They have been sick for months without being recognized as such. The list of symptoms of persistent COVID or long-covid it is so broad that diagnoses vary from person to person and GP to GP. Fatigue, muscle pain, memory loss, dyslexia, cough, or sudden rises in myopia. Those who suffer from it refuse to classify it as sequelae, because that means that the pathology has ended, and they are still as sick or worse than when they contracted the coronavirus. In addition, there are many health workers or health workers who continue to fight against a virus that they themselves suffer and without it being listed as an occupational disease.
Hospital cleaner, persistent COVID and 800 euros less for sick leave: “I will have to work sick so there is no shortage of money”
It is the struggle of some groups and unions such as CSIF (Central Sindical Independiente y de Servants), which have just achieved that a sentence recognized as an occupational disease to an administrative assistant who was infected in the health center where he worked and who has had respiratory sequelae. According to the Occupational Accident Statistics, only 26 deaths and 14,358 of the 110,000 infections among healthcare personnel they are recorded as employment consequences. That is, 10% of the total.
“Most of them do not recognize contagion as an occupational disease, but a common one; and to those who do, they do not include the sequels or the long-covid “, says Encarna Abascal, secretary of Occupational Risk Prevention at CSIF. Then there is the discrimination itself within health centers. A few weeks ago, this medium echoed the case of María Barragán, a cleaner at the Can Ruti Hospital, with persistent COVID and whom long sick leave only covers 75% of her salary, unlike doctors and nurses. “They may not have cared for the sick or put on a respirator, but they have been cleaning everything and exposing themselves to the virus at 300%,” claims Abascal. And even when the provision is not a problem, sometimes there is a phenomenon much more difficult to control: comments, obstacles and stigmatization.
A supervisor called me while I was on leave to reproach me that my colleagues were covering my hours. The first day I understood why I should not have sat up: I was very tired, I was fatigued and I was drowning all the time.
– Nurse (29 years old)
That is the case of Mabel, a 29-year-old nurse in Castilla y León. She contracted COVID at the end of January and was isolated for 20 days with a rather serious condition due to suffering from asthma. A little earlier, just after the first wave, there was another low time with severe migraines. “They always pressure you,” he explains in conversation with this newspaper. “A supervisor called me to ask if I was not going to join and he blamed me that my colleagues were covering my hours.” Mabel asked for voluntary discharge, not only because of her boss’s urging, but because of the passion she feels towards her job. “My profession is the best thing that ever happened to me, but the first day I understood that I shouldn’t have joined: I was very tired, I got tired with nothing and I drowned all the time,” explains the young woman.
He was later told that it was due to an exacerbation of asthma due to persistent COVID, but at no time has it been recognized as an occupational disease. “Neither has occupational health been too involved nor has they followed up on us. Other colleagues have been discharged saying it was anxiety, “she explains. “After getting a CT scan, they saw that they had pneumonia or blood clots, and that was what hurt or prevented them from breathing,” he laments.
Psychological stigma, according to the associations of long-covid, it is quite common. “They make you feel like a psychiatric patient,” reveals Victoria Moreno, 46, a nursing assistant. “We are not recognized that we are sick, but that we are now somatizing the shock of the pandemic, ”he says. She was infected on March 5 at the Gregorio Marañón Hospital, in Madrid, before the health crisis was declared. She was isolated for a month, went back to work, and after a month and a half she had to confine herself again because she continued to test positive in PCR. Since then, Victoria has lost sensation on the right side of her body, suffers from gaps, paresthesia, loss of diction, rises in cholesterol, joint and muscle pain, and early menopause.
They make you feel like a psychiatric patient. We are not recognized that we are sick, but that we are now somatizing the shock of the pandemic.
– Nursing assistant (46 years old)
“At first it was not known what persistent COVID was,” says this nursing assistant. Before the pandemic, she worked at the ICU, but the long-covid It has forced him to adapt his position and is now part of the vaccination team. She considers herself lucky because many of her colleagues have not obtained casualties or changes because “we depend on what a family doctor thinks.”
“I have been lucky because it has allowed me to disconnect from the patient.” Moreno refers to the neuronal sequelae that persistent COVID has caused him and that can affect him in interpersonal treatment: “There are times when I know what I want to say but I cannot express it, or I do not understand what I have written with my own letter. “These symptoms are what have allowed occupational health to accept his request for a change of position after the diagnosis of a psychiatrist.” The problem is that it is not recorded as a consequence of the virus that we face in the hospital, but as a pathology sprouted from nowhere ”, he laments.
