Fran, from Ireland, explains her experience of having long-COVID.
I caught COVID-19 at the start of 2021. At first it was just like a mild cold, but it quickly progressed into something worse. My head and body ached all over, I was sweating and had the worst sore throat I’d ever experienced. I was so weak – I could barely stand up and my husband had to help me to the toilet and to have a wash. At one point I thought I was getting better – I was able to eat some food, whereas before that I’d only managed fluids. But then I got worse again, and started experiencing heart palpitations and a terrible cough. My GP referred me to a COVID hub, who sent me to hospital. Tests showed that the COVID-19 infection had caused scarring on my lungs.
Back home, I was so weak that I couldn’t even hold my phone. I spent 3 weeks in bed before being able to get up for a few hours each day – but most of that time was spent lying on the sofa. Doing just the smallest thing, such as having a shower, made me so tired. I had no energy, yet I also wasn’t sleeping very well. My breathing got worse and it meant I couldn’t walk very far. My joints ached and my hair started falling out. I also became very hoarse and couldn’t speak at all on some days. I felt really down and didn’t have the motivation or energy to do anything.
I went back to my GP who referred me to a specialist. They discovered that as well as the damage to my lungs, I also had damage to my liver, and my muscle tone was badly affected. I was prescribed a steroid inhaler to help my breathing. The specialist referred me to a long-COVID rehabilitation clinic and a voice specialist. The voice specialist said that my throat muscles had become very tight, and they gave me breathing exercises to do. It took about 3 months of doing these every day before I started to see an improvement.
The long-COVID clinic was amazing. It was great to meet people who were going through the same thing as me and could understand, even if not everyone’s symptoms were the same. We attended two classes a week for 8 weeks. While I often found the rehabilitation exercises difficult – sometimes I had to stop as I felt so weak and nauseous – I slowly started to improve. We learnt how to pace ourselves, making sure to stop for a rest after completing an activity rather than trying to push through. I wished I could have attended for longer but there were so many other people who needed the clinic’s help.
A year on from my infection, my health has improved. I am going through the menopause, which hasn’t helped. I still have bad days and sometimes it feels like I’m going backwards. But on a good day I can walk on the flat without stopping, and I can even manage a hill if I take my time – I avoided walking up hills before. I’m determined to get even better, and I’m making sure I eat healthily and look after myself.
COVID-19 has really changed my life and affected me both physically and mentally, but I don’t want to let it take any more of my life away from me. I can see light at the end of the tunnel, and I know I’m lucky compared to people who have lost their lives with COVID-19. I’ll keep fighting and I know I’ll get there.
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