TESTIMONIALS. Stricken with long Covid, they struggle to return to work: “I have trouble understanding what customers are telling me”

Rabah recalls the memories of his life before. This 55-year-old security officer at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport was a regular at the gym. But since he contracted Covid-19 in February 2020, everything has changed. Admitted to intensive care at the Foch hospital in Suresnes (Hauts-de-Seine), he spent 77 days in a coma, with a vital prognosis, and underwent a long rehabilitation after leaving the hospital. More than a year later, the effects of the virus are still being felt. “I can’t see the end of the tunnel, he laments. The fatigue is still there, I have severe neurological pain everywhere which prevents me from getting up if I do not take my medication. “ He has been on sick leave since February 14, 2020 and he still cannot envisage returning to work.

Rabah suffers from a long Covid, a prolonged and unrecognized form of the disease, with multiple symptoms. Statistics on the number of people affected in France are difficult to obtain. According to the UK National Statistics Office (article in English), one in ten people with Covid-19 continue to have symptoms twelve weeks after the onset of their infection. In France, this could therefore concern 1.4 million adults over the age of 20, if we rely on figures from the Institut Pasteur. For its part, the AP-HP conducted the first study in France on the consequences of this form of the disease on 1,022 patients. Among them, 48% said “no longer being able to carry out certain activities at home or within the framework of their work”, more than twelve weeks after their contamination.

This is not for lack of anxious to find his job, as is the case of Thierry, director of service in a large French bank. Infected at 54 in March 2020, he spent two months in a coma and had a kidney, spleen and adrenal gland removed due to complications. After eleven months of hospitalization, and while he lost 70% of his hearing in one ear and 40% in the other, Thierry struggled to find his way back to work. An early recovery, carried out in March, which has its consequences. “I have difficulty understanding everything customers say to me on the phone, which can cause some misunderstanding “, explains the person who is about to apply for recognition of the status of disabled worker. Even if it is not “100% reset”, Thierry does not regret his decision:I think it helps with remission, you avoid thinking about your illness. “

The employer still has to play the game. Thus, Eléonore *, a 41-year-old nursing assistant, infected in October 2020, points out that her company, “benevolent”, enabled him to return to work in January as a caregiver, a job more suited to his situation since it requires less physical handling and screen work. “My schedule has been lightened and I can choose my hours. With another boss, I could not have returned to work”, ensures the one who still suffers from fatigue, memory loss, as well as concentration problems.

A chance that Caroline * could not benefit from. This 55-year-old official in Ile-de-France was unable to obtain the post adjustment she hoped for. She was even tasked by her supervisor with follow the Covid files, when she felt psychologically incapable of doing so. “When you do a videoconference, you are dressed and made up … But that doesn’t mean it’s getting better, she explains. Until people have been affected by Covid-19, they don’t believe you. You may experience fatigue, memory loss, but (…) you’re not missing an arm, you’re not in a wheelchair. You come back and you look normal. “

However, some have had to give up their activity, due to the persistence of cognitive, motor or psychological disorders that are too severe. “The patients express a suffering which one does not see during the examinations”, confirms Doctor Viet-Thi Tran, who coordinated the AP-HP ComPaRe study on the long Covid. “Beyond 12 weeks, the sequelae of organs affected by Covid cannot explain all the symptoms and other causes may be at play, such as post-viral fatigue syndrome or stress syndrome Posttraumatic”, he continues.

Thus, Thibaud * has not succeeded in returning to his post as director of a sports club in Isère since his contamination in October. Persistent calf and chest pain, coupled with chronic shortness of breath, is too much to allow it. “It’s only since the end of March that I know that I have a long Covid, he details. The doctor had me take the HAS questionnaire, and my results showed that I was anxious and depressed. ” Symptoms among others of this prolonged form of the disease. Since April, Thibaud * has been followed by a psychologist.

“On the one hand, I want to resume, to be able to run again and to find a way of life that I was able to have. But on the other hand, I am afraid of finding myself on sick leave again. … “

For psychotherapist Sylvaine Perragin, specialized in suffering at work, “patients affected by the long Covid tell themselves that they will not be up to the task when it comes time to return to work”. This worry arouses great anguish “in relation to the future”. However, for the moment, “nobody has experience on this” : cognitive disorders linked to long Covid, such as memory loss or difficulty finding words, handicap patients for an indefinite period. And the psychologist evokes severe cases of burnout where “on know that patients will not regain the total fluidity of their brain “.

In addition to these cognitive difficulties, some patients suffer from motor disorders making their recovery impossible. Elodie, a 48-year-old lawyer clerk, has not been able to return to her office since October 2020, the month when her symptoms appeared. “I was diagnosed with Guillain Barré syndrome [maladie neurologique qui attaque les nerfs] following my infection, she recalls, specifying to move on crutches. Every morning I have to put four words in my head and remember them all day, do you realize? I’m in a brain fog. “ While waiting to find his way back to his office, Elodie benefits from a special contribution fund which covers most of her salary, but not all of her rehabilitation.

This is where the shoe pinches. Being able to benefit from medical care is essential in order not to combine financial difficulties with illness. However, the Long Covid is not recognized as a long-term illness (ALD), a status which allows, in certain very specific pathologies, 100% coverage of care. “We are waiting for this recognition of the Covid long in ALD, claims Amélie Guénolé-Perrier, of the association Après J20, which claims 1,000 members affected by this form of the disease. We do not know how to treat us, take charge of us, follow us. We must not leave people in social misery. “ According to her, “members have voluntarily spent a stay in psychiatry to obtain ALD”.

When Virginie, 46, ceased her activity as a therapist, constrained by the persistence of certain neurological and cardiac symptoms, she thus resolved to return to live with her father, for lack of resources. The activity of his cabinet, which was barely profitable, did not allow him to benefit from the solidarity fund set up by the government for companies whose activity was reduced during the health crisis. And she had not contributed enough to benefit from daily allowances allowing her to meet her needs.

“For the past year, I have had 5,000 euros in unreimbursed medical expenses, either because I do not have a test proving that I have Covid-19, or because these are very specific examinations that are not fully reimbursed “, laments this mother of two children, for whom giving up her professional life is heartbreaking. Being a therapist “it’s my passion, it’s not a metro-work-sleep job”, explains the forties, who continues to think about arrangements allowing her to exercise. But “my symptoms change so much from day to day that it is difficult to project”.

Faced with the gaps surrounding knowledge related to the long Covid, the National Assembly voted in February a resolution to better support these patients. This resolution calls on the government to “offer an adapted treatment path”, at “facilitate recognition as an occupational disease” in some cases, but also to “strengthen research and knowledge of the different types of long-term complications”. In this sense, the ComPaRe project renews its call for participation in research projects on the long Covid. Thibaud, the director of a sports club, used to long-distance races, is patient. “I thought the Covid-19 was going to be a sprint and ultimately it’s a long distance race …”

* At the request of the interested parties or for practical reasons of understanding, these first names have been modified

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