Victoria clinic helps patients with long COVID

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Sarah Mitchell says just as COVID has changed her life for the worse, a new long-term COVID recovery clinic in Victoria is changing her for the better.

“I am painfully optimistic that this clinic will be the silver bullet,” Mitchell said Thursday.

Mitchell, 28, a communications officer for the BC government and a freelance writer, tested positive for COVID on April 19 last year after her fiancé. While her partner quickly recovered and returned to work, Mitchell continued to struggle month after month. She was tired, anxious, out of breath and needed an inhaler.

Now the Saanich resident has the opportunity to receive specialized medical care on the island.

Island Health’s post-COVID recovery clinic at the Royal Jubilee Hospital opened on March 1. It is the fifth such clinic in the province and is part of a network run by the Provincial Health Services Authority. He has already had more than 60 references.

“I got a call from the Royal Jubilee Clinic two days after it opened,” said Mitchell, who had secured phone appointments through a long-running COVID clinic in Vancouver.

“Honestly, since then, it’s been day and night in terms of recovery. Honestly, it’s the best medical care I’ve ever had, it’s going so well.

Patients at the clinic must be three months old after the first symptoms of COVID and be referred to the clinic by a physician or nurse practitioner. They do not need a positive PCR or rapid COVID antigen test to be referred or attached to a family doctor. Once referred by a physician or nurse practitioner, in-person and virtual appointments are available.

The clinic not only helps some people return to full function, but it also allows an often misunderstood population to feel heard.

Internal medicine physician Dr. Jessica Belle, medical lead for the post-COVID recovery clinic for Vancouver Island, said the long COVID can present as crippling fatigue, brain fog, memory changes and insomnia, as well as shortness of breath or abnormal sensations in the chest that cannot otherwise be explained by tests or previous medical conditions.

Since there is no test or model to prove that patients have long COVID, these patients often ask for validation first, Belle said.

“They feel invisible, they feel like their symptoms aren’t real, so we provide them with a place where they’re validated and their experiences are understood and acknowledged – and that’s a really big part of that,” said said Belle.

The Victoria Clinic, open five days a week, is staffed by two in-house physicians and two family physicians “with significant experience in acute COVID and COVID therapies”. Doctors work two to three days a week, Belle said.

There are two full-time registered nurses, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a social worker and a research assistant.

Long COVID may look different depending on the patient, but usually it can swing from someone with severe symptoms and back later to what they could do before” and for some people those symptoms have been life changing and drastically they don’t feel like themselves anymore,” Belle says.

Although long COVID is not fully understood, clinicians and researchers have gained a lot of knowledge about it over the past two years and that information is being shared, she said.

The clinic offers classes on symptom management so patients can learn how to regulate their fatigue and breathing, a re-introduction to exercise and ‘very specific resources’ put together by experts on the long COVID, including videos , Belle said. “We find that with our strategy, people improve dramatically over the months.”

In the early days of COVID, before vaccines, an estimated 10-30% of infected people developed acute or long-lasting COVID, symptoms that persisted three months after infection.

“That number has come down significantly with the vaccination,” Belle said.

“I’m hopeful we’ll see fewer people with long COVID with more and more people being vaccinated.”

People “absolutely get better” after treatment or feel better than before, she said.

Despite a shortage of doctors and nurses, Belle said, many clinicians and allied health professionals were motivated to join the long-running COVID clinic and accompany people to full recovery or hope for recovery. improve.

Instead of leaving the field of health care or “leaning into the exhaustion that we may all be feeling right now”, clinicians have thrown themselves into the clinic to “try to make a difference”, he said. she stated.

Mitchell said she learned a lot from seminars and group classes, talking to doctors and occupational therapists.

“It’s amazing how much education helps,” she said.

“Your body is breathing badly [with COVID ] so you have to manually override all those survival instincts your brain has taught you and relearn how to breathe.

Mitchell hopes she can return to work this summer. “My life has changed overnight with COVID and I will definitely never be the same person I was before I had this disease,” Mitchell said.

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