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July 14, 2020, 4:59 a.m. EDT

Survivors talk about the aftereffects of COVID-19

Besides the challenging physical recovery, it takes a psychological toll

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By Dr. Christine Nguyen

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“Sometimes, I’ll tell my husband, ‘You know what? I want a hamburger.’ He would say, ‘OK, let’s go for a ride.’ We’ll go for a ride and bring it home. That’s all I’ve done. Then in the evening time, we usually go outside in the backyard and just look at the flowers.”

Nick Lê: Deluged by paperwork and memories

Nick Lê, 64, a former refugee who fled Vietnam by boat at 22, compares surviving COVID-19 to living through the destruction of his hometown, Hue, during the carnage of the 1968 Tet Offensive.

“That wartime, we can see the enemy, we can see the bullets and weapons,” says Lê, a retired engineer in Milpitas, Calif. “But now you don’t see the enemy. It comes from nowhere. So, it’s scary.”

His wife (he prefers to keep her name private), as well as his son and daughter in their 30s, contracted the coronavirus, too. Lê struggled with COVID-19 at home; the rest of his family went to the hospital.

Also see: Coronavirus can spread in the air ‘beyond any reasonable doubt,’ over 200 scientists tell the World Health Organization

Lê’s wife, then 64, and his son were put on ventilators. His son came home after 17 days. His wife died in the hospital; she was on a ventilator for roughly three weeks.

For years, Lê and his wife had talked about advance care planning and estate planning. She had helped others do that in her job as a Realtor. But the couple never got around to it.

See: Do your family a favor and make your wishes clear with an advance medical directive

“We’d say, ‘Oh it’s no hurry. OK, next month, then next month, then next month.’ And it ended up we hadn’t had time to do it. It just happened so quick and unexpected. Everything fell through a crack. A big crack,” says Lê.

Still grieving, Lê has had to deal with a deluge of paperwork from his wife’s unfinished business affairs.

“My mentality is still somewhere in the middle of the sky,” he says. “I cannot concentrate. I am still in a state of denial. I’m facing a lot of memories. Pictures of my wife everywhere, her clothing, her stuff is still all over. How can I deal with it?”

The couple had been together since they married at 22 and fled Vietnam together.

“Truly we built our own life from bare hands. She’s gone now. I really miss her. I think somebody said our love was really rare to see. And I agree,” says Lê.

Some of his friends who contracted COVID-19 have been struggling with other aftereffects. A few have ongoing memory problems. One needs an oxygen tank and can’t walk on his own.

He is depressed. “You can die because of depression,” Lê says.

For now, he is staying in isolation with his son and waiting for time to help heal his sadness.

“It’s just like a fresh wound. It’s always hurt and pain. I spend time in my garden. My wife used to enjoy a lot of backyard flowers. I keep continuing to take care of that. To make her pleased.”

Two ways to cope with the emotional strain after COVID-19

Hosey offers the following two tips to cope with the emotional strain after surviving the coronavirus:

Educate yourself. “The number one thing that loved ones can do is just be aware that some of these symptoms are possible,” says Hosey.

Try to stay up to speed physically and mentally . Hosey says staying active reduces ICU-acquired weakness and may improve cognitive and mental health outcomes as well.

“You will want to be working with your [medical] team as much as you can and getting up and active, even if you’re still feeling confused or tired,” says Hosey.

Dr. Christine Nguyen is a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University Medical School and an online and audio journalist. She was a Gerontological Society of America Journalists in Aging Fellow. Find her on Twitter ( @christinenguyen ) and on her  website .

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org , © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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