At times during the past year, it has felt as though time stood still, each day blurring into the next until we found ourselves having lost a year of normality. The milestones, the birthdays, the events we’ve missed, left some feeling without hope.
The vaccine has awakened a sense of faith and optimism, rousing a sense of belief that we may be leaving the worst of Covid-19 behind us. We are all hopeful and anticipate the day when COVID is no longer a threat to our families and colleagues.
At the time of this writing, there have been over 29 million reported cases of COVID in the United States and 527,726 deaths. While the number of cases appears to be slowly declining, thousands, and perhaps millions, are still suffering.
For many survivors, the struggle continues. There is a medical anomaly afflicting its victims with an array of lingering, chronic symptoms. These issues persist long after tests confirm the virus is no longer detectable in the body. Studies suggest 50%-80% of victims of COVID-19 continue to experience symptoms for three or more months post-COVID. These victims are now being referred to as sufferers of Post COVID Syndrome or long COVID, though a more official appointed name may still be oncoming.
Symptoms vary but more commonly noted symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Piercing headaches
- Chest pain
- Erratic heartbeat
- Cognitive issues
- Shortness of breath
- Gastrotestinal issues
- Low-grade persistent fevers
A patient-led survey was conducted by a group of individuals who are actual sufferers of long COVID symptoms and listed as many as 62 persistent symptoms. The symptoms can manifest for weeks or months post-COVID, leaving its sufferers unable to work or perform daily functions. As patients begin feeling better, they assume they’ve turned a corner, leaving the illness behind, only to have a manifestation of symptoms days, or even months later. The overwhelming feeling of fighting a seemingly interminable disease is leading to a significant increase in depression and PTSD. Patients simply want to get back to their old selves, to life and living.
“COVID-19 is such a new disease, little is known about what causes the persistence of symptoms, what is impeding full recovery, or how to help the long-haulers,” says, Francis Collins, Ph.D., and director of the National Institute of Health. We have absolutely no information on the long-term ramifications, recovery, or prognosis of those who have fallen prey to its grasp.
As medical professionals, we should be aware of how our patients or coworkers may be suffering. A thorough evaluation of patient medical history should be performed. This is certainly not a new protocol, however upgrading medical history forms to include special consideration for COVID-19 sufferers, may prove beneficial as it relates to our treatment modalities.
For example, you may consider adding the following information:
Have you had COVID-19? _______ YES _______ NO ________ WHEN?
Do you feel you have lingering symptoms since recovering from COVID-19?
_______ YES _______ NO
Check all that apply: YES NO
Fatigue ____ ____
Shortness of breath ____ ____
Anxiety ____ ____
Joint pain ____ ____
Brain fog ____ ____
Coughing ____ ____
Gastrointestinal issues ____ ____
Depression ____ ____
Cognitive issues ____ ____
Respiratory issues ____ ____
Regard can and should be given to those indicating they have lingering physical manifestations, since recovering from COVID-19. Special care should be extended to individuals struggling with anxiety or mental health symptoms, making certain to thoughtfully tend to their unease.
Persons dealing with coughing or breathing issues may be unable to fully recline without respiratory distress. Aerosol-producing procedures may need to be delayed or postponed.
Those dealing with joint and chronic pain should be treated as those with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has publicly stated that evidence supports long COVID symptoms mimic myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Studies show these patients test with higher-than-normal levels of pain sensitivity. They feel cold and discomfort more acutely and should be handled with extra care.
As with most chronic illnesses, some days are better than others. Cancellations may occur if patients awaken to recurring symptoms. Employees may need frequent breaks. Our patients and the members of our dental team, deserve our concern and respect.
The reasons we chose patient care are as diverse as our patients themselves. But most of us could agree, we chose dentistry to make make a difference in the lives of others. We are all in possession of kindness and empathy. In these trying times, may I remind you that your care may provide the vaccine of hope your patient needs most.
Her clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.