Dancing in times of Covid during one of the Dutch Fieldlab experiments. Photo by © Maartje Geels/HH

Knocked down by long Covid

‘The old me is gone’

Dancing in times of Covid during one of the Dutch Fieldlab experiments. Photo by © Maartje Geels/HH
Covid? I’m young and healthy, I don’t need to worry about that. That was how many students felt last year. But then they got long Covid. ‘My heart rate matches that of your average marathon runner.’
25 May om 11:52 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 25 May 2022
om 11:53 uur.
May 25 at 11:52 AM.
Last modified on May 25, 2022
at 11:53 AM.
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Door Remco van Veluwen

25 May om 11:52 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 25 May 2022
om 11:53 uur.
Avatar photo

By Remco van Veluwen

May 25 at 11:52 AM.
Last modified on May 25, 2022
at 11:53 AM.
Avatar photo

Remco van Veluwen

Studentredacteur Volledig bio Student editor Full bio

Marit Slob (19) was only a little short of breath and sniffly when she contracted Covid in January 2021. ‘I had been obeying all the rules, but I figured that if I got it that would be it. The cold wasn’t that big a deal.’

But a few weeks after she’d been sick, when the virus had supposedly long left her body, she was still experiencing symptoms. Nearly eighteen months after she tested positive, the medical student still suffers heart palpitations. ‘My heart rate matches that of your average marathon runner. When I stand up, it increases by forty beats a minute. Walking up the stairs at a normal speed gives me a heart rate of 190 bpm.’ 

Long Covid has become a big problem in the Netherlands, and it affects young people, too. Thousands of people are unable to go to work and are stuck at home with symptoms that can’t be satisfactorily explained. They’re suffering from extreme fatigue, headaches, and palpitations. They have a hard time focusing and talk about ‘brain fog’, in which everything’s hazy. Students like Marit, who were seemingly barely affected by the infection, also get it.

Marit: ‘I just want to live my life like a student, especially now that restrictions have been lifted. But I can’t.’


Philosophy student Chris van Vliet (24) has the same story. Ever since he tested positive a little over a year ago, he’s been knocked flat on his ass. ‘Fatigue doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s as though all the energy has been sucked out of my body.’ 

I can’t even watch television anymore

Medical student Sanne Schilstra (22) is suffering from extreme irritability after she was infected in June of 2021. ‘Every single form of light and sound leads to intense fatigue. Even a flying buzzing by my head bothers me. Everything comes at me with the same intensity, like I’m always on edge’, she says. ‘Normally, I enjoy the music in the supermarket. Now I’m suddenly noticing how loud it is. Not to mention all the people talking, as well as the bright lights.’

Sanne’s symptoms got so bad she was rushed to the emergency room several times. She was throwing up day and night and got so weak she couldn’t walk anymore. What was worse, she was about to start her internship. But this was impossible, since a few minutes of conversation already left her exhausted. ‘Normally, I loved watching television, but even that has become impossible.’

Drop out

In the end, she had no choice but to drop out of university. She went back to her parents in Nijmegen. ‘Giving notice on my room felt particularly definitive. I left everything that I’d created here over the past five years behind. It was really difficult.’

While her department tried to help her find an alternative solution, it didn’t work out. ‘I really have to get better before I can continue.’

Chris also had to quit his studies because of long Covid. He did sign up for a course but couldn’t get past the first page of the syllabus. ‘I couldn’t even focus on my phone, let alone philosophical texts.’

Chris: It’s as though all the energy has been sucked out of my body.’

Low point

He reached a low point last year, when he was unable to get out of bed for days. His study adviser referred him to the student dean. ‘But because I’m doing an extra bachelor, I couldn’t lay claim to the graduation fund. My student loans are getting out of hand, I’m really worried. And how am I supposed to write a thesis if I’m still feeling like this? I want to, but my body and my brain aren’t cooperating.’

Marit is still in school, but she’s not having an easy time of it, either. She’s still in her first year and hasn’t earned the required number of ECTS yet. That means she has a mandatory tutor meeting twice a week.

How am I supposed to write my thesis like this?

Because of her condition, she has permission to attend these meetings online. But even then, they’re exhausting, she says. ‘I’m trying to spend all the energy I have on studying. My social life is coming in second. I just don’t have any energy left after I’m done studying.’ 

But it’s frustrating. Marit wants nothing more than to go out with her friends or exercise. ‘I’m a first-year and I just want to live my life like a student, especially now that restrictions have been lifted. But I can’t.’ 


On top of that, her condition is difficult to explain. No one she knows contracted long Covid. ‘My friends try to understand, but it’s just difficult for people my age to comprehend why I can’t climb a set of stairs. My friends are great, but it’s hard sometimes that they don’t know what it’s really like.’

Sanne also misses student life and the friends she left behind in Groningen. Most of all, however, she misses herself. ‘The old me is basically gone. I don’t know if I’ll ever get better and whether I’ll ever get back to who I was. It’s so hard to try and let that go. So hard to see others go on with their lives while I’m stuck at home, sick. I can’t do anything spontaneously or as a matter of course anymore.’

Chris is struggling with the fact that people seem to think he’s living the good life. After all, he’s not doing much and rests a lot. ‘But it genuinely feels like a prison. I genuinely can’t do anything. I have to rest. Sure, I’ve got nothing on the schedule, but I have no choice. It’s not as nice as it sounds.’

Sanne: Even a flying buzzing by my head bothers me.’


What makes it worse is the uncertainty about their condition and what their future will look like. ‘I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever get back to my old life’, says Sanne. 

Other people don’t seem to be all that interested. They don’t see what’s happening, and they don’t ask about it, either. ‘I can tell that the people around me think the pandemic is over. In the meantime, I’m still confronted with it every single day’, says Chris. ‘That’s a pretty lonely feeling.’

It feels like a prison

Facebook groups where fellow long-Covid sufferers talk about it help, says Chris. Especially when there are people talking about how they’re slowly getting better. ‘Reading how someone has been able to do more and meet with friends again is really encouraging for the others.’ 

Fortunately, he seems to be on the mend, too. ‘Six months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to have this conversation. I’m slowly getting back into doing fun stuff, so I hope that’s an encouragement to other people with long Covid.’


The three students think the government should do more to identify and acknowledge long Covid in society. But most importantly, Chris feels, is that we should take care of our neighbours. 

‘If you know someone who has long Covid, or who’s chronically ill or depressed, ask them if there’s anything you can do to help’, he says. ‘It can be as simple as offering to cook for them, getting them groceries, or doing the dishes. It could really unburden them. Just bringing them a meal can mean so much.’

Research into long Covid

Assistant professor of clinical neuropsychology Stefanie Enriquez-Geppert was put in charge of a study last year in which master students focus on the long-term effects of Covid-19. Symptoms of long Covid include dizziness, extreme fatigue, and headaches, as well as neurocognitive effects. These include the deterioration of their intellectual power, as well as social skills. 

A survey of four hundred people showed that those suffering from long Covid, who represented approximately half of respondents,  

still had trouble performing everyday tasks after six months. ‘This involves things like remembering what you were about to get at the shops’, Enriquez-Geppert explains. 

People whose Covid-19 symptoms were severe also suffered more severe neurocognitive issues. ‘Respondents said the issues were a huge burden that affected their daily lives. They also suffered from sombre and mildly depressive episodes’, says Enriquez-Geppert. She now wants to focus on ways to help the patients recover from the illness, for instance through cognitive training.