Long COVID Creates an Uphill Climb

Tandem cycling requires a high level of coordination and communication between team members. The situational awareness and judgment of the front rider, the Captain or Pilot, is crucial to the safety of the team. My captain suffers from neurological Long Covid. Medical experts say his previous concussions, which appeared to have no long-term consequences, were pushed over a threshold by COVID into the realm of traumatic brain injury (TBI). His difficulties have significantly altered the dynamics of our tandem team.

There are many negative effects of my captain’s TBI and Long Covid. Jay’s brain has numerous episodic blanks around attaching words (think names) to people, streets, and even sometimes “left” and “right”. He knows where he is going to turn us, but his “Left” and mine aren’t always the same place. Or as he says, “The other left.” What used to be straightforward, last-minute warnings can create hesitations, wrong-way leans, and distract us from hazards.

Jay’s cognitive process is often much slower than it used to be. It is easy for him to become overwhelmed by “too much information” bombarding him, by my voice if it’s “too loud” or insistent in his headset, by a request for his opinion while there are other simple decisions to be made. When he says or acts like his brain is overwhelmed, I have to struggle to relax my normal volume and pace of my words so he can get the quiet he needs to pay proper attention to the road and cars. And, I’m so relieved he retains his previous intense concern for our safety.

At times his words or buzzing brain need little more than a brief interruption to my traditional stream of words. At those moments we pedal for a few seconds and he’s ready to resume conversation, although at a reduced rate.

I can think of so many ways our situation could be worse. And one of those is a constant relief to me— Jay isn’t hiding or ashamed of his condition. Frustrated at times, sure, but right out there with friends and strangers. He’ll announce, “I have a traumatic brain injury with COVID having been the final straw. I lose names and words so forgive me if I can’t remember your name next time I see you.” Then he turns toward me, points at me and says, “Just ask her, whoever she is.” He hasn’t lost his sense of humor. He’s still incredibly quick and lighthearted. And amazingly, his word play is intact.

Addendum: Opposite of how our book was written, this piece was originally written by Szifra and fully edited by Jay! And, by the way, things have gotten a bit better since lots of riding in Tucson.

Our book about tandeming in life and on two wheels

Tandem riding & relationships in the Boston Globe