Medical equipment is still strewn around the house of Rick Lucas, 62, nearly two years after he came home from the hospital. He picks up a spirometer, a device that measures lung capacity, and takes a deep breath — though not as deep as he’d like.
Still, Lucas has come a long way for someone who spent more than three months on a ventilator because of covid-19.
“I’m almost normal now,” he said. “I was thrilled when I could walk to the mailbox. Now we’re walking all over town.”
Dozens of major medical centers have established specialized covid clinics around the country. A crowdsourced project counted more than 400. But there’s no standard protocol for treating long covid. And experts are casting a wide net for treatments, with few ready for formal clinical trials.
It’s not clear just how many people have suffered from symptoms of long covid. Estimates vary widely from study to study — often because the definition of long covid itself varies. But the more conservative estimates still count millions of people with this condition. For some, the lingering symptoms are worse than the initial bout of covid. Others, like Lucas, were on death’s door and experienced a roller-coaster recovery, much worse than expected, even after a long hospitalization.
Symptoms vary widely. Lucas had brain fog, fatigue, and depression. He’d start getting his energy back, then go try light yardwork and end up in the hospital with pneumonia.
It wasn’t clear which ailments stemmed from being on a ventilator so long and which signaled the mysterious condition called long covid.
“I was wanting to go to work four months after I got home,” Rick said over the laughter of his wife and primary caregiver, Cinde.
“I said, ‘You know what, just get up and go. You can’t drive. You can’t walk. But go in for an interview. Let’s see how that works,’” Cinde recalled.
Rick did start working earlier this year, taking short-term assignments in his old field as a nursing home administrator. But he’s still on partial disability.
Why has Rick mostly recovered while so many haven’t shaken the symptoms, even years later?
“There is absolutely nothing anywhere that’s clear about