What Long-haul COVID Patients Think About Trump’s Diagnosis

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

After months of denial, deflection, and minimization of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump (and his wife, Melania) have been diagnosed with the virus. The White House has confirmed that Trump is experiencing mild symptoms at this time.

Many people who become sick with COVID-19 do experience only “mild” symptoms, and some are asymptomatic altogether. But there is another, growing group, commonly known as “long-haulers” or long COVID-19 patients, who’ve experienced months of symptoms, including fatigue, chest tightness, and brain fog. We talked to some of them to see how they feel about Trump’s diagnosis.

“My first reaction was, ‘This is good news.’”

“I got sick March 9. At first, it was like the normal symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath. Then I started getting chest pain around March 20, and that’s never gone away. It’s been almost seven months. I’ve been diagnosed with post-viral reactive airways, which is basically asthma you get after a virus, and dysautonomia, which is like a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.

My first reaction was, ‘This is good news.’ It’s satisfying that the person who caused so many other people to get this disease and had no repercussions finally had some repercussions. A lot of long-haulers have said, ‘I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.’ But I think that applies more when you’re talking about like, a petty grudge against another citizen. This is the one situation where I’m like, This is deserved.

But again, like literally everything during COVID, this news has highlighted the existing inequalities in our country, because so many of us who got sick in March couldn’t get a test, couldn’t get treatment, and Trump and everyone connected to him will get superfast testing and high-end treatment.” — Rebekah, 29

“I want to be vindictive … I just can’t.”

“I started feeling sick around the first week of April. When I got tested, the test came back negative. When I got tested again, the test came back negative again, but I knew that I was sick. I ended up going to the hospital two more times. My third test came back positive. At that time, they also did an X-ray of my chest and saw that I had pneumonia in my lungs. I was admitted to the hospital the night of April 15, and within 48 hours, they decided that my condition had deteriorated so rapidly that I was placed in a medically induced coma. I was on a ventilator for 31 days.

I was in the hospital until June 1. I’ve gone back to the ER several times since, and was admitted for almost 100 days total. I’ve just been experiencing a lot of long-term complications. Extreme fatigue is definitely on the top of the list. I’m struggling with breath, struggling still with the aftereffects of the blood clot. I still have pain associated with that. I’m dealing with a lot of mobility issues, and the emotional toll it has taken. I consider myself lucky to have survived. But it’s not over.

I keep saying, ‘I wouldn’t wish this illness or trauma on my worst enemy.’ And this morning, that was fundamentally challenged. Initially, I wanted to say, That’s exactly what he gets. Here’s this person who denied, denied, denied, and said there’s nothing to be worried about. But I really am trying to temper that with instinct with compassion. I’m a Christian. I’m an ordained minister, and I’m trying so hard to operate in a spirit of love and compassion. I rely very heavily on my faith.

I know the suffering and the struggles that I’ve endured, and I know the suffering and struggles that other people have endured. And I still don’t wish that what happened to me and what has happened to so many other Americans in this country on anybody else. I know what it’s like to go to sleep and not know if I’m going to wake up. As much as we want to be vindictive or angry, we can’t sink to the bottom. We have to rise to the top. I allow space for everyone to have their emotions, and I allow space for myself to have emotions. As I want to be vindictive, and as easy as it would be to find a perverse pleasure in the announcement, I just can’t. I hope that, if anything, this will be a turning point and a transformational moment in the country’s response to this virus.” — Heather-Elizabeth, 35

“What about everybody who he willfully exposed?”

“I first got sick at the end of March. I had a fairly mild acute phase in the first couple of weeks — I’ve definitely had worse colds and flus. But my symptoms crescendoed after about the third week into rapid heart rate, increased shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle twitches and spasms, confusion, and then ultimately severe levels of blood clots in June.

I have not recovered. I just reached my six month COVID anniversary this past weekend. Before this I was a runner, and I’m barely able to go for short walks and do some light yoga.

