My life was humbled by a single word in a text: positive.
I got Covid-19 in October 2020 at the age of 19.
When I was a Freshers representative for Durham University in my sophomore year, I developed a sore throat and a persistent cough, so I took a PCR test. I lived in a dorm for seven people.
That was before vaccines or any kind of herd immunity were introduced.
At first I naively assumed that my childhood would protect me from the worst disease. But soon the sore throat, fever and cough turned into a whole body collapse.
It was a mixture of hallucinations, wheezing, coughing up blood, and irrationally setting 10 alarms every night hoping someone would wake my exhausted body the next morning.
I spent much of my isolation believing I wouldn’t make it and believing that phone calls home might have been my last conversations with my family. I never told them how bad it was, partly because I didn’t want to upset them and partly because I couldn’t find the words.
I tried to attend university contact hours on Zoom in bed, passing out all the time.
Halfway through my isolation, I started coughing up blood and called 911. After being told to come to the emergency room in an hour, I waited outside in the cold for 45 minutes.
I could barely stand for a few minutes and struggled to stay upright. A doctor eventually checked my blood pressure and pulse and told me to go home.
Even after the 14 days of isolation, my lungs felt like they were about to collapse and I was floating around in a slightly suffocating trance.
Medical professionals kept telling me I would be fine because I was young, so I started telling myself I had no excuse to slow down. I tried to attend lectures and seminars to keep my snowball workload under control.
Finally, a month later, I went to the doctor, where I was given antibiotics for secondary pneumonia.
But even after the five-day course, I still had an agonizing sigh as I tried to drag my tired body up one of Durham’s many hills.
In the months since my positive Covid result, my heart was racing like crazy on a normal day after climbing a flight of stairs or a slight incline – even just getting up can cause this.
Extreme fatigue caused words to blur as my vision erratically lost focus and doubled. Ringing in my ears would dull my hearing.
At the end of each day, I felt utterly exhausted, even if I spent that time working from my bed.
Every time I went to a GP, they just didn’t know what to do because medical tests failed to yield a blanket diagnosis and my massive symptoms just kept raging.
This included things like my left arm or right leg going completely numb for long periods of time or having the occasional pseudo-heart attack as severe stabbing pain in my chest spread to my arms, neck, back and abdomen.
So it was not surprising that my NHS app showed that I had symptoms of 19 different health problems and that I had 52 consultations in about nine months.
And not only my physical health was affected, my mental health also collapsed.
When I heard people coughing, I gasped because I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I often dreaded going to bed because of the memories of my isolation that haunted me.
My extreme symptoms were so uncontrollable in panic that the only way I could relax was to reconcile the thought of dying over and over again.
To recap the next two years, my thyroid function was unstable, I needed an MRI to rule out a possible brain tumor, and my beating heart narrowly escaped being diagnosed with a heart condition called postural tachycardia syndrome.
But it was about six months after that first positive result that I was first introduced to the term ‘pulmonary covid’. Four months later I was referred to a long Covid clinic – and in September 2021 I was diagnosed.
I went through the stages of grieving. Initially I denied having Covid for a long time because the thought of Covid still being a part of me was too terrifying to accept. I was angry with my body for failing me when it should be fit and healthy.
I also felt absolutely miserable watching all my friends go about their typical college life while limiting the time I was out of bed. I became disconnected from my body and felt like it had been hijacked by this disease that had forced the world into a dystopian shutdown.
I started a six month NHS rehab with fortnightly hospital appointments where I was literally taught how to breathe again. This included gradually building the habit of pushing my stomach out when inhaling to force air into the lower part of my lungs so they could work more efficiently. All aspects of my daily routine have been changed to aid in my recovery.
This included establishing a strict time when I would sleep each night and wake up each morning, making sure my diet was as nutritious as possible, and that my exercise was consistent with the Postural Tachycardia Syndrome Rehabilitation Program with horizontal exercises such as rowing, swimming , or cycling follows.
During this time I continued to struggle with my mental health, having terrible nightmares and insomnia.
It took me about a year and a half before I finally started to accept that my formerly athletic, active, and healthy body wasn’t what I’m living in now.
Gradually I started to approach my case of long-term Covid as a complete mental and physical burnout and organized sessions with an osteopath, a health coach and a homeopath and started an 11 week course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
The osteopath helped me release the lingering fight-or-flight stress in my body, the health coach taught me to take responsibility for caring for a chronically ill body, and the homeopath gave me several medications to balance everything naturally . my hormones.
The CBT sessions helped me overcome the anger and heartbreak I was feeling—which manifested itself in self-defeating behaviors—so I could focus on recovery and acceptance.
Somewhere between all those dates, I finally managed to ground myself again.
Even today, I still have to be wary of noticeable symptoms on a daily basis, as my heart is often pounding and beating, dizziness is my constant state, and I have to be constantly fit to keep an eye on my chronic fatigue.
Just a few days ago, I found myself in the emergency room with stabbing chest pains and a numb left arm for nearly 24 hours. Again, these symptoms were simply attributed to the long Covid.
But I am no longer controlled by my condition. Last year I graduated from university, got a Cambridge CELTA qualification and an NCTJ. I have traveled, sported, socialized and lived.
I may not be as athletic, social, and busy at 21 as I’d like to be, but I’ve learned to live in my new reality.
As with anything, you don’t realize what you take for granted until you can no longer do it.
The doctors have told me it may take a few years for my body to process the trauma I suffered, as well as my psyche.
The thought of being hit by Covid again scares me, but I’ve been wearing two lotus pendants around my neck for almost a year now.
The lotus flower is often recognized as a symbol of rebirth and the pendants remind me of what I have survived.
I am a highly experienced and well-connected journalist, with a focus on healthcare news. I have worked for several major news outlets, and currently work as an author at 24 news recorder. My work has been featured in many prestigious publications, and I have a wide network of contacts in the healthcare industry. I am highly passionate about my work, and strive to provide accurate and timely information to my readers.