COVID-19 “long-haulers” face physical and emotional roadblocks

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone around the world in many different ways. For a specific group of people, the effect of the virus has been far worse than anyone could have predicted. This group is what medical professionals are calling “COVID long-haulers.”

“Long-haulers” are those who are still experiencing symptoms or haven’t fully recovered from the virus after weeks or even months. In some cases, a long-hauler may feel better, but then experience a symptom relapse after a period of time.

Jen Singer, COVID “long-hauler”

This was the case for writing coach, editor and mother, Jen Singer.

In February 2020, Singer began experiencing what she thought was a bad case of bronchitis: a cough, a fever that shot up to 102.7 degrees, and vomiting. Her diagnosis came before testing was readily available, even at urgent cares and hospitals.

After two weeks, her symptoms went away, and she believed was okay.

However, less than a month later, Singer was diagnosed with a third-degree heart block, meaning that the electrical system in her heart shut down. To treat this, a pacemaker was implanted, and she was hospitalized for five days, which is when she was officially diagnosed with COVID-19.

Her heart failure has caused low blood pressure, lightheadedness, and debilitating shortness of breath. More than a year later, she still deals with the latter two. These side effects have caused her to change the way she does everyday things such as walking up and down the stairs or even something as basic as laundry.

“If I’m carrying laundry up from the basement, I stop on each floor… I’m also careful not to get up too fast so I don’t get dizzy,” Singer says.

“Long-haulers” are learning to carry on and continue with life amidst recovery

Like many survivors of traumatic events and illness, Singer has found a way to continue with life and work in the midst of illness and other traumatic events.

For her, this is working when she the energy and not working, or lessening the load, when she doesn’t have the energy. Heart failure is not something you can push through. So, accepting that her body has less energy than it once did and letting go of non-essential tasks has been important.

This means sleeping as much as you can and as much as you need to, even if that requires you to put a nap on your calendar. It can also mean that there will be days when you’re too tired to do anything, so you climb into bed and do something mindless that brings you joy.

“I had one day where the steroids had me so jumpy, I felt like I could feel the blood moving through my body and I couldn’t focus, so I climbed into bed and watched The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night,” Singer says.

Another way that Singer has kept up with her work while being a COVID long hauler is by underpromising and overdelivering. Rather than functioning at 100%, she’s functioning around 80%, which allows her to still do work, but also take the necessary breaks her body needs. In order to do this, she has been taking on less work, but work that pays more as she’s aiming to make the same amount of money, just in less time.

COVID-19 has caused not just physical, but emotional battles for “long-haulers”

This pandemic has not only affected Singer and other COVID long-haulers physically but emotionally as well. Before the pandemic, seeing friends and family and being able to interact with people in-person is something many people took for granted. However, the pandemic shut this down, provoking feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety. This was especially prominent in people who were facing COVID themselves, and couldn’t have their loved ones with them, or facing COVID through loved ones, and couldn’t be with their loved ones.

Singer, who experienced all these emotions on top of the physical effects, has found many ways to cope including practicing focusing, a mind-body activity, where you and your partner access your body’s inner wisdom, pulling into parking lots and crying to Bruce Springsteen songs and writing “Prednisongs.”

As part of her treatment, Singer was put on high doses of Prednisone steroids, which affected her ability to sleep at night. For months, she would write how it felt and relate it to whatever song was going through her head at the time.

Of the “Prednisongs,” Singer says, “I’d write a little piece about it. And that’s helped me process what’s going on and it’s also helped other people learn about resilience in tough times.”

To Singer, resilience and having strength in these tough times doesn’t mean soldiering through and burying all the emotions. She believes you have to feel all of the emotions and let yourself “cry in the car to Bruce Springsteen,” because if you don’t feel the pain and sadness, you can’t deal with it or create a plan to move forward.

For other people dealing with chronic illnesses, Singer says: “You are not alone. Don’t try to go at it alone. There are thousands and thousands of us around the world. Whether you are a COVID long hauler or a cancer patient or if you have any other chronic illness, you are not alone.”

Hard times such as the COVID pandemic cause pain and suffering for many, but if you find the people who understand what you’re going through, it can make all the difference, and it has for Singer.

Kayla Brown

Kayla Brown is a recent graduate from Susquehanna University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. While at Susquehanna, she worked as the Arts and Entertainment Editor for the Quill and was awarded the Harry Haddon Journalism and Media Prize. Brown has experience in newspaper, print and online media, as well as website development and photography. She is currently working with Penn State Hershey on a grant to create advisory boards and increase support at hospitals for young adults facing cancer.