As one of the leading minds in the field of overthinking, I’d given a lot of thought to if/when I caught Covid-19. I’d run through all sorts of scenarios and had – eventually – deescalated myself to the thought that if I did catch it, I’d push through it. I’d be ill but, statistically speaking, I should be alright. Ish. I was 28, walked to and from work (amounting to about an hour a day), had just started doing 3 dance classes a week (turns out 80s aerobics was the answer) and had no underlying health conditions. I hadn’t quite accounted for my knack of being the odd one out, the un/lucky one who stumbles into drama and situations that ‘probably’ shouldn’t be possible.
It started off feeling hay fever. I was near certain that was it was – it was the same kind of itchiness around the eyes and nose. Not uncommon for me, so I popped a couple of Loratadine (a specific type I have to take due to allergies that caused my face to swell up on one memorable occasion – see, I’m already proving my earlier point) and went to bed. It was a Sunday night so any not-feeling-right could be written off as the Dread.
I woke up in the early hours with the kind of sore throat that could only be described as having swallowed glass, that was the extent of the burning – as if something was ribbing at my throat. After taking some painkillers and spending several hours on failed attempts to go back to sleep, I called in sick – although I barely had a voice to leave the message explaining my absence.
Then a runny nose joined proceedings. Brilliant. I spent hours googling Covid symptoms, but runny noses and sore throats were varying (low) degrees on the ‘uncommon symptoms’ scale. I’d just have to roll with it.
Cut to the early hours of Tuesday and I wasn’t getting any better. In fact, I was pretty sure things were getting worse. My incredible awful habit of googling symptoms resulted in no answers and no peace. That was when the coughing started. An unwelcome arrival that has truly outstayed it’s welcome, as I still have it – I can say with some certainty and authority that 100 days straight of coughing sounds as painful as it feels, but I’ll get to that later.
That was when I started to get a bit scared, more so on what the right thing to do would be. I’d spent the past 24 hours doing random taste and smell tests to check everything was in working order (can safely say there was a reason we left behind the cinnamon challenge in 2012). But surely, as the advice seemed to be, it was better to get tested just in case? It took eight attempts at filling in the labyrinthian form to finally get a message beyond ‘no tests available’, although attempts 8 and 9 offered me a testing centre 5 miles away – even though I’d already ticked the ‘I don’t have access to a car box.’ Attempt 10 offered me a testing centre a 30 min walk away. Over the past 100 days, there are real stand-out snapshot moments that I can think about again and just feel with every fibre of my being. That walk is one of them (a walk I did at the quietist time possible, and I avoided crossing paths with a single person). I genuinely don’t know how I got to the testing centre, at this point my body was aching, I was sweating all over yet was bitterly cold to my bones, and I was now really scared.
I’d researched the test, watched the video and read as many instructions guides and top tips I could find. The testing centre was empty, with me being the only person being tested the entire time I was there. I wanted to get it all done quickly – as observed my the person appointed to oversee my test who said ‘It’s almost like you don’t want to be here, how speedy you are!’ Any ‘duh!-ness’ I felt entitled to feel in response swiftly evaporated when he explained where in my throat had to put the swab and I asked ‘Not the dangly-dang that swings in the back of my throat?’ I don’t think he twigged the unintended WAP reference…
The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday passed by. One minute I was sure I was getting better, and the result would unquestionably be negative. The next I’d be certain that I was in fact quite ill, more so that I wanted to admit. Yes, I was definitely very tired, but the my ever-permanent wave of anxiety had been dialled to 11.
Thursday morning resulted in the text message informing me that I had tested positive for Covid-19. To describe it as a shock would be an understatement. The next 10 days are a bit of haze. I was beyond tired, now fully aware of what fatigued meant and felt like. I was permi-frustrated, at being stuck in my room and having ‘failed’ by getting sick. I was scared that I could have passed it onto anyone I’d come into contact with the prior week, which provided a weighty amount of guilt that was only lifted by hearing the few who counted as close contacts – including my housemate – had all tested negative. I’d have bursts of energy, when I’d feel fine and normal. But then, within the same hour, I could find myself unable to lift my head from the pillow.
