‘I’ve had to relearn how to live’ - Nurse, 35, shares battle with long Covid
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
After five months of debilitating pain left her unable to pick up her four children or work, all nurse Hannah Wiltshire hoped for was a diagnosis.
The 35-year-old had tested positive for coronavirus in May while working on the Covid ward at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) but her health continued to decline with each passing month.
But it was only in early October, after months of battling for a diagnosis, doctors told Mrs Wiltshire she had long Covid.
Her symptoms include brain fog, extreme fatigue and a constant “fizzing” pain in her upper arms and thighs.
Mrs Wiltshire, from Easton, said: “Funnily enough, I didn’t even think I had coronavirus at the time as I didn’t have the typical symptoms and just felt a bit under the weather with tiredness and a headache.
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“I was then tested at work and was quite surprised when the result was positive.”
But during two weeks of self-isolation, Mrs Wiltshire became bed-bound and found even drinking water was a challenge.
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She said: “I just slept and the entire period was a blur. The thought of doing anything was too much. It felt like I just lost two weeks of my life.”
It was only after seven weeks that Mrs Wiltshire could muster up the strength to go back to work. She did one shift and has been too unwell to return since.
Mrs Wiltshire then suspected she was suffering from ‘long Covid’, a condition which affects around 10pc of 18-49 year-olds and rises to 22pc of over 70s according to King’s College London research.
Professor Tim Spector of Kings College London, who leads the Covid Symptom Study, said 60,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus have reported having symptoms, ranging from kidney dysfunction to clotting disorders, for more than three months.
She said: “I used to be really active seven days of the week but now my goal is just to be able to do one thing on my own.
“When I used to walk with my four children I would be really on the ball and able to concentrate but now I can’t do that.
“If they’re all crying I can’t think straight or plan for the day and I have to run everything past my husband. People don’t understand how debilitating that is.
“I also have a constant fizzing pain in my muscles. When my youngest, who is three-years-old, falls over and wants picking up I have to work out how to bend down and give him a hug so it doesn’t hurt so much. I have had to relearn how to live.”
But, like many sufferers, Mrs Wiltshire’s GP was unable to give a diagnosis.
She said: “At that point I was losing it and crying even though the GP did everything they could to find the root of the problem.
“I can really see how people lose faith. I started to question if I was making it up and it was all in my head.”
In England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is still working on the medical definition of long Covid.
Doctors are also awaiting NICE clinical guidelines, due in November, on the support that long Covid patients should receive.
Three weeks ago Mrs Wiltshire was referred to the rheumatology department at the NNUH and was told she had long Covid and post viral fatigue.
She said: “It was a breakthrough and such a relief to be able to tell people I have been officially diagnosed. It was a big deal for me.”
The diagnosis came shortly after Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, announced £10m will be invested to help kick start long Covid clinics across the country.
Patients at the clinics will have a physical assessment, which will identify any chronic health issues, and cognitive and psychological assessments.
Doctors have told Mrs Wiltshire to “not even think” about working for the rest of the year and said the condition could last for 12 months.
She said: “I’m just taking each day as it comes.”
For advice and information on living with long Covid, visit www.yourcovidrecovery.nhs.uk