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I recently met a friend for lunch, one of my first social outings in New York since Covid-19 drove the world into loneliness 15 months ago. We laughed and shared a bottle of Prosecco. We didn’t wear masks. We hugged. Twice. When we said goodbye after our three-hour Gabfest, a woman said as she passed us on the street: “It’s so nice to see people happy again.”
There are signs everywhere that a normal life, or whatever it is in a post-pandemic world, is emerging again. But for the tens of thousands of people who have contracted the coronavirus and continue to have symptoms, the euphoria is short-lived. I was diagnosed with Covid-19 in April 2020 and suffered from chest pain, fatigue, fever, night sweats and other illnesses for almost 10 months that lasted long after the virus was cleared from my body. I wrote about the experience for Times Magazine earlier this year, wondering if I would ever feel like myself again.
Fortunately, I seem to be back to normal. But I was restless when I got my second vaccination three weeks ago and worried about how my body would react. I sobbed when the nurse stabbed me with a syringe; The next day I curled up in a ball on my bed, overwhelmed with the chills and fever. Researchers suspect that the vaccine may help the immune system fight off any residual virus. But the truth is we still don’t know that much about Covid.
This month, a study that tracked the health insurance records of nearly two million people in the United States who contracted the coronavirus last year found that nearly a quarter of them – 23 percent – were seeking medical treatment for new conditions, including nerve and muscle pain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and fatigue. It affects people of all ages, including children, and people who did not show symptoms of the virus also experienced problems.
Doctors are only just beginning to study the long-term effects of the virus. In February, the National Institutes of Health announced a $ 1.15 billion initiative to identify the causes of long-term Covid, as well as protocols to prevent and treat those whose symptoms persist. Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH, said at the time that given the number of people infected, “the public health implications could be profound”.
I got a look at it when I was writing about my experience. And what I saw was a fellowship in pain. We received emails from readers who had suffered from Covid for a long time or knew relatives who were suffering and did not know how to help. “Your incredibly factual and personal story really hit like a sledgehammer,” wrote one reader. Another reader said: “Sometimes I feel so alone in it, and when I saw your piece I felt seen, understood and less alone.”
The article was read by more than half a million online readers in the first week alone, from Tanzania to France, Japan, Brazil, India and beyond. I got calls and emails from doctors spreading it to their patients. It was cited as essential reading at a meeting of medical professionals at Stanford University Medical School. This awareness has been a boon to long-time Covid sufferers who worried that people were viewing their seemingly random symptoms as psychological rather than physiological.
June 21, 2021 at 8:41 a.m. ET
“I hope your article helps doctors see that we are not all ‘on our heads’ with anxiety,” wrote one reader.
People emailed me a lot of advice. I was told to stop eating sugar, eat gluten-free, and avoid dairy products. One reader suggested acupuncture. Another recommended a vitamin cocktail with D and zinc, others encouraged breathing exercises and homeopathic medicine. Eliminating unnecessary stressful situations made me feel better. But maybe that would have been helpful, whether I had Covid or not. That way, the virus is a smart teacher.
What I find most worrying, however, is the helplessness that so many people still feel more than a year later as the country seems to joyfully wake up from its coronavirus slumber. A man wrote me a letter in January about his daughter who fell ill last summer and found little comfort. I wrote her (as well as the over 200 readers who contacted me) an email wishing her a speedy recovery. When I emailed her father last month to see how the family was doing, he said little had improved.
“It expresses a feeling of hopelessness that is so heartbreaking to us,” he wrote.
It’s heartbreaking to me too. I am grateful to hug friends and have long lunches. But with too many others the pain persists.