Doctors who Contracted COVID19: ‘This has had an impact on my work and my daily life’

Coronavirus has been globally recognised for less than one year, meaning that the long-term impact of 1 is yet to be fully understood.

Doctors who Contracted COVID19: ‘This has had an impact on my work and my daily life’

Coronavirus has been globally recognised for less than one year, meaning that the long-term impact of 1 is yet to be fully understood.

‘Headaches, intense physical fatigue, loss of the sense of smell, cough, diarrhoea, fever, respiratory discomfort, a flu-like illness’ were some of the symptoms reported by our study participants: Dr FA and Dr AA, two residents in psychiatry; Dr ML, a resident in infectious diseases; and Dr BB, a resident in internal medicine. All of them are between 28 and 30 years of age and contracted the virus at the beginning of the second wave.

Even though their symptoms were minor and not severe enough to require hospital admission, they were described as ‘unpleasant’.

After receiving appropriate treatment and self-isolating for the required period of time, our participants returned to work. However, it seems that, to some extent, 1 is still affecting their day-to-day life and their work.

Challenges of Daily Life

It appears that even after recovery, the ability to perform some everyday tasks is impaired. Dr AA says that the impact of 1 has affected his ability to exercise:

‘Even though I have not had any symptoms for 10 days, I am finding it difficult to return to my usual workout schedule.’

Dr FA, who was previously a regular gym-goer, shares similar difficulties:

‘I previously enjoyed working out almost every day, which I believe is crucial for my wellbeing. Now, I am really struggling to get back to the gym.’

Coronavirus has also had an impact on friendships and social interactions. Indeed, Dr ML noticed that contracting 1 has shown her who her real friends are:

‘Even though there were some friends who phoned me every day to check how I was feeling or ask if I needed any help, there were also those who reacted a little differently. Whilst I was waiting for my COVID test result, some people started asking me lots of questions. I initially thought they were worried about me, but it turned out that they were just being nosy. Others knew that I had received a positive test result but pretended to be unaware.’

As is the case for many other doctors working throughout the pandemic, Dr AA’s main concern is his family. But the fact that he contracted the virus and recovered has not appeared to ease his anxiety:

My main concern is the risk of transmitting the virus to my loved ones because of the nature of my work and the uncertainty regarding the risk of reinfection. Therefore, I have limited my family visits.’

Work Challenges

Even though most of the participants report that there has been no impact on their work, Dr FA shares that:

‘Having 1 has caused me to postpone several important projects such as my thesis.’

She also highlights experiencing some difficulties in performing her work duties. As a result of the second wave, in addition to her usual shifts in the psychiatry department, she is now required to work extra nightshifts in the 1 unit within the same hospital:

‘Before contracting the virus, I was better able to listen to my patients’ concerns and worries, whereas now these discussions make me irritable…I am also struggling with the 1 nightshifts, which are definitely not easy to manage.’

Doctors’ Explanations

Our participants are trying to come to terms with the long-term impact that 1 is having on their daily life and work. Some of the reasons for this impact have been attributed to people’s fears of contracting the virus. This has not only ‘increased stigmaas Dr FA notices but has also increased levels of anxiety. Dr ML talks about the effect of people within her social network being in denial about contracting the virus:

‘It is not necessarily about stigma, but I felt like at the beginning of the second wave, many people believed that 1 was something that only happened to others and not to them. Luckily, attitudes have now changed.’

In addition to people experiencing a general feeling of anxiety during the pandemic, contracting the virus has also been responsible for the development of other psychological symptoms. Dr FA describes her recent feelings of irritability when discussing 1 with her patients as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

I have probably developed symptoms of PTSD, as I now avoid having conversations with my patients about the pandemic, which I had no problem with before becoming ill.’

It is also evident that the physical symptoms that remain after the illness has passed can affect mental well-being. Dr FA and Dr BB mention that they still experience fatigue and headaches respectively, one month after recovery.

Dr FA believes that her physical fatigue is responsible for her not being able to return to the gym and for her being less productive at work:

‘One month after recovery, I’m still suffering from physical fatigue. This has had an impact on my work and my daily life.’

A growing number of doctors are reporting experiencing health problems several weeks after contracting 1, a phenomenon known as ‘long COVID’1. In Tunisia there is currently no data available about the percentage of people affected by this condition. However, a study in Great Britain found that amongst the general population, one in seven people remains ill for at least one month and one in 20 remains ill for at least two months after first contracting 1 1,2. This percentage is noticeably higher amongst doctors, with 30% being affected beyond acute COVID 3.

A study of 1 symptoms conducted by researchers at King’s College London, has shown that having more than five different symptoms within the first week of contracting the disease was one of the key factors in developing long COVID 2. They have established a method of monitoring those at risk of developing long 1, so that early intervention could be prescribed in the future to prevent the occurrence of lasting symptoms amongst target people.

In the meantime, it is clear that there is a need for additional support for those suffering from the effects of long COVID. At a time where social distancing is required, social media is playing a key role in helping people to cope with the stress associated with 1. Several ‘COVID support groups’ have been created to enable those affected to share their experiences.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that a negative 1 test following the acute episode does not necessarily mean being completely free of the disease’s impact. This disease can continue to affect the personal and professional lives of doctors as a result of the impact of various psychological, physical and social factors. Without a doubt, more research is needed in order to increase awareness of long-term impact of 1 and to facilitate the process of complete recovery.

 

References

  1. Mahase, E. (2020). 1: What do we know about “long covid”? bmj370.
  2. https://covid.joinzoe.com/post/long-covid
  3. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/934287#vp_2

 

Acknowledgement

Thank you to all the doctors who kindly agreed to participate.

NB: Initials have been changed to keep participants’ privacy