Long covid takes its toll
Tired easily, sensitive to stimuli and difficulty breathing. Three teachers tell how a corona infection turned into lung covid and has been affecting their lives ever since. “I need all my energy for the hours at school.”
Initially, teacher Jannie de Leeuw still thinks of hay fever. It is April 2020 and the virus has only just arrived in the Netherlands. There is no testing yet. De Leeuw: "I didn't feel fit, but I still gave online lessons during that first lockdown." Until talking becomes more and more difficult. De Leeuw's breath catches and the pain in the lungs increases. With the help of her daughter, she calls XNUMX. An ambulance arrives, in consultation De Leeuw decides to get sick at home. The word 'from' may be deleted, because her corona infection turns into lung covid, a collective name for complaints that remain after the virus is no longer detectable in the blood.
According to a study at the University of Oxford A third of corona patients still have health problems after six months. More recent work by colleagues at the also British Universities of Leicester and Loughborough shows that less than one in three patients who have been hospitalized due to corona feel fully recovered after a year. Also the Dutch Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid in the Middle (RIVM) is conducting research into lung covid and announced at the end of November that seven in ten adults with long-term corona complaints say that they are unable to work or can work less.
'I needed breaks to literally pant'
At De Leeuw, more than a year and a half after the original infection, the control of her breathing is still regularly disrupted. “With a lot of stimuli,” she says. And then work with young children. Officially, De Leeuw is a teacher for three and a half days a week at a primary school in Delft. She has been reintegrating as a support worker two mornings a week for some time now. And regularly takes a group of students under her wing. De Leeuw: “With breaks, where they go back to their own teacher. I needed those breaks in the beginning to literally pant. That's better now. Fortunately, there is still a slow recovery.”
Biology teacher Marc Schols is also struggling with the long-term consequences of the virus. He contracted corona no less than three times in 2021. “We are now investigating whether my body is producing enough antibodies.” The first time, in May, Schols ends up in hospital and stays there for two weeks. He gets it again just after the summer holidays. Probably again from a student. “What I find particularly frustrating: you want more, but you can't do more. My lungs are quite affected. Although you can't see it from the outside."
Working part-time is his happiness, says Schols. “Otherwise I wouldn't have made it. For example, today I get up for a whole day, but now that it's break I think: I can't take it anymore. It's that I still have two homework tutoring hours. If it had been class hours, I would have gone home.” Things go wrong again at the end of September. On the way to school, Schols doesn't get enough air. “The oxygen level in my blood was not good. I hung on the oxygen bottle for a few hours.” Then he can resume his work as quickly as possible. Schols has a one-year contract and does not want to be absent too much. “If I stay at home too often, I fear I won't get a permanent position.”
He emphasizes that there is no pressure from the school. “They handle it well, I get all the space. Maybe there's also a bit of guilt because I caught it twice in school. But you don't know who exactly decides on the contracts." Also because of his students, Schols prefers not to call in sick. “I teach pre-vocational secondary education classes 3 and 4. They are working towards their final exams and can't really miss a lesson. Then I start to stress about that.”
Trainee teacher Merel Romijn regularly felt bad about how long it all took. “Often people would react: huh, but you're only 27? Nobody assumes that when you are this young you will still have complaints after months. I also thought: I will be better next week.” Romijn becomes infected in October 2020, spends weeks in bed, but barely recovers afterwards. “What you know is the flu. Then you're sick for two weeks, but then you're back. With long covid it is four steps forward and eight steps back.”
'My rehabilitation started with practicing walking for ten minutes, then I was exhausted'
Last winter, halfway through the climb to her front door, Romijn lives on the third floor of an apartment complex, she had to stop to catch her breath. “My rehabilitation started with practicing walking for ten minutes. Then I was exhausted.” Working was not possible, sports and social life came to a standstill and the completion of her PABO training was also postponed. Both the school and the company doctor urged her to calm down. “I was overconfident, I wanted to go back as soon as possible. But they mainly looked at: How can you keep it up for a long time.”
Jannie de Leeuw, who contracted covid at the beginning of 2020, experienced little understanding from the company doctor and employer for a period. “Not much was known about long covid that first corona year, but I was not listened to either. For example, I couldn't make a phone call. Then I just went out. I did cooking intermittently, stirring the pan for a while and then lying on the floor again.”
She emails her employer to explain her condition. Her request for a coach is granted. “Someone who already knew me before corona and could tell my story. She went to the company doctor twice and explained that I am someone with a lot of commitment. Fortunately, the relationship with my employer is now good again.”
Since the autumn, Merel Romijn has been making “finally!” jumps. "You often read that about long covid, that things don't go well for a long time, but that you suddenly make significant progress in a short time." Just before she was ill for a year, she was able to complete her three working days as a teacher. She also does an internship for her PABO training one day a week. In the evenings she tries to complete her study assignments. “Fortunately, it is a flexible teacher training college, where I am not obliged to attend classes. After a working day, I don't want to do anything else."
'It brings me nothing to worry about the future'
Romijn still suffers from concentration problems, fatigue and a heartbeat that shoots up too quickly. But she doesn't want to tell "absolutely a pathetic story". Nor is she angry that she contracted the virus. “I am positive about it. It gives me nothing to worry about the future. Or to annoy me about things I can't change.” An occupational therapist taught her to squeeze a stress ball or wiggle her toes when overstimulated. “In other professions you would say: go outside for ten minutes, relax. But that is not possible in a class with thirty students. When I feel a headache coming on, I do tricks like that.”
Biology teacher Schols did get angry, but especially in the period before he contracted the virus. About “how the government dealt with education”. Schols: “I felt like a guinea pig. Because parents couldn't keep their children at home, we had to go to work. I didn't want to take those risks. I'm a biology teacher: I know what viruses can do.” But Schols isn't blaming. “In the end, the cabinet weighed up the pros and cons of closing schools. I support most of the corona policy.” Moreover, Schols is now mainly concerned with how he can keep up with the work. “I need all my energy for the hours at school.”
'We already have large shortages and then you let all those teachers get sick, with the risk of lung covid'
At Jannie de Leeuw, the teacher shortage sometimes crossed her mind. “I thought: We already have big shortages and then you let all those teachers get sick, with the risk of lung covid. I think that's short-term thinking." De Leeuw, who is especially grateful that she is alive, does feel a slight disappointment about her anniversary this year. “This is my XNUMXth year working in education. Normally a party. For me it meant a discount on my salary, because I've been on sick leave for more than a year. That is sour.”
De AOb helps members who are ill for a long time. For example, in the event of problems with the reintegration process or when applying for a disability benefit. Do you want to use this? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or make a report in the AObApp.
On the private facebook groupCorona patients with long-term complaints' a lot of information about lung covid is shared. A smaller group has been set up for teaching staff: 'After covid for the class'.
You read this article for free from the Education magazine of December 2021. Every month news, background information and tips in your mailbox? Word AObmember!