Making sense of long COVID
Long COVID, the form of COVID-19 where symptoms continue longer than three months, is often not being clearly diagnosed or treated. This is causing confusion and stress for some whānau.
Cate Grace spent time in hospital with COVID-19 in March this year. She’s since been told by a medical team of four health professionals that she has symptoms of long COVID. However, none of them have diagnosed her as actually having it.
“Everybody has alluded to me having it, but nobody’s definitively said OK, we’re going to accept you have long COVID, this is what it’s like and this is what we can help you with,” said Cate.
Cate has experienced typical symptoms of long COVID like breathlessness, fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, and a cough. But her lowered immunity as tāngata whaikaha with arthritis means she often experiences these types of symptoms over winter. It has been difficult for her medical team to distinguish her routine symptoms from long COVID symptoms.
In an interview with Waatea News in June, epidemiologist Dr Mona Jeffreys said many people don’t know they have long COVID. Others thought they had recovered from COVID-19 only to have symptoms return again, and didn’t realise it was long COVID. Dr Mona also said that whānau are not getting enough help from their doctors and some doctors are finding it hard to diagnose long COVID, even though long COVID has been on our radar for some time now.
Whānau who want to find out if they have long COVID face additional challenges such as the cost of going to a doctor or taking time off work from feeling māuiui. These activities can have more financial impact on whānau Māori than on others, and some whānau may not be able to get to a doctor at all.
Tāngata whaikaha with compromised immunity face further frustrations with healthcare, like feeling they have not been involved in key decisions about their wellbeing, such as wearing a mask.
Cate is used to being proactive about getting her symptoms assessed and stresses the need to continue to work with the expertise available to keep ourselves safe, despite the challenges of the process.
"We can all get hōhā when things are out of our control. As Māori we give it one or two goes with mainstream and then we're like nah, it's too challenging. That’s when we look for our own answers."
Cate has gotten a lot of value out of using te whare tapa whā model alongside modern medicine.
“Get outside in nature… get connected to the whenua again and get connected to your whānau. It doesn’t have to be blood relatives. Surround yourself with people that bring you joy. I think that can help. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the symptoms or of what’s going on around us, but we can definitely live well and choose the way we want to.”
Watch Cate’s video Finding strength in her tūpuna.
Listen to Dr Mona Jeffrey’s Waatea News interview.
Read more about te whare tapa whā on our Tāngata whaiora page.
Photo caption: Getting her hands in the whenua helps Cate Grace live with long COVID.