Just because the state calls them recovered doesn’t mean they’re better. Here’s how one Michigander still endures what she calls “the most expensive disease.”
DETROIT, MI—Dened Harris started feeling sick on March 10. By the end of that day, Michigan would be in a state of emergency, and Harris was one of the reasons why.
“After seven or eight weeks in my home I was emotionally… everything shut down, I was just done,” Harris told The ‘Gander. “I had to see a therapist. I still see a therapist every Wednesday.”
Harris wasn’t able to get a confirmed coronavirus diagnosis right away. That’s because in the chaos following the coronavirus state of emergency and the beginning of the spread of the disease, it was hard to secure a test, she explained. But she eventually did have the confirmation that she was among the first Michiganders to have the coronavirus.
By April 10, she was considered ‘recovered’ by state statistics, but she still struggles with the aftermath of the disease. She says today she feels almost recovered.
“It is not a 14-day period and then you’re fine. It’s just not that,” she said. “It can take months for your lungs to heal.”
It’s important to know you can heal, she added. That there is hope down the long road coronavirus patients walk.
What 100,000 Recoveries Really Means
Each Friday evening, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reports the number of people declared recovered from the coronavirus. On Oct. 9, the day before the seven-month anniversary of the pandemic state of emergency, that number was 104,271.
But as The ‘Gander has reported, there is a lot more to that figure than meets the eye.
Because the coronavirus is a novel disease, it’s hard to know when someone is genuinely healthy again, so MDHHS had to come up with criteria for what “recovered” was. What they decided counted as recovery was surviving for 30 days after the onset of symptoms or the formal diagnosis, whichever happens first. That measure essentially guaranteed someone wouldn’t die from the coronavirus, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have lingering symptoms.
The coronavirus monitoring group COVID Act Now also cautions that Michigan is again at high risk of a serious outbreak, especially in light of the rising daily new infections Michigan has reported. In the best circumstances, that means thousands more Michiganders bound for recovery, and the lingering symptoms found therein.
And there’s no way to be sure how long those lingering symptoms will last. It may follow Michigan’s 100,000 like Harris for life.
While she considers herself mostly recovered now, the lasting damage that took months to heal after her formal recovery was exhausting, Harris said. She had fatigue, headaches, difficulty thinking clearly, chest pain and a host of other symptoms still lingering over her.
And still, more than half a year on, she has pain from the severe damage the virus left on her lungs, Though it’s become more faint, she still has a burning in her lungs from the virus and the pneumonia the virus caused. She also still deals with fatigue worse than any she’s ever known. She said she would fall asleep at her desk at home, get tired just taking a shower, she feels like she can’t do anything. And though both those things are improving, they have lingered far longer than what she had expected.
She’s optimistic overall, though, because those are the only two symptoms she still has.
Harris credits her recovery to a strict physical therapy routine, doing as much as she could to safely strengthen her body during her recovery, ranging from walks to breathing exercises to sessions with professional physical therapists.
“I don’t know if that was a magic tool for me, but I went twice a week just pushing myself to get exercise and build my endurance back up,” she said. “Just be prepared and not give up, you know what I mean? That’s it.”
The Most Expensive Disease to Have
Between her and her asmathic son, who also contracted the virus, she’s spent a lot. Even with insurance. Just from the virus, she hit her high insurance deductible and
“My copays, the stuff I need to make up the difference of, all these x-rays, things we had to get… it’s difficult. ” she said. “It’s been the most expensive disease to have.”
And that’s with her insurance picking up a large percentage of the costs. But that might not be the case for her in the relatively near future. The Supreme Court is set to deliberate over health insurance reforms including the rules against charging more or denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Harris’ long recovery is indicative of the kind of thing that could be considered a pre-existing condition, explains the Kaiser Family Foundation. If she could get coverage at all without those protections, that coverage could still entirely exclude any complications that would arise from her battle with the coronavirus. And as Dr. David Best explained to The ‘Gander, that is very likely what would happen.
Best and his wife both have private practices treating people in Traverse City, where they deal with a largely rural population that, as The ‘Gander explained, have a lot to lose if insurance reforms like the expansion of Medicaid or rules protecting people with pre-existing conditions are struck down by the Court, as Judge Amy Coney Barrett seems hand-picked to do.
Protecting or abolishing those insurance reforms codified by the Affordable Care Act that protect Michigan’s coronavirus survivors is expected to be a central feature of Barrett’s confirmation hearing, as she has in the past expressed opposition to those reforms. And that fear isn’t uniquely Michigan.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a Monday morning confirmation hearing that his constituents are worried about the existential threat Barrett poses to their insurance coverage.
“They’re scared, Judge Barrett,” he said. “They’re scared that your confirmation would rip from them the very healthcare protections that millions of Americans have fought to maintain, and which Congress has repeatedly rejected eliminating.”