I don’t wish harm on anyone. That said, I think this was predictable. The thing about viruses is that it’s not just yourself that you’re putting at risk. I’m less concerned about the president, and White House officials who may have been exposed, because they’ll have the best care in the world. But what about everybody who he willfully exposed in the previous three days or so? All the staff in the White House, all the staff at the venues for rallies and fundraisers. I’m dismayed and afraid for all of those folks.” — Angela, 33

“We’re humans, first and foremost.”

“My first symptoms were all GI issues — I didn’t really have an appetite, I had this weird shortness of breath while I was eating. I had diarrhea for a few days, but I felt overall fine. And it wasn’t until three days later that I got more of the normal symptoms. Then I got severe chills. It felt like an effort for me just to be lying in bed. I had a headache unlike any headache I’ve ever had. It basically felt like my brain was like pushing against my skull. There wasn’t anywhere to get tested at the time. I stayed isolated from my husband and my two sons. I basically took the master bedroom and bathroom and they had the rest of the house. That was really hard because I was basically listening to them live their lives from the other room. I did that for a month.

We have a really big COVID community on the internet. There are a lot of people that have said they don’t have sympathy for the president. Those things are obviously valid for people to feel. But for me, we’re humans, first and foremost, and not having empathy for a fellow human isn’t gonna move us forward anywhere as a nation. This is a teachable moment. People’s feelings are totally valid, but I think there’s a bigger lesson here. And if that’s going to be the sentiment among Democrats, then you’re as bad as the other side.” — Laura, 32

“How is this going to affect our elections?”

“I became sick in late March after an international trip. At that time, they weren’t testing as much, and my symptoms weren’t classical. I had chest tightness, tachycardia, tightness in my arms and back, I was very confused. I actually didn’t know what year it was when the paramedics came.

When I went to the ER, they told me it was stress, anxiety and panic attack. So I tried to destress, I did a lot of meditation. I started going out for walks where I live in California. Eventually, I collapsed in the street. My legs kind of gave out. Six months later, I haven’t budged very much. You could say a particular symptom gets better, but then other symptoms come up.

I found out about Trump on Body Politic. I didn’t have a particular reaction other than, How is this going to affect our elections? I know Biden has tested negative, but it takes some time. If we have two people who are older, and at risk for having complications, can this be used as a tool to push the election back?” — Joy, 37

“I was completely unsurprised.”

“I got COVID in mid-March. I did a tele-health appointment with the emergency room and they told me no testing was available and I should only come to the hospital if I can’t finish my sentences or if my lips turn blue. After two weeks, it seemed like I was kinda starting to get better. But after about a month, it became apparent that I wasn’t. I started having issues with my heart — even just sitting up, my heart rate was through the roof. I was having huge adrenaline spikes, and then unbelievable fatigue, the kind where my body felt like it was made of bricks. I couldn’t sit in bed and finish a whole bowl of oatmeal. Like, it would take me four tries.

I’m on multiple medications for my heart and to try to regulate my nervous system. I have really intense brain fog, especially in the morning and at night. I’ll forget what I’m doing in the middle of what I’m doing. It’s hard for me to verbally communicate with people a lot of times. I’ve been diagnosed by a cardiologist in New York, and the last time I saw her, she said, ‘You know, this might go away, but it also might not.’

My wife saw the news about Trump right before she went to sleep. Actually, I’m not sure she went to sleep — she was awake when I woke up, and she just said, ‘He’s got it.’ I knew exactly what she meant. I was completely unsurprised given the cavalier way that he and everyone around him have been behaving. Then I started going through the thing you go through when you’ve been perpetually gaslit by someone, like, well does he really have it? What would be the point of saying it if he didn’t have it?

I saw this video earlier this week of Mitch McConnell falling down. Before I realized it was Mitch McConnell, I just saw a video of an old man falling down. I had this really sympathetic reaction of almost reaching out toward my laptop screen. When you see an old man falling down, your impulse, because it’s another human being, is to not want him to be hurt. So my immediate impulse with Trump, because I’m a normal human being, is to have a sense of sympathy, but that is immediately followed by the knowledge that this man is responsible for at least 200,000 deaths.” — Heather, 41

What Long-haul COVID Patients Think About Trump’s Diagnosis