A few weeks after being hospitalized for COVID-19, your loved one is finally being discharged and is safe to come home. You pick them up from the hospital, and you are greeted by your smiling loved one in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank. Although relieved and happy to have them home, you feel unsettled and are unsure of what the future holds.
A few days after being home and getting some rest, you begin to notice the everyday struggles your loved one is facing. Their shortness of breath makes you scared about their health, the extra time needed to walk from the bed to the bathroom makes you scared about them falling, and the energy it takes for them to get to dressed makes you scared about their longevity. Being hospitalized for this virus takes a toll on the body and the mind, and bearing witness to these struggles, as a patient, caregiver, family member or friend, is difficult. Feelings of anxiety, stress, sadness, and fear of the unknown are normal and are valid. But there is life after COVID-19. And it can be a great life, at that.
Listed below are some struggles and limitations that you may observe in yourself or a loved one after being hospitalized with COVID-19:
- Shortness of breath: “It’s just hard for me to breathe unless I’m sitting still”
- Decreased energy levels: “I can barely make it through a shower”
- Increased fatigue: “I feel tired after walking from the living room to the kitchen”
- Increased stress and anxiety: “Giving back this oxygen tank makes me really nervous”
- Decreased balance: “I’m having to hold onto the walls and to furniture to make it around the house”
- Decrease muscle strength: “I can barely lift a pot to place on the stove”
- Decreased endurance: “I can’t even make it to the end of my driveway to put out the trash without having to take breaks”
- Trouble sleeping: “My mind is racing a mile a minute and once I am able to fall asleep, I can’t get comfortable”
The good news is that there are ways to help. One of the best ways to help specifically target these limitations is therapy (physical, occupational, and speech). Therapists can educate you about the disease process and why you are facing these struggles. They can give insight, education, instructions, and modifications regarding these functional limitations as they work to help improve them. Therapy allows for a designated time to target activities that you are struggling with the most and that are most important to you, while ensuring that you are doing them safely.
Even though caregivers are not allowed in the therapy sessions with their loved ones, they can be debriefed after each session. Reviewing what they did in therapy will not only help reiterate what they just learned or worked on, but it will also help to keep an open dialogue. This enables you, as a caregiver, to help further develop these skills at home. As a caregiver, it is oftentimes difficult to not “over help.” Witnessing a loved one struggle is difficult. However, encouraging them to do what they can on their own, even if it is a challenge, is extremely beneficial to their progress.
We know that COVID-19 causes damage to our physical body. However, what is less visible and less discussed are the impacts that this diagnosis has on our mental health. One of the best ways to cope with the feelings you or your loved one is experiencing is to talk about them. Do your best to create an environment where open dialogue is welcomed, because more times than not you will find that you are not the only one feeling that way. Being diagnosed with COVID-19, living with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, and knowing and loving someone with COVID-19 can all impact our mental health in various ways. This is a new diagnosis that is impacting people all over the world. The unknown factors of this diagnosis lead to stigmas, assumptions, fears, and oftentimes feel very isolating. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotion is coming to you. Accept those feelings and share them. There is no reason you need to experience them alone. Also, be patient with yourself and with your loved ones; this is a personal journey for everyone.
Patience is key! As caregiver and as a patient, patience is essential. This is a slow process. It is a marathon and not a sprint. Frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment, and stress are all natural responses to the recovery process, and you will most likely encounter each of these emotions along your journey. But you, or your loved one, CAN recover. With patience, support, encouragement, dedication, and kindness this journey WILL have a happy ending.