Exhaustion, uncertainty mark coronavirus survivors' journeys

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Soprano Veronica Antonelli sings "Amazing Grace" from her balcony in Paris on May 7, 2020. Still struggling with COVID-19 complications two months after falling ill, her doctor had delivered troubling news: The lung scarring that sometimes makes her too tired to sing may last for months. Or maybe years. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

An angelic voice singing “Hallelujah” echoes off the stately stone and brick canyons of a narrow Montmartre street.

Still struggling with COVID-19 complications two months after falling ill, Parisian soprano Veronica Antonelli wanted the impromptu performance from her third-floor balcony to project hope. Hours earlier, her doctor had delivered troubling news: The lung scarring that sometimes makes her too tired to sing may last for months. Or maybe years.

“It makes things a bit complicated, given my profession,” Antonelli said sadly.

The virus that has sickened over 4 million people around the world and killed more than 280,000 others is so new that patients face considerable uncertainty about what they can expect in recovery and beyond.

“The short answer is that we’re still learning,” said Dr. Jay Varkey, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University in Atlanta. “What we know has been gathered mostly by anecdotal reports from COVID-19 survivors.”

In support groups created on social media sites, survivors post head-to-toe complaints that read like a medical encyclopedia: anxiety, heart palpitations, muscle aches, bluish toes. It’s hard to know which ones are clearly related to the virus, but the accounts help fuel doctors’ increasing belief that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease.

Persistent exhaustion is a common theme, but every survivor’s story is different, said Brandy Swayze, a coronavirus sufferer who created a Facebook survivors group after developing pneumonia. She was hospitalized in late March and early April. Her fatigue comes and goes. Insomnia is another concern.

“We’re just people who have more questions than anybody else about this thing because we’re going through it,” said Swayze, 43, of Cabin John, Maryland.