Struggling Every Day To Breathe: Malaysian Long Covid Survivor

By Kanmani Batumalai |

There is very little data on long Covid in Malaysia, says Dr Christopher Lee.

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — Kamache Doray Rajoo, a 51-year-old woman, still suffers breathing difficulties, fatigue, and weakness, nearly two months after she recovered from the acute phase of Covid-19.

The Sabai state assemblywoman from Pahang, who sounded sick on the phone, was diagnosed with Covid-19 on January 2 this year.

“It has been almost two months since I have recovered from Covid-19, but my rollercoaster ride in the battle of Covid-19 still hasn’t come to an end,” Kamache told CodeBlue in a phone interview last Friday, as she expressed her experience in tackling persisting health conditions.

“I am somehow reminding myself to keep fighting with my post Covid-19 syndromes until today. I am still suffering every single day to breathe. I couldn’t carry out my duties as usual. I get tired very fast and my body is weak. This has never happened to me before.”

Kamache, who is also an asthmatic patient, received treatment for Covid-19 in Bentong Hospital for 10 days and was discharged on January 12. She wasn’t put on a ventilator during hospitalisation.

“I am suffering from asthma attacks way more than the usual days. I have been having the attack almost every day ever since I was discharged from the hospital. I couldn’t sleep well. I sometimes wake up in the middle of night and cough persistently until I vomit,” Kamache added.

“The voice that you are hearing now is not my actual voice. Since recovery, I have been to hospital three times to be put under a nebuliser. My body is shivering due to the medicines.”

The elected representative from DAP also stated that these continuous health issues have been dragging her into a phobic situation. Although she had prior respiratory issues, she said that those problems never existed for months like how she is experiencing now.

“I used to be very active in meeting the people in my constituency. But now, I’m exhausted quickly. Yet I am pulling through this because I have duties to carry out,” said Kamache.

“I am trying my best to fight this. Unfortunately, the more I fight, the more the pain is.”

Kamache Doray Rajoo, Sabai state assemblywoman

“I was told that I was discharged. I don’t know if I was already tested negative for the virus. They said that I had recovered. So I packed my things and went back home. I was not given any medicine and there are no follow-up phone calls from the hospital too,” said Kamache.

Although Kamache said she was treated well in Bentong Hospital, she expressed her disappointment that she was not informed or educated on “long Covid”, the term used to describe symptoms of Covid-19 that last for weeks or months beyond the initial illness.

“I was given the same asthma medicine a few years ago. I was completely alright at that time after consuming them. Now, the same medicine is not helping me. I am unable to breathe properly yet for more than two months continuously.”

Kamache added that she is still seeking treatment from Bentong Hospital for her long Covid symptoms.

She also mentioned that her 19-year-old son, who also tested positive for the coronavirus on January 2, has resumed his normal life now, after being unable to recognise or taste food for more than six weeks.

“I wasn’t aware of long Covid until I was sick again after my recovery from Covid-19. Our government is not focusing much on long Covid matters. I am an elected representative. If I myself go through this tough situation, can you imagine the predicament of common people who are not aware of this?” Kamache said.

“Sometimes when I experience intense cough at midnight, I also have that fear that something might happen to me.”

Little Data On Long Covid In Malaysia

Malaysian AIDS Council president Dr Christopher Lee.

Dr Christopher Lee, the national advisor for infectious diseases in the Ministry of Health (MOH), also acknowledged the existence of long Covid in Malaysia.

“While most Covid-19 patients recover and get back to normal health, some do have symptoms that can last for weeks or sometimes even months after the acute illness,” Dr Lee told CodeBlue.

“Even people who are not hospitalised and who have mild illness can experience persistent or late symptoms.”

Dr Lee listed fatigue, body aches, depression, dizziness, and inability to concentrate as some of the clinical symptoms of long Covid.

“These symptoms are vague and nonspecific. Many patients improve over time. But it’s unclear how long they can last and why some patients get it but others don’t.”

Dr Lee said that respiratory issues, such as lung fibrosis or scarring which causes lung impairment, are one of the severe long-term complications of Covid-19. Besides that, neurological effects such as impaired memory, loss of taste or smell, sleep disturbance, strokes and cardiac issues may emerge as the lasting symptoms of Covid-19.

“There’s very little data on long Covid in Malaysia. But some of these patients are being followed up by the relevant medical subspecialties such as respiratory physicians, neurologists, etc,” said Dr Lee.

Covid-19 Not Just A Flu

A health worker at a mobile Covid Assessment Centre run by the Klinik Kesihatan Pasir Gudang at the Alfagomma factory workers’ hostel in Pasir Gudang, Johor, cuts the quarantine band of a Covid-19 patient on home quarantine. Picture dated January 21, 2021 from Facebook @jabatankesihatannegerijohor.

Ms Yong aged 49 and her five family members, including her parents-in-law, who reside in Petaling Jaya were all diagnosed with Covid-19 in early January this year.

“I am still experiencing diarrhoea from time to time,” Yong, who declined to provide her full name, told CodeBlue last February 10.

Yong’s parents-in-law aged 78 years each were admitted and treated in hospital as Category 4 Covid-19 patients. Her elderly father-in-law had underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure and a liver condition. He experienced fever and severe diarrhoea before being diagnosed with Covid-19.

Yong’s parents-in-law were discharged from hospital last January.

“My father-in-law is sleeping more than his usual sleeping hours, whereas my mother-in-law is unable to practice her usual walking activity in the park. She gets tired easily,” Yong added.

She also highlighted the emotional stress that impacted the motivation of her elderly parents-in-law in their daily life. The difficulties and, sometimes, their inability to carry out the usual tasks that they had been doing until Covid-19 struck them had plunged them into emotional tension. That feeling affected their willpower as they started feeling weak and fragile.

A study conducted in the UK shows that women aged 50 to 60 years are at the highest risk of not recovering for several weeks or months from Covid-19 symptoms.

The study says that women were two times as likely to suffer from Covid-19 symptoms that lasted longer than a month, compared to men, until the age of 60, when the risk level evens out for both genders.

Data from the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics stated that 20 per cent of Covid-19 patients encountered persisting symptoms for five weeks, whereas 10 per cent had symptoms for 12 weeks or more.

Another study from COVID Symptom Study application, which also concurred with the data above, estimated that 10 per cent of Covid-19 patients experienced symptoms for three weeks or more after being diagnosed with the disease.

COVID Symptom Study lead Professor Tim Spector mentioned that deeper studies of Covid-19 resulted in strange findings, as even mild Covid-19 patients have developed symptoms for an extended period of time.

As of March 1, Malaysia has recorded a total of 302,580 Covid-19 patients in the country, with 1,135 deaths and 275,903 recoveries from acute coronavirus infection. Malaysia may have about 30,000 long Covid patients, based on 10 per cent estimates from international studies.

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