The opera talent lost his voice after a long Covid
A long battle with Covid robbed soprano Christina Orjis of her ability to sing, before a respiratory specialist helped get her health and career back on track.
The 31-year-old Auckland-born artist endured a nightmarish ordeal after contracting Covid-19 while studying in Manchester in early 2020. She relapsed seven months later with lengthy Covid symptoms which left her bedridden for nine months and unable to sing for a year.
“I struggled to breathe, and when tested, I ended up with only 20% of the lung function and capacity of a normal person,” says Orjis.
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“I also struggled with an excessively high heart rate, which affected my energy and made me feel very tired and quite dizzy at times.”
Illness forced Orjis – who returned to New Zealand to overcome uncertainty at the start of the pandemic – to postpone the second year of her master’s degree at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, which she is now looking forward to completing at his return. in England in September.
“I felt like I had wasted a year of my life. I kind of slept my life,” she says.
“In the worst part, all I did was get up to eat and sleep the rest of the time, and I couldn’t do anything.
“After that, I wished I could do something, but I just didn’t have the energy or the will.”
Breathing difficulties meant Orjis’ misery was compounded by her inability to sing, and she needed considerable help from an in-demand respiratory specialist as part of a long recovery that is a work in progress. .
Falling in love with singing at age 7, Orjis struggled without being able to practice or perform.
“It was kind of a double whammy because [that was] the hardest thing. It’s the longest time I’ve ever sung,” she says.
“I no longer see a respiratory therapist, but that doesn’t mean the work has stopped. She is convinced that I know what I have to do and that I can do it myself. But if I have any problems, I can email him.
“She is now very busy with people who have had the Covid. So considering she didn’t need to see me, [it has] freed up places for the most desperate people.
“Having lost a year of my life, I don’t want to lose any more to Covid, hence the reason I’m going back [to Manchester],” she says.
“But I’m still being very careful. There are mitigations you can make to make sure you know you’re not catching it.
“I would like to see the masks reintroduced [indoors] and even [a] push for negative rat tests for more [events],” she says.
“People would still go to a concert even if it was pop music, or whatever, if they just had to wear masks and produce negative RATs.”
Now healthy enough to resume singing, Orjis has performed this month with the New Zealand Opera Chorus in the Verdi Requiem and with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra at City Hall in Verdi’s Il Trovatore.
In December, she will play the lead role of Rosalinde in the opera Die Fledermaus in Manchester, after submitting a video audition from her home on Auckland’s North Shore.
“It was really encouraging. It makes me realize that I haven’t lost anything by being here. I did not stagnate. I was still able to move forward, which is really great.
“If people learn to breathe with their nose or their diaphragm, it helps them recover”
When Orjis found herself with long Covid, she sought help from respiratory physiotherapist Brooke Peirce to relearn how to breathe.
And she’s not the only one. Peirce, based in Auckland, has noticed an increase in the number of long Covid patients she has seen in recent months. These customers range from athletes and business executives to students and tradespeople.
Although their symptoms may differ, Peirce says a respiratory physiotherapist can help with a variety of long Covid symptoms.
As a respiratory disease, many patients have symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic cough or “increased lung secretion”.
While Peirce works with clients to help them with these respiratory symptoms, she also has a number of people seeking help for brain fog and fatigue.
” In this situation [treatment is] more based on relaxation or stimulation. People have to learn to pace their activity,” she says.
University of Auckland immunologist Dr Anna Brooks said New Zealand was facing a large number of long Covid cases as a result of Omicron. (First published May 2022)
For many long-time Covid sufferers, Peirce’s work is largely focused on “breathing pattern re-education”. Many people breathe through their mouth rather than their nose, which leads to inefficient breathing.
“It consumes a lot of energy or can also create anxiety. If people learn to breathe with their nose or diaphragm, it helps them recover,” she says.
And it’s not just Long Covid that respiratory physiotherapists are helping during the pandemic. Peirce works with a number of sportspeople, including professional and Commonwealth Games athletes, who are seeking treatment to recover from a single case of Covid-19.
“This treatment mainly consists of strengthening the respiratory muscles and doing breathing coordination exercises. I just try to get them to improve their ability to ventilate appropriately for their sports,” she says.
When it comes to athletes and Covid recovery, Peirce uses an “inspiratory muscle trainer”. It is a device that allows the client to breathe against resistance.
“It’s like a dumbbell for your diaphragm. You start at a certain resistance and you increase it, so it gets harder.
how to breathe
Breathing is the most natural thing we do as humans, but Peirce says many of us don’t breathe effectively. And inefficient breathing can have a significant number of adverse effects.
“Because it’s so fundamental, it affects us in a multi-systemic way,” she says, adding that improper breathing can impact the lungs, oxygen levels, brain function, heart rate. , blood pressure and digestion.
“It’s so multi-system that so many things can go wrong when you don’t breathe well. It really affects people in different ways,” she says.
Inefficient breathing can also affect people’s anxiety levels, Peirce says. This mainly comes from breathing through the mouth rather than the nose.
“When you breathe through your mouth, you may tend to use your upper chest a lot more. There is a more direct route to chest breathing when you breathe through your mouth,” she says. In short, mouth breathing can lead to an increased rate of breathing, which can lead to a number of physiological changes.
“It can alter the CO2 levels in your blood, and it can also increase the amount of sympathetic nerve activity.”
This autonomic nervous system is the body’s way of controlling all the things that happen without you realizing it, she says. Shallow and accelerated breathing affects the nervous system which, in turn, can cause anxiety.
“The sympathetic nervous system is associated with feeling anxious and looking for threats – your perception of threat is much higher. physiologically cause feelings of anxiety,” she says.
Although understanding that breathing properly helps is one thing, how do people make sure it is? Peirce says a lot of it is about having a few basics.
The most important thing, she says, is to breathe through your nose.
“Inhale into your diaphragm. Use your nose, rest your chest,” she says, adding that you shouldn’t see any major chest movements when you breathe.
“And when you are at rest, try to relax. A daily practice of giving your body the opportunity to relax, not sitting in front of a screen, but simply spending time relaxing or breathing through your nose while lying down,” she says.
And you don’t need much to tell the difference. In fact, just 10 minutes a day will help.