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Breathing difficulties, fatigue and psychological issues: Recovered from COVID but ordeal far from over

Dr Rishikesh Karmarkar, a 34-year-old dentist, recovered from Covid-19 two weeks ago. But even on Tuesday, when he was playing with his children, he felt breathless and fatigued. He has also been finding it difficult to walk short distances or climb a flight of stairs. Karmarkar is among the many patients who have recovered from Covid, but still reeling from the after-effects.

After testing positive for Covid-19 on July 26, Karmarkar was admitted to Fortis Hospital in Mulund, where he spent the next 10 days in ICU on non-invasive ventilator. He was discharged on August 6. On Wednesday, two weeks after being discharged, he went back to the hospital for a follow-up treatment.

Dr Rahul Pandit, pulmonologist and director of critical care unit, Fortis hospital who had treated Karmarkar advised him a repeat chest CT and pulmonary function test (PFT). The CT scan suggested the presence of small lesions in his lung and the pulmonary function test suggested mild to moderate restrictions of the flow. He has been advised pulmonary rehab with breathing exercises along with medication, to reduce the chances of getting lung fibrosis. “It looks like slowly and gradually, his lungs will recover but he needs to be monitored for the next six months,” said Dr Pandit, who is also a member of the state task force on Covid-19.

The hospital has opened its OPD twice a week for , many of whom are complaining of fatigue, breathing difficulties, lethargy, sleep disorder, lack of appetite and also psychological issues. “More studies are required to unravel the possible mechanism of Covid-19 infection and the after-effects of it to understand the characteristics of the virus and to develop the necessary precautionary measures to prevent it,” said Dr Pandit.

The civic authorities and state Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER) have asked all the Covid-19 hospitals to start follow up studies for recovered patients and create a data bank, which will help provide information for the development of vaccines and drugs for pandemics in the future. 

returning a month or so after their discharge with pulmonary fibrosis – a severe scarring of tissues in the lungs that causes shortness of breath, requiring oxygen support for long durations and, in some case, for the rest of the life.

KEM is currently treating 22 such cases, none of whom had a history of lung injury and they had no breathing problems when they were discharged after being treated for Covid-19.

Dr TP Lahane, DMER director, said, “Every government hospital has been instructed to start post-Covid follow-up OPD thrice a week. Chest CT, PFT and blood tests will have to be repeated, and the data will be compiled over the next six months to know how many patients developed post-Covid complications .” The OPD will also focus on psychological care as those who battled severe Covid-19 sometimes develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“A significant proportion of patients who survive Covid-19 have the possibility of impairment in their overall health status after their recovery,” said Dr Gautam Bhansali, chest physician, Bombay hospital.

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