Dr. Shaban Faruqui, strapped into a gurney, rolled down the hallway five months ago at Baton Rouge General Medical Center to cheers and applause from the hospital’s employees.
It was May 18, two months after he was hospitalized with the coronavirus. As the former chief of gastroenterology at the hospital, everyone had been rooting for him.
He had survived the worst of it and was going home. To a wife of 45 years, to three daughters and four grandchildren who had hung paintings of hearts and sunny skies on the walls of his Baton Rouge home to greet him.
When he arrived home in the ambulance, Faruqui’s fingers fluttered with urgency when he saw his wife. She grabbed his hand. A doctor herself, she would oversee his care as he recovered.
That day marked what the Faruqui family thought would be the end of a long struggle with the coronavirus.
What they didn’t realize then, and what is becoming clear to some other coronavirus patients and their families, is that the fight for survival doesn’t end when a patient leaves the hospital.
On the Louisiana Department of Health website, a hopeful green number ticks up each week in the left corner of the state’s coronavirus dashboard. It represents the many “presumed recovered” people who survived their initial infection. There are 161,792 of them in Louisiana as of the most recent count.
The state considers someone recovered if they meet one of two criteria. Either it has been more than 14 days since they tested positive and they aren’t in a hospital or dead, or if they are still alive 21 days after a positive test.
The assumption baked into the dashboard is that people are through the worst of the infection if they’re out of the hospital or a few weeks out from the initial sickness. The majority of people recover in that time period.
But the metric was created before there was an understanding of the continuing coronavirus-related symptoms that some people face. And more and more, doctors say that many of those “presumed recovered” patients still are far from certain to have a full recovery.
“I don’t presume all those people are recovered. A lot of those people are still sick,” said Dr. Josh Denson, a pulmonologist who in March treated the first severe case of COVID-19 that occurred at University Medical Center in New Orleans.
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