The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest global health crisis many of us have experienced in our lifetime. With so much uncertainty surrounding the virus — and with no way to tell how it might affect us individually — it’s understandable to feel anxious about potential infection.
The emerging research is promising, but various recovery patterns have been reported across the world. Here’s what you need to know:
Many People Recover Well
According to a report published on July 20, over 8.7 million people have recovered from COVID-19 globally. The majority of these people appear to be recovering well, developing antibodies that will likely protect future infection, at least in the short term.
Positive recoveries have even been reported in those thought to be clinically vulnerable to the virus. For example, one case study describes the successful recovery of an immunosuppressed transplant recipient. Despite chest scans showing a range of lesions on the patient’s lungs, his condition improved significantly following nine days in the hospital, with subsequent scans suggesting his lungs were also healing. This positive story provides some hope in a world of uncertainty.
Some People Continue to Experience Symptoms Following Recovery
Although many are recovering well, some patients are reporting a range of persistent symptoms, which means a long road to recovery. One study found 87.4 percent of patients report the persistence of at least one symptom following recovery, with fatigue the most common. These lingering symptoms are mild in some patients, but others report a debilitating syndrome that extends for months beyond apparent recovery from COVID-19.
The Guardian in the UK spoke to Julia Hammond about her experiences. She said:
“I’m now on day 74 and not at work. Essentially I go bed, kitchen, sofa. There are weeks when I feel I have ridden the wave, and others where I’m back in the wave. I would like to get back to normal life sooner rather than later. It feels very endless.”
Given how little we know about the novel coronavirus as a whole, it will be interesting to see how our understanding of these persistent symptoms advances in the coming months.
Recovery from ICU Is Complex
What about people who experienced a more severe bout of the virus? As expected, recovery from ICU is complex — with a range of factors to consider.
Aside from the potential for long-term symptoms, as reported above, those recovering from time in ICU have other psychological and physiological symptoms to contend with, especially if they experienced intubation during their hospital stay.
This complicated recovery largely stems from the fact that ventilation requires patients to be put into an induced coma, with many patients subsequently experiencing frightening hallucinations — such as believing nurses are harvesting their organs instead of administering life-saving treatments.
Jen Ludwin shared her experience of ICU delirium to The Atlantic.
“These things don’t go away when you leave the ICU,” she said. “You carry them with you for the rest of your life.”
For those recovering from a stay in ICU, the road to recovery is likely to be much longer, with multi-disciplinary teams required to address the associated psychological trauma, physical symptoms, and potential nutritional support to help them regain the weight lost while intubated.
Although there’s so much we don’t yet know about COVID-19, it’s becoming increasingly clear there are many different routes to recovery. Some people recover quickly, with no lingering symptoms — even following a severe illness. But for others, physical and psychological symptoms linger for many months, adding to the uncertainty many of us are facing in light of the pandemic.
Oli is a working mum who has a passion for teaching and all things educational. With a background in marketing, Oli manages the digital channels and content at Courses.com.au.