German clinic helps COVID-19 long-haul carriers

Simone Ravera rolls up her pants, puts off her shoes and socks, then slowly steps into the cool waters of the Baltic Sea.

The 50-year-old rheumatology nurse is slowly regaining her feet after the COVID-19 blow last fall, apparently recovering and then recurring with severe fatigue and “brain fog” four months later.

“The symptoms were almost as bad as initially,” Ravera said.

Close to despair, she found a clinic that specializes in treating people with what have been called post-COVID-19, or long-term COVID-19, symptoms.

Located in Heiligendamm, a North German seaside spa popular since the late 18th century, the clinic specializes in helping people with lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and cancer.

Over the past year it has become a major rehabilitation center for patients with COVID-19, treating 600 people from all over Germany, according to its medical director, Dr. Joerdis Frommhold.

Some of her patients have neared death and now need to relearn how to breathe properly, rebuild their endurance and overcome a host of neurological problems associated with severe illness.

But Frommhold also treats a second group of patients who experienced mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, and spent only a short time in the hospital, if at all.

“These patients get rebound symptoms after about one to four months,” Frommhold said.

Most are between 18 and 50 years old and have no pre-existing conditions, she said. “They’re the ones who usually never get sick.”

After recovery from a COVID-19 attack, these patients suddenly find themselves breathless, depressed, and struggling to concentrate, Frommhold said. Some suffer from symptoms similar to those of dementia.

One former dialysis nurse found her kitchen flooded because she forgot to turn off the tap. “Others are not able to do homework with their children because they themselves do not understand the issues,” Frommhold said.

Their symptoms are not always taken seriously by doctors.

Despite suffering from hair, joint and muscle pain, irregular blood pressure and dizziness, routine test results for such patients usually return to normal.

“They seem young, dynamic, high-quality, but then they can’t do any things they used to,” Frommhold said.

Therapists in the clinic initially focus on stabilizing patients ’breathing. They then strive to restore endurance and motor coordination with the help of occupational therapy and attitude training. Cognitive therapy and psychological support are also part of the program.

Similar clinics for “long haul carriers” have sprung up around the world over the past year, including in the United States. In Germany, such treatment is increasingly offered by the national network of more than 1,000 medical rehabilitation centers, of which 50 specialize in lung diseases.

“That still doesn’t exist in many other countries,” Frommhold said.

It is unclear how many people suffer from long-term COVID-19, in part because the condition is not yet clearly defined. Scientists are still trying to understand what is behind the wide range of symptoms reported by patients.

“No two patients have the same experience and it varies between patients,” said Elizabeth Murray, a professor of e-health and primary care at University College London.

“The symptoms they are experiencing this week are not necessarily a guide to the symptoms they would experience next week,” said Murray, a former GP. “It makes it difficult for everyone; it makes it extremely difficult for the patients. “

The British Bureau of National Statistics said a survey of 9,063 respondents who tested positive for COVID-19 found that more than 20% reported persistence of some symptoms after five weeks. For about 10% of respondents that included fatigue, while similar numbers reported headaches or loss of taste and smell.

To date, more than 140 million coronavirus infections have been confirmed worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University estimate, meaning that even a small percentage of long-term sufferers of COVID-19 would suggest that millions could be affected.

“That’s a lot of extra people to deal with and no healthcare system has a lot of backup capacity,” Murray said. She added that the economic impact of so many people leaving the workforce could be devastating, especially since many sufferers are women who also carry a disproportionate burden at home.

Murray is developing a digital program, funded by the British National Institute for Health Research, to treat long-term symptoms COVID-19 and reach more patients faster than through traditional rehabilitation facilities, ensuring they don’t feel left out of the medical system.

Frommhold said a similar program could help Germany deal with the expected increase in long-term sufferers of COVID-19, but suggested that greater acceptance of the condition will also be needed for those who do not fully recover.

“In my eyes we first need a campaign like the one for HIV awareness that explains how there are various avenues even after COVID’s recovery,” she said.

Understanding patients, their families, and employers that they now have a chronic condition could prevent long-term carriers from falling into a spiral of depression and anxiety, Frommhold said.

Heike Risch, a 51-year-old kindergarten teacher from the eastern town of Cottbus, was barely able to walk helplessly after leaving the hospital after recovering from COVID-19.

“I felt 30 years old after a short period of time,” she said.

In the clinic, Risch was unable to balance a table tennis ball on a rocket and walk backwards. She still can’t read a clock correctly.

“You no longer trust your own body. You no longer trust your own head, ”Risch said.

However, she hopes to return to work someday. “I like working with kids, but I need to be able to concentrate. I need to be able to do two things at once at once,” she said.

Ravera, the nurse, says she has made a lot of progress thanks to the therapy in Heiligendamm and feels lucky to have support from friends and family.

But Ravera doubts she will once again do three-shift weekends at the hospital where she worked in Bavaria.

“You don’t know when you’ll recover. The disease comes like waves, ”she said.

Instead, Ravera is considering using what she learned in drug therapy to help others struggling to properly breathe again after COVID-19.

“It’s a bit of a trip to the stranger,” she said.

(Disclaimer: This story was not edited by and is automatically generated by a syndicated stream.)