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KCRW: For Some, Surviving COVID-19 is First Step in Long Road to Recovery

KCRW host Steve Chiotakis recently spoke with Isabel Pedraza, MD, director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai, about the long-term effects that some COVID-19 survivors may experience after becoming seriously ill.

"I think of critical illness as a war that your body is waging against," Pedraza told Chiotakis. "You have survived, thankfully. But you can be left with a lot of residual effects of fighting that battle."

She explained that the longer a patient stays in an intensive care unit (ICU) with a prolonged illness, the weaker they become and the harder it will be to recover. Daily activities, such as dressing, showering, feeding oneself or even swallowing may prove difficult after discharge. It can take years to recover fully, if at all, Pedraza told Chiotakis.

Post-ICU, patients may suffer cognitive impairment that reduces their ability to drive, shop, cook, or manage their medications or finances. They may even experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the degree seen in some combat veterans.

"We're worried about this with COVID-19 patients because this virus may affect the brain in ways that we don't yet understand," Pedraza said, "and that may lead both to worsening cognition as well as worsening PTSD, anxiety and depression."

She emphasized that people should take the novel coronavirus seriously and wear masks – if not for themselves, for their loved ones who could end up caring for them after a serious illness. Pedraza explained that caregivers often suffer tremendous financial stress and run a higher risk of depression.

"Wearing a mask seems like a relatively small price to pay to protect others or even yourself from a lifetime of problems, disability and impairment,” she said.

Click here to listen to the complete segment from KCRW.