Also Salvador Espinosa, a doctor at SUMMA in Madrid who spent 46 days in the ICU, has had to abandon his career in the emergency room due to the consequences of the virus. As he explained to this newspaper in a small voice, he is not prepared “to run up five floors with a backpack on his back.” In his hospital they allowed him to get up to a quieter position, “almost as a clerk”, although at 58 he would not have wanted it that way. Encarna Abascal, from CSIF, believes that the problem of dealing with job changes or casualties due to persistent COVID is what means that there are no official numbers of this pathology in Spain: “It does not matter because they are loss of personnel and compensation.”
I need to go to the physical therapist to have dry needling sessions and to be able to walk, and I have changed glasses twice in six months because myopia has increased. I have to pay for everything out of my pocket.
In the United Kingdom, for example, the Government has recorded that 122,000 staff members of the NHS, the public health service, suffer long-covid and 30,000 sick leave for this cause. A “challenge” that health managers take on and that they recognize could worsen in the coming months. “In Spain the same thing is going to happen: the critical units are still at full capacity, but once they stop and we are back to normal, it will take their toll,” foresees Victoria Moreno, the nursing assistant at Gregorio Marañón.
Another added difficulty that these professionals face is that of paying for certain treatments to alleviate the symptoms. “I need to go to the physiotherapist to perform dry needling sessions and be able to walk, or I have had to change glasses twice in six months because myopia has increased, and I have to pay for everything out of my pocket,” criticizes Moreno. It also happens to Sofía Laguarta, a physiotherapist and university professor. After COVID, now you can only do the latter.
“Now I could neither treat patients nor stand two hours teaching class,” he says. Its most pronounced symptoms are fatigue, tachycardia, low saturation and persistent chest pain. He was also infected at the beginning of the pandemic and did not receive his first consultation until May 25. At that time, she asked for a physiotherapist to treat muscle and joint pain, something that she has not yet achieved and that she has to pay for herself. “I had very bad attention, logically, because people were dying by the hundreds,” he defends. “Without Primary Care we would be even worse than we are.” Neither Sofía nor other people her age (44 years old) were hospitalized then, but later they have found that they have the same internal damage as someone who was in bed.
I caught it in March and didn’t have my first date until May 25. I was not hospitalized but my organs are equally damaged. They gave me very bad attention, logically, because people at that time were dying by the hundreds.
– Physiotherapist (44 years old)
For this reason, CSIF and other associations such as the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians demand that they be assured of regular health surveillance. And not only because of the physical consequences, but also because of the psychological ones. “It is clear that health workers have been exposed to a high risk and need a medical examination: the physical part has its recovery time, but emotional wounds do not heal by themselves”, justifies Abascal.
“The long-covid It means not returning to your normal life at any level: neither professional, nor leisure, nor housework. I was very athletic and now the only thing that my body accepts is walking, “says Sofía Laguarta. The physiotherapist acknowledges that she has not needed psychological support, but understands that many people should have it because” it is a very hard process and the most difficult thing for me. has passed by far “.
I do not think that in Spain we know the consequences left by COVID. Applause has been a very hypocritical method because at the time everyone applauded, but when professionals have been asked for support, as now, no one applauds.
– Worker in a residence (26 years old)
Darlyn Mejía, who works in a nursing home, also suffers from persistent COVID at age 26. She has been infected twice, but the symptoms drag them from the first. “I lost my taste and smell and got tired of everything, even taking a shower,” he explains. In her case, she considers herself lucky because she has had complete freedom and understanding when taking a leave. However, after so many months he identifies with the syndrome of the burn-out or the burning suffered by some toilets.
“I do not think that in Spain we know the consequences left by COVID-19. The applause has been a very hypocritical method because when professionals are asked for support, as now, no one applauds ”, the young woman replies. “Our feeling of responsibility is multiplied by a thousand by the profession we have chosen,” he says. Victoria Moreno describes a very similar tiredness, especially in the face of misunderstanding of her illness: “It seems that by vocation we have to dedicate ourselves body and soul to the patient, but this has been my reward.”
“The first thing to do is treat the professional well or there will be a migration out of this brutal profession.” long-covid, the professionals who suffer from it know that a long and tiring struggle awaits them: “People no longer want to know anything about the coronavirus, much less listen to your miseries,” says Mabel, the Leon nurse. “They just want you to heal them and always be up to the task.”