By Jesenia Gomez
In 2021, New York City Health + Hospitals (NYCHHC) launched the COVID-19 AfterCare program. If you have Long COVID symptoms, you are not alone and we are here to help. I’m referring to you if you’re still having shortness of breath and a dry cough that doesn’t seem to go away after having COVID-19. As an AfterCare Navigator, I want to provide you with anything to help you feel more self-sufficient and healthier. But first, let’s go back in time to how it all started.
Known for its diversity and thousands of tourists from all over the world, loud traffic, and fast-paced living, the city of New York became a quiet place in a span of weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I had the opportunity to work with New York City Health + Hospitals’ then-named “Test & Trace” (now “Test & Treat”) program as a Resource Navigator. The Test & Treat program helps the millions of people affected by COVID.
Whether you are a New York City resident, an out-of-state visitor, or even a tourist, you are never turned away. Being an essential worker in the beginning was scary yet rewarding because I felt so heroic. I was surrounded by lines of people with COVID and had that face-to-face interaction on my field days before the existence of a vaccination protecting against COVID-19. I knew we were making history by guiding the city back to health one test at a time, and later, one vaccination at a time once they became available.
The world is a different place because of the pandemic, especially after so many people have had COVID. As AfterCare Navigator, I am able to connect with people facing different problems. Long COVID impacts people of all ages and does not discriminate. It does not only affect people who were hospitalized because of COVID-19, but also those who had little to no symptoms. These affected people are called “long haulers”.
Being an AfterCare Resource Navigator helped me notice that many people just wanted to be heard during times of uncertainty. I am able to provide the resources for their more current needs. My role has taught me to become a better listener and grow more compassionate for strangers. I am able to connect to so many.
I remember a patient who was in his mid-thirties with severe Long COVID symptoms. He had trouble breathing, a strong dry cough, anxiety, brain fog and fatigue. He explained it to his primary care physician and after running labs and tests, nothing was found. He wanted to find answers. Finally, I helped him contact a nurse from the COVID Center of Excellence and explain his symptoms. She assigned him to a specialist doctor at the NYCHHC East Tremont center in the Bronx. He was given medication to ease his dry cough, referred to therapy for his anxiety and received treatment for his shortness of breath. I felt fulfilled after that.
There was another woman who was constantly visiting the doctor due to her symptoms and spent much of her finances on transportation via a cab service. Because of COVID-19, she developed social anxiety that didn’t allow her to take public transportation or be surrounded by large crowds. At the time, AfterCare offered a program with RideHealth, and she was able to use it in order to go to her appointments and visit the AfterCare COVID centers. She expressed gratitude for those free rides. Through that experience, I learned to communicate better with the clients by being more confident in my words as I spoke. It gave her assurance.
Connecting with long haulers gives me a sense of purpose. I have learned so much and contributed so much. My work has helped a lot of people, and I am proud of the things I have accomplished. For the community to know that there are people readily available to help them is a relief. I hope that people in need of these resources take advantage of what is available so that they can feel supported and live happier lives.