NEW YORK - People who had mild cases of the coronavirus say they feel fortunate it wasn’t worse. But some survivors, like Leyla Bermudez, 48, have symptoms months after a COVID-19 diagnosis and doctors are not sure when their health will be restored.
On Bermudez’s first day back to work in Queens since March 10th, she returns with new equipment: An inhaler, a pulse oximeter, and a blood pressure monitor.
She tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-March and recovered with a mild case at home.
The fever is now gone, body aches and pains have subsided, and nausea has disappeared; but nearly four months after testing positive, some symptoms remain: a persistent cough, sometimes shortness of breath, and occasional racing heartbeat.
“You just feel heavy, like you’re a sack of potatoes,” said Bermudez.
“Even just the commute on the subway, I went to the doctor yesterday and I went on the subway, and I was recovering for the rest of the day,” said Alexandra Thune, 41, a florist from Brooklyn.
Before Thune contracted a mild case of COVID-19 in mid-April, she enjoyed honing her craft and chasing her young kids around their Brooklyn neighborhood.
But now, it’s a challenge just to visit her doctor. Thune’s lingering symptoms range from exhaustion and shortness of breath to gastrointestinal problems and brain fog.
“I’ll put my coffee in my cereal bowl instead of a coffee cup or laundry soap in the dishwasher,” she explained.
Dr. Aluko Hope is a critical care specialist at Montefiore Health System. He’s co-directing a follow-up clinic for patients who have recovered from COVID-19. He says, it’s hard to know when symptoms lingering months after diagnosis will clear.
“It is so hard because every patient is different and we have previous ideas from previous viruses but we can’t be sure because COVID is a new infection,” Hope explained.
But many of the symptoms can be effectively managed because they are not unlike symptoms that follow other types of viruses. That’s why it is important for people to seek medical attention even if they were told at one point to recover at home.
While the search for definitive medical answers continues, survivor support groups offer comfort to people like Bermudez and Thune.
“There is a lot of disbelief, a lot of sort of doubting of the length of these symptoms,” explained David Putrino, PhD, a physical therapist and director of rehabilitation innovation at Mount Sinai Health System. “The first thing that we say is, ‘This is normal, I need you to understand this is normal, this something we are seeing a lot of.’”
Bermudez made it through her first day back at the office, working eleven hours. Thune continues to consult with her primary care doctor and a handful specialists, looking forward to the day when she too can go back to work and back to life.
“The freedom to know that I can go out and do things without repercussions.”