“It takes a long time,” said Ms. Colombi, 59, who lives in Truccazzano, outside the northern city of Milan. “I can’t get back into my natural rhythms.”
Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic — its intensive care units inundated and its elderly dying in droves before the tsunami reached Spain, France, the United States or Britain. And so Italy is also ahead in coming to grips with the long duration of the illness and the lasting consequences for some survivors.
Many Italians have grown painfully familiar with the way the infection can hang on for weeks, the symptoms can linger for weeks more, and full recovery can take longer still — if it ever arrives. Of the more than 218,000 people in Italy who have tested positive, more than 30,000 have died and the government lists more than 103,000 as recovered.
The stubbornness of the virus and the length of the convalescence have become topics of conversation in northern Italy where some of the longest-suffering Italians are finding themselves in physical and financial uncertainty, unable to shake sickness and fatigue and get back to work.
“We have seen many cases in which people take a long, long time to recover,” said Alessandro Venturi, the director of the San Matteo hospital in the Lombardy town of Pavia, adding that the discomfort often seems to last even longer for people with lighter symptoms. “It’s not the sickness that lasts for 60 days, it is the convalescence,” he said. “It’s a very long convalescence.”
Most people who catch the virus have few symptoms or none, but some get very sick, most often with pneumonia. Any pneumonia damages the lungs, which can take months to heal, and doctors warn that the harm might not be completely reversible.Studies also point to kidney, heart, liver and neurological damage, often from secondary infections, and no one knows what the long-term prospects are for those patients.
But even some of the infected who have avoided pneumonia describe a maddeningly persistent and unpredictable illness, with unexpected symptoms. Bones feel broken. The senses dull. Stomachs are constantly upset. There are good days and then bad days without apparent rhyme nor reason.
Dr. Annalisa Malara, an intensive care physician in Codogno, southeast of Milan, who diagnosed Italy’s first case of the outbreak in February, said there was still no clear understanding of why the virus and its effects lingered so long.