BOSTON — Behind a closed door, an elderly man hopes a test will show that he no longer has an active coronavirus infection so that he can return home to his wife of six decades. Until then, he gazes out the window where he can see the trees. Sometimes his mind wanders to the lurid, delirious nightmares of the intensive care unit. He tries to distract himself with poetry.
Down the hall, a younger man works to get stronger so that he too can get back to his family. He feels better, he tells me, but he is so bored, and the Covid cough still bothers him, along with a burning in his hand — likely a nerve injury from the days spent lying on his chest when he was intubated. His face bears the scars of that lifesaving maneuver, blackened ulcers on his cheeks, nose and forehead. He too looks out the window. Waiting.
This is life for the growing number of patients who have survived severe Covid-19 but have not yet recovered. As a critical-care doctor, I could easily avoid seeing this part of the story; it would be almost preferable to think that the removal of a breathing tube or a long-awaited discharge from the I.C.U. is the victorious end to the narrative. But that is not the case. Even as hospitals continue to care for the surge of critically ill patients, it is time to prepare for what comes after.