Opinion | What It Takes to Heal From Covid-19
By Mara Gay
“I am one of millions of people still fighting to regain their full health months after surviving Covid-19. But this is not a story about sickness. This is a story about the small army of people who are helping me heal.
There are the pulmonologists, a team of two brilliant, brave women who have treated Covid-19 patients in the I.C.U. throughout the pandemic. One of them is around my age — early 30s. “You will get there,” she assured me recently, as though she had read my worried mind. Our faces were masked, but I could see the confident smile in her eyes. “It’s just slow,” she said, using profanity that I can’t repeat here but that made me laugh.
There are the physical therapists. Two times each week, Noah Greenspan and Marion Mackles of the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation cheer me on as I step onto a sharply pitched treadmill, hooked up to oxygen and other machines, and climb what I swear feels like a mountain.
I am acutely aware that I have received care and support that many Covid survivors don’t have access to. Beating a novel disease in a broken health care system means finding the right doctors and asking the right questions. That takes professional skills, time and resources that many people don’t have.
I also have good health insurance and was able to take paid time off from work, no questions asked. I have an acupuncturist. About once a month, I’m able to get a lymphatic massage, aimed at reducing the lingering inflammation in my throat.
To take our lives back, many Covid-19 survivors need more help. There is plenty that the incoming Biden administration and others can and should do.
Survivors need access to top medical care from the doctors who know this disease best, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. Many providers with the most experience in treating Covid-19 patients and survivors are based in New York. But with the disease spreading uncontrolled across the United States, the need will be widespread.
Many survivors, like me, will need physical therapy, and likely emotional support as well. Though the Covid-19 survivor groups that have popped up in recent months have been a good resource for many people, they can also be overwhelming and aren’t a substitute for individualized care or dedicated research efforts.
Above all, these survivors need access to new and safe treatments that can help in their recovery.
Many of us were in perfect health before Covid. Some of us are athletes. Now, many months later, many are living with a constellation of symptoms that most people would consider intolerable. For some, it is shortness of breath. For others it’s brain fog, or headaches, or nerve pain, or digestive issues.
Over the past year, many of us have watched family and friends recover from the virus that ripped through our bodies. We have seen politicians who mocked mask mandates quickly recover after receiving experimental antibody treatments, even as many people were denied any treatment at all when they first became ill.
We are angry. We are scared. We are grateful to be alive. But many of us are still in the battle of our lives.
When you are fighting a serious illness for a long time, it can be a hard and lonely place. But at least once in their lives, most people will find themselves in a soul-shaking season of trauma, tragedy or loss. It could be a sickness or a shooting, an accident or the loss of a great love, a betrayal, the death of a child. When you are in your darkest winter, you’ll find strength from the people who are willing to go to the hard, messy places with you until you come out on the other side.
This year, many people have walked through that season with me. Some had been friends since before we were old enough to drive. Others I had never met before.
They pushed me to keep going in those moments when I wanted to give up. They prayed with me, and cried with me, and checked in on me. They coaxed me into taking up yoga, a form of exercise that I had long resisted but that has done for me what many medications could not. They cooked my favorite foods. They walked me to the emergency room. They made sure my prescriptions got to me, which in one case involved a boat. They stood with me in the middle of the street when I stopped to catch my breath.
Among my favorite possessions now is a hot pink hand-painted card made for me by Chelsea, my college roommate, and her 3-year-old daughter, Maya. Chelsea also happens to be a health care worker, and is a huge support. “Tía Mara,” the card says. “Slow and steady wins the race.”
You don’t have to wear scrubs to bring encouragement and hope to someone who is suffering.
One day this summer, I was sitting alone in a frigid Manhattan emergency room when I saw a man standing in the hallway outside, waving at me through the glass.
I recognized him instantly. Not even an hour earlier, we had walked into the hospital together, two strangers, afraid, stepping into a place we hoped we would never need. I wondered if he was still struggling with the effects of Covid-19 months later, like I was.
When I waved back, he put his hands on his heart, stared into my eyes and nodded. It was as though I could hear him saying, “You can do this. I am with you.”
I am feeling so much better these days. I am running again, and breathing easier all the time. I am stronger every day, and well on my way to recovery.
But I can’t do it alone. None of us can“