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Siobhan’s Story

Published 11.08.20

Pre-Covid-19, I was a fit, active person with no underlying health conditions.

My symptoms started on 1st April with an intermittent dry cough and sore throat. They were both mild and I presumed I was getting a bit of a cold. By the 6th April the cough was more consistent and I felt a pressure on my chest, so in the absence of testing in my area I took the precaution to self isolate for the recommended 7 days.

During self isolation I experienced chest tightness and shortness of breath. Following the 7 days I wasn’t feeling 100%, but returned to work on the basis that I could work from home. The cough had gone pretty quickly but the chest pain, tightness and shortness of breath prevented me from being able to do basic tasks. (Even trying to load a dishwasher was too much) I am lucky to have a husband who has cared for me throughout and friends who continue to look after my horse.

On 23rd April, as a key worker, I was able to access a local testing centre. My result was negative, but it was explained that around 30% of tests at that time were false negatives and also the time since my first symptoms meant that I was likely no longer hosting the virus and that I was in the recovery/post viral stage.

After a few weeks, I relapsed with worsening breathing issues and my throat felt as though it had a lump, was constructed/swollen the full length of the windpipe. With worsening symptoms had to take 2 weeks off work and complete bed rest. During this time, I experienced huge levels of anxiety and started to have panic attacks. Something which I had never experienced before. I was genuinely afraid I would die, particularly at times when I struggled to breath. I sought counselling at this time which helped.

Again whilst not feeling 100%, but ‘ok’ I returned to working from home and this time on a phased return. I did 4 weeks starting part time, building to the 4th week full time and then week 5 as annual leave. Through this time I did as little as possible, I worked when I could/needed to, but rested at all other times. My symptoms continued and whilst never free of them, I had some ok days, followed by periods where I needed to be back in bed.

After annual leave, I returned to work full time, but within 2 days had the worst relapse to date. In hindsight, I possibly didn’t rest as much as I should have in the very early stages and tried to push through or ignore what my body was telling me. I was back on complete rest for around 4 weeks this time. Symptoms remaining as mainly respiratory in my throat and chest.

For the last week I feel back to where I did when I felt not 100%, but ok if I continue to rest. I still cannot do basic tasks and I have read so much on post viral illness and pacing that I think I am slowly learning what is working for me. Rest, rest and rest is so important, nothing works better and my idea of what rest actually is compared to what I thought rest was has had to change and I know that if I even slightly push on an ok day, I will trigger a relapse in symptoms the following day. I have never felt the fatigue that so many talk about, but my GP explained that I may not feel tired as such, but that my respiratory system is fatigued and needs time and rest to help it recover. That makes sense.

4 months into my journey, I’m still off work (my health is my priority right now) and I am taking it super slowly. Trying to find the balance between the need to rest most of the time to allow the body to heal, but not too much to cause other problems such as deconditioning Of muscles and other systems. I have learnt that I can tolerate up to 1,000 steps per day (slow pace and split across the day) and keeping my heart rate below 100bpm is critical to pacing. More than this and I relapse. I also intersperse a couple of complete rest days per week. At the moment this seems to be working for me, but what works for 1, isn’t necessarily right for someone else. Throughout my rollercoaster journey, my GP has been understanding. I have had more contact with my surgery in the last 4 months than I have had in my life. I keep regular check ins when things worsen. I have had an inhaler, a course of antibiotics, bloods and a chest X-ray. Medical experts are learning as they go about the impact of the virus and at the moment there is no treatment/magic wand. The only frustration is not being able to get a robust assessment of ongoing symptoms. My throat continues to be a significant symptom and has gotten worse as I go on, yet I am told I cannot see an ENT specialist due to current local restrictions on not being able to examine throats. Hopefully soon.

When I initially had symptoms, I believed that the guidance around it being like flu and lasting a couple of weeks for those younger and with no health conditions. However, my experience has been far from that and even though I am 4 months in, there is still a long way to go and as yet no one knows the long term prognosis for those suffering post viral illness. I have learnt a lot and remain hopeful that I will fully recover. I have just had to learn acceptance and set no expectations, managing each day at a time.