That was when the really brutal coughing took up residence. It genuinely bogles my brain at how much phlegm (yellow, occasionally green – as I have been asked my medical professionals countless times at this point. It’s a deep cough (no daintiness for me!), it’s painful and it’s winding. Persistent is an understatement, omnipresent and omnipotent would do it slightly better justice. And, as recently as last week, it has resulted in violent vomiting. It destroyed my sleep habits and has limited my life in ways previously beyond my comprehension.
After 10 days you’re told you’re no longer contagious and can go back to work. And, while I didn’t fell ‘well’ in any sense of the word, I thought I was ‘enough’. One major thing should have happened during this time, which would in near-certainty delayed my decision to return to work. It was the fact my doctor should have been notified of my positive test result and been in touch to help create a care plan, or at the very least just check-in. Having been the first person I knew to get sick, I didn’t know of this fact. I presumed everyone who had Covid still felt a bit rough afterwards, but just got on with it.
I have many fatal flaws, one of which is my ability to just get on with things when everything indicates that that really shouldn’t be the case. I’m scarily adaptable to my surroundings if I’m doing what I’ve convinces myself is the ‘right thing to do’. (This does make me the human embodiment of the ‘this is fine’ meme with the dog sat in the chair surrounded by fire…) I went back to work, for 8 days. 8 days which increasingly shrank in length as I was getting weaker and more out-of-sorts. I’d returned to work knowing my newly imposed limitations in terms of walking around, how little I could do physically and how brain fog was impeding on finishing far too many sentences and trains of thought. The coughing increased and took over, the frequency of which I lost my breath and just couldn’t get it back became truly terrifying.
I was sent home by my line manager. Entering my flat at 11.30am on a weekday, I felt like a failure. I was clearly unfit for purpose. Another one of my fatal flaws is my adamant certainty and fear that I am not enough, this all -played wonderfully into that neurosis… At this point I had worked myself up into what can euphemistically describe as ‘quite a state’ and brought on a panic attack. The combination of psychologically being unable to breathe meets physically being unable to breath was a paralysing clash of the titans. All I knew was I needed medical help urgently. I talked myself out of calling 999 and went with 111, although I was reluctant to do even that as I felt like I didn’t want to be an inconvenience (third neurosis identified, writing this really is therapeutic it turns out…)
In retrospect, I find it rather darkly hilarious thinking back to that phone call, trying to speak when I couldn’t quite breathe – I promise I didn’t feel that way at the time. At all. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d call 111 – although it would be the most productive – and yet I remain baffled than anyone with a respiratory disorder has to describe their symptoms multiple times to different people. When every breath feels previous, wasting it on repeating the same answers to different people as there’s no centralised system for recording the responses is one of the many, many ludicrous things I’ve found over these months.
A call back from a local GP, who announced titbit about how my GP should have been in contact previously, resulted in my own GP giving me a call. He prescribed an inhaler, antibiotics and a sick note for the following 10 days – with the disclaimer that there was very little advice for them with what to do with patients suffering from Covid. He was, however the first person to describe me as having Long Covid. I would later ask him to look into the highly published research into Long Covid Clincs, he found and referred me to one – it took 3 weeks to get the referral from the hospital and my attempt to book informed me of the 18-week waitlist but to ‘call us on this number if you don’t hear from us by December 11th.’ I gave them a call on December 15, only to be told by a firm but frazzled nurse that they will get in touch with me in late Jan. (Side note: When reporting a fact back like this to your GP, avoid thoughtlessly accompanying it with the phrase ‘And if I’m still sick by then, I don’t know what I’ll do. It led to some difficult questions…)
After confirming with the doctor that it was safe for me and anyone I came into contact with, I returned home to my parent’s house. The past month had been terrifying on my own. It’s an understatement to say I had no energy to cook for myself, or even really look after myself. My convalescence had started at the hotel of mum and dad.
Then the Sunday night happened. That’s another snapshot moment, but I desperately don’t want to dwell on this one. It was the sickest I felt and the lowest, I was also adamant things really weren’t right. My mum stayed up all night with me, sleep was impossible. I was chucked from pillar-to-post by 111, answering the same questions to multiple people and getting no closer to actual medical advice. Come 8am I was put through to a wonderful and warm receptionist at a drop-in clinic, she put me through to the GP who told me in no uncertain terms to go to A&E immediately.
