Experts say Covid-19 survivors may face psychological, physical issues

Published May 17, 2021
Many have been diagnosed with post-Covid conditions that include anxiety, depression and post-Covid stress disorder. — Reuters/File
Many have been diagnosed with post-Covid conditions that include anxiety, depression and post-Covid stress disorder. — Reuters/File

KARACHI: Survivors of the coronavirus experience many different kinds of effects even after recovering. These include both psychological and physical effects. Many doctors are still in the process of learning about this virus and sometimes they do not have the knowledge to deal with many things linked to Covid-19.

AH is a 55-year-old survivor of the coronavirus. After recovery, he faced many health problems which at first he did not think were related to his illness. However, he asked his doctor who said people were facing many adverse things after recovering from the virus.

“I sleep with my eyes open now,” said AH, making everyone laugh. The laughter tapered off when they realised he was serious.

“After I got better I felt body aches and fatigue but that faded. However, I soon realised I was sleeping with my eyes open. It happened one day that I woke up and realised my eyes were already open. My body sleeps but my eyes are open. It is very weird.”

‘I soon realised I was sleeping with my eyes open’

Different people are experiencing different things. Homemaker Sheema, a 48-years-old woman, lives with her family in a posh area of Karachi. She had Covid-19 last year and recovered but only after being ravaged by the virus.

Initially, she was extremely weak. Even six or seven months later, she complained of pains in her limbs. “My body aches if I do extra work. After the coronavirus, I have found that my left elbow and my back hurt. I feel shooting pain up the arm; I am unable to pick up anything,” she said while talking to this writer. “I am now feeling stronger, but the pain is still there.”

Fatigue is a common complaint. A 64-year-old office worker, Najma, still feels quite tired and has bouts of sleeplessness. She is also experiencing a lot of pain in her lower back and legs but she thinks she is still weak from Covid-19.

There are times when her legs can barely hold her body weight. But Najma is more concerned about her sleeping pattern. “My sleep pattern has also gone crazy. I am feeling sleepy at times, and at others I am alert,” she added.

All over the world, people have complained of many post-Covid conditions that include loss of taste and smell; of headache; dizziness on standing; difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath, cough and fever; difficulty in thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”); fast-beating or pounding of the heart (also known as heart palpitations); chest pain and tiredness or fatigue and joint or muscle pain similar to that of Sheema and Najma.

However, there are chances that the bodily pains and aches are not caused by Covid, but have only been aggravated after one falls ill as says Dr Anjali Batra — a doctor of physical therapy at The Doctor’s Plaza, Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Centre, Karachi.

Diet and exercise

Dr Batra thinks that the best way to decrease the chances of falling ill is by improving diet. Focusing on basic things regarding health Covid-19 survivors not only have different complaints after recovering but different symptoms, too, she adds.

“This is why I am not focusing on anything specific. People need to improve their intake of vitamins C & D, calcium, increase water intake for normal electrolyte balance (like salt and sugar intake),” says Dr Batra. “The basic inner deficiency can be improved by walk, exercise, fresh air and medication to balance stress level. Exercise will help overall body muscles and improve blood circulation. When we go outdoors, our happy hormones decrease the stress.”

Commenting on the pains on recovery from Covid, Dr Batra says: “We have heard of people complaining of knee and back pains aggravation after recovery from Covid. But it is hard to say that these pains are due to the virus. Many people may already have had these pains and these are only aggravated after they fall ill and weakened. It is possible that many of them already had developed these conditions but were not feeling any pain so didn’t seek treatment. These pains became noticeable post-Covid.”

She adds: “We cannot say with surety that these pains are due to the coronavirus.” She suggests that people over 40 need to get monthly medical check-ups or assessments. Younger people should also get these done because the coronavirus is ruthless and attacks everyone.”

Through these assessments and tests, doctors can find out what treatment is needed to help them to recover faster, said Dr Batra.

Many people are facing psychological issues — stress and depression — post-Covid.

Bilal Ahmed, 38, drives a van for a local factory. He works long shifts. He was infected in March 2020, when the virus was new here and there was not enough information about it. “I was all alone in my room during the quarantine. Life seemed to have stopped for me, except for when the food was placed outside the door of my room.”

Bilal still feels anxious and lonely, and he has become more paranoid. “I often dream that I am alone in the house and the lights are all off. It is like there is no one else….like a horror movie,” he laughs lightly. “I’d rather be paranoid than vulnerable.”

Many have been diagnosed with post-Covid conditions that include anxiety, depression and post-Covid stress disorder, a kind of PTSD, which “can happen after a deeply threatening or scary event”. Its symptoms include insomnia, flashbacks, low self-esteem, and painful and unpleasant emotions.

Speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Sana Zubairi, a holistic health practitioner, running her own private practice, says: “It’s taken everyone by surprise though reaction to it has been all over the spectrum. People have responded in many ways: anxiety, fear, paranoia, responsibility or complete denial. When the virus took over, a lot of lives were lost. And that gave rise to a lot of grief, more fear, more anxiety and paranoia. There are still some who are practising quarantine in their homes and not venturing too far, while some choose to go about as if it had never happened.”

She says: “Mandatory quarantine, whether at home or in an assigned quarantine zone, has been nerve-wracking. Not knowing when one will be able to go home or come out of their room has been a nightmare. On top of this, one also had no way of knowing if the others in their home have been infected, especially senior citizens.

“Anxiety, depression, fear, paranoia, fear of getting the virus and dying or being debilitated, fear of losing loved ones, being laid off, losing financial security are just some issues that have been seen during this time.”

Dr Zubairi says: “Support for mental and emotional health is key! Counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists are having to increase their capacity due to the overwhelming numbers turning to them for support. Reaching out to mental health specialists is providing individuals space and support. Having to not only manage themselves and their families, they have to bear painful moments and provide consistent support week after week. Decrease in physical and emotional strength, stamina, resilience is being witnessed.”

She further says: “Building resources is essential! Speaking to mental health specialists, indulging in hobbies, looking after one’s fitness and nutrition are just some of the many resources needed for us to get through these troubling times.”

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021

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