vaccinations have been shown to help some people, but not all. (Hennings, for example, felt better after she was shot; her husband and roommate, who also had COVID and are long-distance drivers, didn’t.)
But after months of work, some ways to help long-distance drivers become clearer, and most patients will eventually get better, says Herman. Doctors acknowledge that COVID shares some characteristics – and possible treatments – with other, more established diagnoses, including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and dysautonomia.
And recovery, as it turns out, begins with the breath.
“The lungs don’t lie,” says Herman. “We educate [patients] to see when their breath tells them they are going too far. Once they understand where that is, they can safely maintain this level of activity and get stronger. “
Patients at the OHSU clinic seek out physiotherapists and speech therapists to regain their physical and mental stamina – Herman compares the brain fog that many experience to so many open windows on your deskAdditionally, your entire system will eventually slow down to a creep – and therapy can help Patients start over, so to speak. Personal support is also being planned Groups in Portland as COVID restrictions ease.
When it comes to susceptibility to long-term COVID-19, some patterns are emerging, albeit not without reservations about who has access to health care. It tends to be more in women between the ages of 30 and 65, says Herman, as well as those who have asthma, underlying mood disorders, and other significant chronic conditions. Another common denominator of his patients is that many had a particularly severe case of COVID with more than six different symptoms in the first week of their infection. And while it’s early days, studies suggest that long-term COVID is less common in breakthrough cases – not impossible, but significantly less likely, Herman says.
Hennings’ initial struggle with COVID was so miserable that she hallucinations and was sure she heard her mother’s voice in a guest room or that her dog was scratching at the door to be let in just to empty the room or letting her dog on the couch. She had a racing heart, went from freezing to overheated to freezing, and couldn’t stop a sharp, scratchy cough.
Being a long distance runner is different, she says: “I’m usually pretty nice. Now I’ve been yelling at people, my mother. I can’t stop myself from writing Flamer. I’ve lost 35 pounds. ”Still, she is one of the lucky ones.
“It’s gotten better for me. And even when it was bad, I was grateful every day that we were all still alive because we could have been taken. It wants to kill you. “
Prothro has also made her own way forward, changing her diet to emphasize anti-inflammatory foods and getting into physical therapy. Mental recovery is just as difficult, especially after a year of trying to keep her sons aged 8 and 5 on track with online school.
“I am forever harmed by COVID,” she says. “But I know that I have to try as hard as possible to be the healthiest, or it will get worse.”•