Updated at 10:51 a.m. ET on September 4, 2020.
The stairs have become my daily Everest. Just six months ago, the steep climb to my fourth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn was a nuisance only when I was carrying bags of groceries. Now, every time I mount those 53 steps, no matter how slowly, even if I’m empty-handed, my heart rate shoots up to marathon-level. I can actually feel the thud-thud in my throat. Sometimes I have to pause between landings to lie on the floor and stick my feet up in the air to avoid passing out.
This unusually rapid beating can also be triggered seemingly by nothing––sitting up in bed, standing up from the toilet. I first noticed it in March, when I came down with COVID-19. Or at least, it seems clear that I came down with COVID-19. My whole household got sick just before the peak of New York City’s outbreak. Like most Americans in the early weeks of the pandemic, we were unable to get tested, so my primary-care physician diagnosed my illness based on symptoms: endless days of fever, loss of taste and smell, sore throat, nausea, exhaustion, body aches, a hacking dry cough, and an intense struggle to breathe.
Most of these symptoms subsided in mid-April, but some have lingered. For months, I needed a twice-daily dose of a steroid inhaler to breathe normally. I’m more tired and brain-fogged than usual. And I’m still dealing with my racing heart. I’ve always been a bit of a fainter: Years ago, I was diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension, a sudden, rapid decrease in blood pressure that sometimes strikes when I stand up too quickly. But now, instead of fainting once or twice a year, I feel that woozy fade from light to dark daily, sometimes even hourly. A few weeks ago, I stood up to make a smoothie and my heart rate zoomed from lying-in-a-hammock to booming-bass-drum.