On her experience having coronavirus
It’s been over six weeks and my body is still reacting to having had Covid. It’s mainly cardiac: my heart is still beating anywhere from thirty to sixty beats faster than normal for me when I’m standing. This makes me a bit lightheaded at times. I’m fatigued, which makes everything feel like an effort. I still cannot smell. But I realize these effects are mild and I am lucky.
If you’re not a nerd, you might want to skip ahead two paragraphs because I’m gonna get doctor-y for a minute.
This fascinates me: why does this virus cause so much systemic inflammation in the body, and especially of the heart? We are finding this to be a fairly widespread side effect, no matter how healthy you are or how mild a case you had. In some of the online physician groups I’m in, there are thousands of Covid survivors and a large number of them report persistent orthostasis, fatigue, and tachycardia. I’ve seen various explanations: an autonomically mediated POTS-like condition, general post-viral inflammation, an immune-mediated effect, increased pulmonary artery pressures leading to decreased right ventricular contractility and subsequent tachycardia to maintain stroke volume in sicker people, inflammation of the endothelium of the heart. I’ve read the incidence of myocarditis with this virus is possibly twenty times higher than with similar RNA viruses.
The American Heart Association recently published this:
“Studies have shown 8% to 12% of all COVID-19 patients have acute cardiac injury. There are also case studies that indicate COVID-19 may lead to heart attacks, acute coronary syndromes, stroke, blood pressure abnormalities, clotting issues, diffuse myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) and fatal arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Based on studies of similar viruses, researchers speculate that heart complications are possible even after recovery from COVID-19. Two recent small German studies found heart muscle abnormalities months after patients had recovered. While the incidence of these complications is not fully known, and it remains unclear how much cardiac injury is due to direct COVID-19 infection of the heart muscle or a result of immune mediated cardiac dysfunction following a profound viral illness, the virus does have a critical influence on the cardiovascular system. There is concern that SARS-CoV-2 may have lasting or even delayed effects on the cardiovascular and nervous systems, a possibility that requires further investigation.”
Okay, back to normal words. Covid has widespread and poorly understood effects on the body, and we don’t know how long they’ll last. It’s unnerving—my heart rate is usually in the 60s-80s when I’m just standing around. Now often it’s 140. I hate feeling this tired. Some of the other doctors in my groups are elite athletes with the same findings, just in case you were about to point out I’m not the world’s fittest person.
Finally here’s my big ask of parents. For those of you who don’t know, I contracted Covid from one of my children. Despite what you may have heard, children—especially older ones—are not immune to Covid. They are capable of spreading this virus. So please, please, PLEASE make your teenagers wear masks around other kids. Make them distance appropriately. Where I live the teenagers are still partying like nothing is happening and a large number of them don’t wear masks when they see each other. School starts in one week.
Imagine for a minute that you are your grandma when she was younger. Would she have said of her children, “Yeah, well, they’re going to do what they want; I can’t make them wear a particular item of clothing?” I’ll answer that: hell no. You know this is true. She’d have parented them into doing the right thing for other people. Do you let your teenager run around without pants in public? No, you do not. You are the one with the power here. Most children can do this.
Our kids aren’t at significant risk of dying from Covid. The vast majority of adults aren’t either. But some people are. And MANY of us are at risk of potential long-term health implications. If your kid is going back to school, that is going to put you, other parents, and anyone who works at a school at higher risk of Covid. How much depends on the rate of spread in your community, your school’s particular plan, and the behavior of the families whose kids will be attending. Do you love your children’s teachers? Protect them. Right now masks are one of the more effective ways we have of protecting each other*. Our generation isn’t being asked to send our children away during the Blitz or to watch them die of polio. We are being asked to put our kids (and ourselves) in masks.
I’m sorry to be blunt. No judgement here: I’m the one who caved and allowed her teenager to see friends without hard-core enforcement of the mask mandate. Now I am sorry. Be better than me.
*masks don’t count if your nose hangs out*
*masks are not perfect protection. but we have to find a balance between total solitude and rampantly-spreading disease. there are lots of variables here…*
Finally: my symptoms are a side effect from having had the virus, not an ongoing active infection. They’re not contagious. From everything we know now, people, including doctors, can go back to work with lingering long term side effects without putting others at risk. The CDC has not documented contagious virus (what’s called ‘replication competent’ virus) more than a week or two out from symptom onset in people who had mild or moderate cases.
And also: thank you so much for all the kindness and concern. I’ve been very imperfect throughout all of this in my actions but it’s my prayer we will all do everything we can to get through this together. There’s a lot of misery and conflict right now, but also a lot of compassion and grace. Love you guys.
Martin was featured in the February 2020 edition of Ace Weekly: Doctor turned author, Kimmery Martin returns home for book tour.
Kimmery Martin is an emergency medicine doctor-turned novelist who was featured on the cover of the February 2020 edition of ace. For the last two years, she’s been working on a novel about a group of female doctors on the frontlines during an emerging viral pandemic; it will be released from Penguin Random House in Fall 2021.
This article also appears on page 15 of the September 2020 print edition of Ace Weekly.
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