They don’t struggle to breathe—but COVID-19 is starving them of oxygen
One alarming symptom robs many patients of blood oxygen well before they notice. Doctors are racing to understand it.
Standing in her patient’s living room, Mari Seim was perplexed. The man, in his 60s, had fallen ill with flu-like symptoms more than a week before. His breathing rate had climbed, so his daughter called the Taarnaasen Medical Center, the clinic where Seim works as a general practitioner, just outside Oslo, Norway. With COVID-19 at the forefront of her mind, Seim set out to check on the man, and she wasn’t prepared for what she found.
“He was sitting in a chair, and he was smiling,” she says. “He didn’t seem bothered in any way.”
Yet his breaths came in rapid succession, nearly triple the normal rate. A faint blue tinted his lips and fingers. She truly didn’t grasp how sick he