I distinctly remember the fear of not wanting to go in, as I didn’t believe I’d leave hospital. At the very least, I who knew when I’d return home. There was also the uncertainty of what I would see in hospital, I had all manner of visions of how awful the scene awaiting me would be. The receptionists at A&E were uncertain how to categorise me so popped me in the Covid ward – alarmingly yet understandably named The Red Zone. I was escorted by a nurse to a bed which had protective curtains pulled closely tight. My fellow patients, I overhead, were 83-year-old Arthur and 95-year-old Constance.
I had an attentive doctor, busy but kind nurses, who ensured I had all my vitals checked. Lots of blood work, a chest xray and two ECG – the first resulted in concerns over the state of my heart, the second warnings from the doctor to look after my heart. The snapshot from the day I spent there, after being deemed okay enough to go home but only under the proviso I took great care, is during the chest xray. The radiographer brought a portable X-ray to my bed, setting it all up she then asked if ‘I was wearing an underwired bra.’ As I was, she politely turned around as I performed the nifty taking your bra off under your shirt trick that is instilled in anyone who ever had to use a communal changing room during secondary school pe. Except, I hadn’t adjusted my vest top back and so my right breast flopped out of the top. She ducked, almost for cover, in an attempt to protect my modesty. At this point I gave precisely zero shits about anything, I was beyond shame at that point, and just heaved it back into my top.
This wouldn’t be the last time that area of my body would make a performance. About a month later I would go onto sprain that very same breast due to coughing so much – yes, apparently that is a thing. I’m sure there’s a scientific term for the specific muscle I pulled, but my amused doctor diagnosed it well enough during a phone call when I described it as the ‘side boob.’
If I were to describe the past 100 days in chapters, in terms of mood & symptoms, post-A&E visit until now are pretty much the same chapter. It’s also experiencing this chapter that most made me want to write about it all. Having Covid, and it’s Long Covid variant, has taken over my life. In fact it pretty much blew most of it up. This year has seen everyone’s lives become smaller in most ways – limiting what we can do, where we can go and who we can do it with. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to get smaller than that, yet it has. For most of the past 100 days, the aftereffects of Covid have been the prevailing thought dictating almost everything. I’m permanently fatigued with achievable physical activity minimal. My lungs are vocal in their contribution, almost audible in their answering ‘No, you’re not able to do that.’ In answer to everything. I have to negotiate, plan and prioritise – what needs to be done, can it wait, if I do that now I won’t be able to do that later.
I have brain fog, that comes in unpredictable hazes of varying degrees of depth. Last week I forgot the word for ‘dye’ so had to ask the bemused shop assistant where I could ‘Find the substance that turns clothing from one colour to another’ – a verbose if needlessly complicated sentence….
I’m also angry. I’m angry all of the time and with a ferocity I never thought possible. I’m angry that I’m no longer a resident in my own body, but a tenant restricted with all manner of rules and limited capacity. I’m angry that I have no idea when I can undertake a short walk without needing to sit down for hours afterwards and also not risk a vomit-inducing coughing fit. I’m angry that I’ve had new symptoms develop the past few weeks where my joints ache and my muscles sting. I’m angry that I can sit in a chair and feel some semblance of normality yet moving to another destination can be winding and require recovery time – even if the ‘journey’ was just a slow walk down corridor or hallway. Not to mention the fact I can’t remember the last time I saw a flight of stairs as anything other as a Herculean test of strength and wills.
I’m beyond thankful that there are hundreds of way it could have been worse, and that this is the hand I got dealt – a brutal one but there are others in far worse positions. I’m thankful for the amazing family and friends who stepped in – from messages to check-in through to cards and gifts in the post to supply my seemingly endless craving of snacks. I’m thankful I’ve only had to worry about getting myself better, with no dependents who rely on me.
And yet, more than anything, I just really want my life back. I want to feel like me again, not an assemblance of symptoms and broken parts that is barely held together. 100 days of Covid has been 100 days of feeling as if I’ve been stamped as ‘Unfit for Purpose’. In amongst all of this physical pain, I feel like I’d lost myself in the process. To quote my beloved The Ramones, I just really Wanna Be Well.