Opinion | What to Do When Covid Doesn’t Go Away

Modern medicine works marvels, but it’s built to treat acute conditions and well-known diseases. A completely novel virus that seems to hang around for months is neither. Add in all the other burdens on the medical system at the moment, and the understandable focus on the most life-threatening Covid cases, and it may be extremely difficult to find a doctor who can guide and support a labyrinthine recovery process. So to some uncertain extent, you may need to become your own doctor — or if you’re too sick for that, to find someone who can help you on your journey, notwithstanding the absence of an M.D. beside their name.

Yong’s Atlantic piece notes that many Covid long-haulers “have been frustrated by their friends’ and families’ inability to process a prolonged illness” and have dealt with skepticism from doctors as well. In such circumstances, it’s natural to doubt yourself as well, and to think maybe it really is all in my head.

In some cases, presumably, it is: Hypochondria certainly exists, and the combination of high anxiety and pandemic headlines no doubt inspires some phantom illnesses. But for a field officially grounded in hard materialism, contemporary medicine is far too quick to retreat to a kind of mysterianism, a hand-waving about mind-body connections, when it comes to chronic illnesses that we can’t yet treat. If you don’t have a history of imagined illness, if you were generally healthy up until a few months ago, if your body felt normal and now it feels invaded, you should have a reasonable level of trust that it isn’t just “in your head” — that you’re dealing with a real infection or immune response, not some miasma in your subconscious.

There is no treatment yet for “long haul” Covid that meets the standard of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, which means that the F.D.A.-stamped medical consensus can’t be your only guide if you’re trying to break a systemic, debilitating curse. The realm beyond that consensus has, yes, plenty of quacks, perils and overpriced placebos. But it also includes treatments that may help you — starting with the most basic herbs and vitamins, and expanding into things that, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have ever imagined myself trying before I become ill myself.

So please don’t drink bleach, or believe everything you read on Goop.com. But if you find yourself decanting Chinese tinctures, or lying on a chiropractor’s table with magnets placed strategically around your body, or listening to an “Anti-Coronavirus Frequency” on Spotify, and you think, how did I end up here?, know that you aren’t alone, and you aren’t being irrational. The irrational thing is to be sick, to have no official treatment available, and to fear the outré or strange more than you fear the permanence of your disease.

For experimental purposes, that is. My profession is obsessed, understandably, with the dangers of online Covid misinformation. But the internet also creates communities of shared medical experience, where you can sift testimonies from fellow sufferers who have tried different approaches, different doctors, different regimens. For now, that kind of collective offers a crowdsourced empiricism, an imperfect but still evidence-based guide to treatment possibilities. Use it carefully, but use it.

I mean this very seriously.

I said earlier that my own illness is still with me five years later. But not in anything like the same way. I was wrecked, destroyed, despairing. Now I’m better, substantially better — and I believe that with enough time and experimentation, I will actually be well.

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