Recuperating from COVID-19 is a long and arduous journey; here's how to not merely survive, but thrive

A first-person account about what you can expect after COVID-19, especially when the hospital declares you fit to rejoin mainstream society.

Hannah Dhanaraj January 18, 2021 11:00:23 IST
Recuperating from COVID-19 is a long and arduous journey; here's how to not merely survive, but thrive

Image for representation only. AP/File Photo

Ever since I came out with my COVID-19 positive diagnosis and recovery story, I have had several conversations with people like me, people who like me, and people who don’t like me. The content of the conversations ranged from shock to happiness to 'what can we do to not get it' to 'what did you see as the signs so that we can protect ourselves'.

Of course, notwithstanding the insensitivity of the last category of people (some of whom stayed all through my illness, perhaps merely observing to protect themselves), I thought it a good idea to write about what you can expect after COVID, especially when the hospital declares you fit to rejoin mainstream society.

Are you really fit enough? Will you have any lingering memories in your body and mind? What does being “caught” by a raging pandemic do to your mind? What do you do when you are stuck in a situation that is least sensitive to your recovery process? How can you turn things around, or can you turn them round at all? Are you still fighting the disease? Or have you already failed, even if the doctors assure you of the opposite on the one hand, and on the other (on their Facebook posts) say, 'we really don’t know much about the virus'.

Or, what do you do with headlines that scream, “Young cyclist developed neuroses and died long after being declared COVID-free”? And the story on “Ace gymmer and vegan died after battling COVID for 30 days”. And of course, “Onset of retinopathy (some form of blindness), diabetes, or hypertension on the rise among COVID survivors”. Or, how about “COVID can leave a lasting impact on your heart and other vital organs”. This when you keep your BP monitor next to you and it keeps displaying erratic heartbeat or a day-long racing pulse or a plummeted blood pressure!

The Seclusion Days

This usually seems to be the toughest, but believe me, tougher days are coming. However, if it’s any consolation, the worst is behind you. You survived. A body bag didn’t get the better of you. So pat yourself on the back. Yes, literally, since no one’s going to do it for you. Even if you had tons of energy coursing through your veins when you left the hospital and so made plans with your gym/yoga instructors and also marked your calendar on ClearTrip to make it to the base camp of Mt. Everest, in the next few days, everything is going to look way beyond dark. Even the morning sun is going to hurt your eyes. Any amount of selfie clicking, complete with your mascara and eye shadow is not going to lift the pall of gloom that will settle all over you like fresh white snow.

Every passing day will make it seem like you are getting better, but your body and mind will tell you a different story, depending on the time of the day. Talking to a trusted circle of people may help, especially any COVID survivors in your circle. So, why are you not getting better? Even the day when you were discharged you felt better. Long story short: Steriods. Your body is being weaned of the steroids that kept propping you up. So, soon after they are gone, you will struggle. Body aches; swooning; crying; fear; sporadic, raspy breaths; missed, early, late periods, accompanied by copious, watery flow (for almost two cycles, my extra large menstrual cup overflowed, every single time. I must have emptied it once in at least an hour); and, of course, insomnia will become everyday. All of this is absolutely normal. Ride it, and when you emerge from seclusion, make sure you have an environment that is tender, loving, and welcoming. This. Is. Important.

The Recovery Days

You would have lost a lot of weight. And even for those of us waging an ongoing battle with obesity, it is not nice. You’d rather have all your weight back, if you could have done without COVID. But, well, it happened. So, get cracking. The doctors may tell you to get started with your walks, going back to work, gymming, yoga, and whatnot!

You don’t have to if you don't feel up to it.

I listened to my body, instead.

Cut yourself some slack. If you have someone, most likely your child or parent, who can hug you truly without fear of contracting the virus, hug them back, hard. Cry if you must. You came back for them. My son once told me, “I came so close to losing you ma, I won’t let that happen again.” Hold on to those healing pearls. But just that and good food and some walks and your blood thinners will not help.

You need more.

Your will to live and thrive, not just survive. You survived the virus; you must now live and thrive. Maya Angelou reached across time, several times, with her words of wisdom: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.”

Humor and style may have to wait; for now focus on thriving.

People will casually tell you to get into a regime of walks, healthy diet, work, normalcy, and whatnot. With the little, or should we say minuscule, strength that you would have after all this, you’d only feel like punching their faces. Yes, everyone means well, but what you go through, only you know.

It took me a good 30 days to touch the hospital file to check out the blood markers that were elevated and what the hospital meant when they said, downward trend, mild increased infiltrates, etc. After that, I tried to take a deep breath, only that it brought back memories of the day before I was admitted. I just held on to the bed posts and let the breath out through my mouth and headed into the day.

Only after 8–9 weeks after discharge, did I start feeling a wee bit like I used to before the virus struck. But even that feeling, like all feelings, is transient. What comes in its wake, however, is hope. Hold it. Believe me, there’s a world on the other side of COVID recovery that’s even more beautiful than how you left it; it’s filled with the wisdom that comes only when you are close to your own mortality. Paul Kalanithi’s words came to me as a balm on many a lonely day and night.

“Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”

For now as you begin your arduous journey towards complete recovery, the sun may sting more than necessary, your skin may hurt from exposure to the elements, your voice may not be loud enough or as loud as you want it to be, your thoughts and your needs may look and come out jumbled and mixed up, but it’s all fine, you have been born again.

Take it slow. It’s a journey that you must be extremely lucky to make.

Some things you can do to calm your mind and nerves, which will be on overdrive:
1. Talk to your doctor; keep her on your speed dial.
2. Take medication if your sleep is affected. It’s okay. Again, ask your doctor.
3. Journal your feelings and thoughts. Once every week, go back and see how you have improved. Make notes to your notes.
4. Read self-help, even if you are not into it. I steered clear of sappy romances.
5. Meditate and do yoga. Focus on your breath, every day, for at least 30 minutes.
6. Talk to friends. Long lost ones. Write to them and re-create old friendships.
7. Spend time with young children or old people; that is, only if you like them.
8. Walk, walk, and walk. In the beginning, even a five-minute walk will tire you. Stop when you feel tired. Try again.
9. Start a hobby. Drawing/painting/stamps/coins/gardening. Steer clear of cooking, since it can bring memories of your still lingering loss of smell-taste.
10. Don’t spend too much time in the shower, even if it feels therapeutic. It’s my experience that long showers inadvertently tire you out.
11. Get started on homemade patti vaithiyams (drumstick leaves or kashyams, not the kudineers variety), even if you don’t believe they can amp up your immunity and all. What they probably do is infuse in you the love and care people historically put into saving other people’s lives. To go on, just medicines and treatment aren't enough, right? You need love. It’s not without reason that it’s said, “the world goes round on love”.
12. Simply lie down on your bed whenever you feel like it. Everything can go for a walk. Preserve yourself; your body, unknown to you, waged a war. Give it the rest it deserves. It will be worth it.

And, finally, stay calm and reach to the wisdom of people across the ages. Yes, read!

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