‘It’s terribly lonely’: Some Nova Scotians with long COVID just want to return to work
Deryk Smooke was recently driving in his vehicle when his smartwatch alerted him that his heart rate was high and not returning to normal.
Smooke, 41, was on his way from his home in Amherst, NS to Costco in Moncton, NB to get groceries with his wife. The 70-minute round trip took so much from him that he fell for three days afterwards.
“I don’t think my body was that happy with me,” said the father of three.
Smooke contracted COVID-19 in early October and was out of work due to the fatigue and brain fog he’s experiencing.
The corrections officer fears he is in the early stages of Long COVID, a collective term for a range of post-infection health effects that persist for at least three months after contracting the coronavirus.
Recent data from Statistics Canada suggests 1.4 million adults had symptoms three months after confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection.
For some people with long COVID, the symptoms are so severe that they are unable to work.
Nargess Kayhani, an economics professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, said this has many implications for individuals and society.
“There will be unemployment, there will be bankruptcies, household debt, financial difficulties,” she said. “We’re going to use up our retirement savings.”
For Elizabeth Oldham of Spryfield, NS, she is feeling the financial pinch of contracting COVID-19. She contracted the coronavirus in May 2021 and spent two weeks on a ventilator.
In October 2021, she felt well enough to return to work as a dental practice administrator. Since then, she has struggled to work consistently.
The economic toll of Long COVID
“I haven’t had any income since October 15,” said Oldham, who recently filed for short-term disability.
She said her savings have run out and she relies on her credit cards to make ends meet.
“I am a very independent person. I don’t like asking for help and have had to ask for help a lot over the last year and a half. And there isn’t enough help for us,” she said.
“There aren’t enough resources, medical, emotional or financial…more needs to be done to help people focus on their health instead of worrying about homelessness, and more effort needs to be put into mental health.” be done to help us recover.”
The federal government has employment insurance and disability benefits that may be available for people with long COVID.
In a statement, Employment and Social Development Canada said it recognizes workers with serious illnesses may need more time to heal.
“When Canadians face illness, injury or quarantine, they deserve to be financially supported in their recovery,” it said.
The statement said employment insurance benefits were extended from 15 weeks to 26 weeks effective Sunday 18 December. This applies to claims made on or after this date.
The department also noted that there is a website where people can find out what benefits and services may apply to them.
Increased costs for the government
Kayhani said that because of the possible symptoms of a long COVID — such as anxiety, depression, mental health issues — healthcare costs and federal government payouts for employment insurance and disability benefits will increase.
She is disappointed that the Nova Scotia government has lifted “common sense restrictions” such as mandatory masking and mandatory isolation following COVID-19 infection.
“It will create a vicious circle,” Kayhani said. “That creates additional burdens [the] Healthcare system that is already in crisis.”
Nova Scotians call it a day
In a statement, Nova Scotia Health said it doesn’t believe post-COVID — the phrase it and the World Health Organization use to describe long-standing COVID — is a major problem in Nova Scotia.
It has received surveys of about 2,750 people who developed symptoms three months after being infected with COVID-19. Nova Scotia Health believes fewer than 100 of those people are unable to work due to long-term COVID.
Oldham misses work and, due to her condition, often lacks the energy to leave the house.
“It’s terribly lonely. I feel like I’m in prison. Worse than jail, at least when you’re in jail you’re around inmates,” she said, adding that she’s never been jailed.
Smooke is also hoping to return to work, although no date is in sight.
“I’ve learned to do one thing a day and rest for the majority [of the day]because as far as I know, my body is still fighting COVID,” he said.
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