‘I was scared I was going to die’: Three Long Covid sufferers share their experiences of living with chronic symptoms

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The individuals are among those encouraging people to get vaccinated

Many adults make a full recovery from Covid-19 but for a significant number of people, the road to rehabilitation doesn’t end once they are clear of the infection. It’s estimated over a million people in the UK continue to experience chronic symptoms – ranging from shortness of breath to extreme tiredness – for months after their body is clear of the disease, a condition known as Long Covid.

The issue is so concerning that £19.6 million of government funding through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has been allocated for an extensive programme of 15 new research studies that will help improve understanding of Long Covid and identify effective treatments.

While more than 47 million people in the UK have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine – that’s nearly 90% of the adult population – there are still many who have not – leaving them less protected against the virus and Long Covid.

We spoke to three people about their journeys with Long Covid – and the advice they would give to others. 

Pastor Herbie Mckenzie, 67, contracted Covid in September 2020, despite following guidelines to protect himself and those around him.

After isolating at home for 10 days, his condition worsened and he began coughing up blood.

“I was told to go to the hospital but didn’t want to – mainly because of the increased number of deaths I was hearing about. I was then asked to visit the walk-in centre. When I got there and after an initial test, I was told to go straight to A&E,” Pastor Herbie says.

He would spend a week in hospital before he was well enough to go home, but even then his symptoms did not dissipate.

“After discharge from hospital, I had further tests. The coughing and [difficulty] breathing continued for several weeks.”

Now, months after he was infected with the disease, Pastor Herbie’s health continues to be affected by Covid-19. He’s unable to do a lot of physical activities, is limited to light exercise and for a long time felt conscious about coughing in front of other people in case they thought he was still contagious.

Pastor Herbie, who caught Covid before the vaccine was available but has now had both doses of the vaccine, admits that he initially had reservations about getting the jab.

“I was sceptical, but having contracted Covid and gone through a most frightening experience, I did my research and considered all the arguments and [I’m] confident that this is the right thing to do in order to save lives,” he says.

Research shows that two doses of a Covid vaccine reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalisation by more than 90% from the Delta variant, which is the dominant strain in the UK.

Had Pastor Herbie had access to the vaccine before he contracted the virus and chosen to take it, it is likely that he would not have ended up in hospital.

Semi-retired building project manager Donald Green, another Long Covid sufferer, also had some reservations about getting the vaccine at first.

The 64-year-old, who has now had both doses of the vaccine, says he was very fit before Long Covid struck. But that’s all changed.

“I find each task very draining now and it takes me twice as long to complete most tasks,” he says.

Donald struggles to walk long distances, experiences muscle pain and was advised to use an oximeter, a device that detects when oxygen levels in the blood drops to dangerous levels.

Donald Green

He’s also had to stop visiting sites, something he did regularly in his role as a building project manager, and now works remotely.

While Donald is alive to share his story, something he believes is important to do as it may help others, having lost eight friends to Covid, he’s acutely aware that others haven’t been so lucky.

Audrey Rochester, 59, feared she would die when she was seriously ill with Covid.

“I couldn’t breathe properly and the coughing was taking its toll, making me tired and unable to sleep properly,” she says.

“I prayed like I had never prayed before because even to get out of the bed to get to the bathroom took every ounce of strength that I had. The coughing was so bad I can only say that I sounded like a seal, it interrupted my sleep, it left me fighting for breath and my chest feeling like it was being tightened with an elastic band,” she adds.

Audrey Rochester

Audrey was fortunate to survive but sadly lost her partner to the virus in April 2020.

The last time she saw him in person he was being wheeled into an ambulance.

“He asked me for a hug, but this could not be done,” she says. “Covid robbed us of saying a proper goodbye in so many ways.”

While she was never hospitalised, the lasting effects of contracting – both physical and emotional – are still with Audrey.

“I am still left with a horrible taste in my mouth and heart palpitations,” she says. “Fighting Covid was the most difficult health experience of my life, compounded by the fact that I had to fight it alone without my partner and the support of family and friends when I needed them most.”

Getting vaccinated against Covid is the best way you can protect yourself and others from Covid-19 and Long Covid.

To book your Covid vaccination appointment, visit nhs.uk/CovidVaccine or call 119 free of charge.

Contact your GP if you’re worried about symptoms 4 weeks or more after having Covid-19.

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