A Long Road to Recovery for Some COVID Survivors

More help for COVID-19 patients

At Glen Cove, Panzok and other COVID-19 patients worked with an array of specialists to regain abilities damaged by their illnesses. They include physical and occupational therapists, speech and swallowing therapists, psychologists and social workers.

“Acute rehab is all about restoring independence, function and quality of life to a patient’s previous life, before whatever injury you had,” Maltser said.

After fighting COVID-19, many patients struggle to walk or even turn over in their beds. Physical therapists help them regain the strength to do those everyday tasks independently.

Since the new coronavirus can ravage the lungs, many patients arrive at rehab needing oxygen to breathe. Respiratory therapists help them recover their lung function.

For those who lose the ability to speak, perhaps due to a stroke suffered during their illness, there is speech therapy.

And many COVID-19 patients suffer emotionally, too. That was especially true for those like Panzok who arrived at Glen Cove in spring or early summer, when New York hospitals banned visitors. Many patients hadn’t seen their family in weeks or months and were struggling.

“Many of these patients had almost like post-traumatic stress disorder,” Maltser said. “When you go through something like this, and you’ve been alone in the hospital with no family, it’s very difficult.”

But many of the problems affecting COVID-19 patients are familiar for rehabilitation centers, as spending time in an intensive care unit can have similar effects on people regardless of their condition.

“There’s something that happens to the body when you’re in a ventilator for a prolonged period of time,” Maltser explained. “If you’re unable to walk, your muscles get deconditioned.”

Surprises during recovery

But, as is to be expected with a virus that scientists are still trying to understand fully, there have been surprises from those recovering from COVID-19.

Dr. Sean Smith is an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor.

Before the pandemic, he said, the recovery of patients who make it to rehab after time in the intensive care unit is generally an upward trajectory. With the coronavirus, there are more ups and downs.

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