Maverick Citizen

DISPATCHES FROM BED, PART TWO

Long Covid — it’s better to be broke than have your metabolism broken beyond repair

Long Covid — it’s better to be broke than have your metabolism broken beyond repair
Sam Pearce.The World Health Organization only began giving the threat of Long Covid its full attention last month. (Photo: Supplied)

To the casual observer, Bed, like Egypt or Qatar, might seem a fun place to visit. But you wouldn’t want to live here.

It’s nearly the end of the year and everyone is exhausted. As South African schools and businesses hurtle towards the holidays, desperately trying to get everything done by December, we the Sick are waving at you from Bed and begging you to consider the following:

Over the past few centuries, capitalism has taught us to ignore our natural inclination to rest when feeling unwell. Slavery may have been abolished, but somehow we continue to flog our own bodies for the benefit of the money-making machine. Up until the Victorian era, it was customary to convalesce for weeks or months after a period of illness. “Lying-in” after giving birth was common across most cultures. But modern media pressures us to “bounce back”.

Resist this propaganda.

Note that the difference between recovering from Long Covid or developing the disabling chronic illness Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) can be summed up in one word: Rest.

If you are still struggling to get back to full health after Covid, stuck in a boom-bust cycle, yo-yoing between nearly getting back to normal and then finding yourself flat out again — Stop. Rest. Pace.

You know deep down that your energy reserves are dangerously overdrawn. There is only one way to get out of the red. Only ever do half what you think you can do; save the other half for healing.

Invest in Rest. Listen to your body, not your boss’s guilt-tripping. 

Don’t risk bankrupting yourself of energy or there’ll be no way of getting back on your feet. Believe me, it’s better to be broke than have your metabolism broken beyond repair. 

To the casual observer, Bed, like Egypt or Qatar, might seem a fun place to visit. But you wouldn’t want to live here. Having to spend 22 hours out of every 24 horizontal is no joke. Last week, my major achievement was washing my hair.

It’s important to know that female bodies are four times more likely to succumb to Long Covid and develop other energy-limiting chronic illnesses such as ME. Why?

The first reason is that women tend not to rest when they’re unwell. 

Man flu” may be a cliché, but that’s because we all know men who, when they get ill, immediately lie down groaning. Most mothers, on the other hand, carry on dragging themselves up to feed the children. People who resolve to “just push through” are far more likely to become permanently Sick.

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In her recent book, Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry, evangelises for Rest as Resistance. I am not well enough to read her manifesto, but Insta memes communicate its fundamental tenet: grind culture is a gigantic con. She encourages her sisters to listen to their bodies and heed their cries for attention, for softness, for solace. 

Hersey’s central ethos is that the most radical thing a Black woman can do is to Rest when she feels the need. 

Not many can afford the luxury of such a choice, so if you get the chance, don’t squander it. The more time you spend resting this vacation, the less likely you are to be imprisoned in Bed forever.

The second reason women are at greater risk of chronic illness is to do with hormones. 

The female endocrine system has a massive effect on health outcomes but has been woefully under-examined. People with wombs are far more vulnerable to post-viral impacts, especially during their periods, pregnancy and perimenopause. Yet, despite the fact that even before the pandemic, between 15-30 million people were already disabled with ME, until very recently, in the US the annual national budget for research was trumped by that for male pattern baldness.

But why are we surprised? Cars have been on the road for more than a century and yet it took until this year to design female crash test dummies. Women are three times more likely to suffer whiplash injuries in accidents because until now, seats were designed for shapes very different from theirs. 

Goodness me, whatever will they think of next? Drugs tailored to the female body

The third reason why women are more likely to become permanently Sick is because a misogynistic medical profession has tended to dismiss female pain and fatigue as all-in-their-head.

In 1955 Dr Melvin Ramsay identified a polio-like syndrome displayed by 292 staff at the Royal Free Hospital in London and named it Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. There had already been dozens of outbreaks demonstrating similar inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. In 1969, ME was defined as a neurological disease by the WHO

But in 1970, two male psychiatrists reexamined Ramsay’s case notes and decided that a more likely explanation was “epidemic hysteria” — simply because most of those affected were female nurses. McEvedy and Beard came to this conclusion without interviewing any of the patients themselves, many of whom remained too ill to work decades later. Their hubris led to a stigma that has stymied funding for biomedical research into ME for half a century.

Sexism and arrogance are why there is no medication for Long Covid today.

Personally, I will no longer be taking medical advice from anyone who doesn’t grasp the implications of having to plan ahead to cut their toenails. DM/MC

Dispatches from Bed is a window into the world of the chronically energy-impaired. Read Part One: Dispatches from Bed — whose Great Resignation? 

Sam Pearce has orchestrated music festivals, stand-up comedy shows, community-building carnivals, Africa Clockwise adventures and school climate strikes. Although her body now insists she lives in Bed, she’s still striving to be an intercultural activist for social justice.

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