I've had long Covid - Here's what it's like
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY
She had coronavirus more than a year ago, and now Karen Ward is stepping down as a north Norfolk district councillor. She spoke to STUART ANDERSON about her experience with long Covid, bullying and being the subject of a police investigation.
She was among the first wave of coronavirus patients, enduring the disease for almost two weeks in March last year.
But after the acute phase wore off, Karen Ward did not feel herself returning to what had felt like 'normal'.
It became increasingly clear she had the condition that has now come to be known as 'long Covid', and ended up having to take time out from her job as a human resources manager at the Open University.
The 54-year-old, who lives in Holt, said: "It took me most of April before I had the energy to get back to work. But as the year went on, I never fully recovered. It's like chronic fatigue."
Ms Ward said the condition hit her B12 and iron levels, leaving her anemic, and although she could go three or four days when her energy levels were fine, she would soon get dragged down again.
"At my work we don't schedule meetings for the middle of the afternoon to encourage people to get outside," she said.
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"I'd use that time to have a quick powernap, and then I'd get to the end of the day and still just be wiped out."
In December 2019, Ms Ward had hoped to succeed Norman Lamb as North Norfolk's MP, but she came second in the election behind Conservative, Duncan Baker.
She is now standing down as councillor for Coastal ward on North Norfolk District Council, wanting to focus on her recovery and her career.
Ms Ward said: "I've always been an active councillor and I didn't want to feel like I was doing half a job."
Ms Ward said that following a recent round of blood tests she had been taking vitamin supplements, which seemed to be making a difference.
She said: "The days when I'm really wiped out are getting fewer so I'm hoping I'm on the right track."
Ms Ward also lost her sense of smell - a common Covid symptom - and is now undertaking 'smell training' to try and revive it.
She said: "You get sent little pots with eucalyptus, clove, lemon and rose and you have to smell each one for 20 seconds in the morning and again in the evening. You keep a smell diary, where you say what you can smell and how strong it was."
Ms Ward said it was a "strange process" but after eight weeks she was starting to notice an improvement.
Her struggles of the past year have been complicated by being a key figure in a police investigation into her links to a consultant the council took on to carry out a review of its operations.
Police ended the probe earlier in March after finding "no criminality" and a previous investigation the council carried out with the Local Government Association had also found no wrongdoing.
Ms Ward said political rivals had made accusations about her involvement, but police had told her she could not respond publicly because of their ongoing enquiries.
She said: "Even though I knew I'd done nothing wrong, it's still upsetting to be accused of something. I had no right of reply, so when accusations were repeated at full council, I thought that was really unfair."
Ms Ward said she had also faced harassment by some members of the public, which was part of the reason she moved from Sheringham to Holt in the past year. She said fellow Lib Dem district councillor Liz Withington had also been the subject of abuse.
Ms Ward said: "I got some nasty letters, anonymous notes posted through my door at home. It got to the point where we'd go to Tesco and people would come up and start being abusive towards us. I never expected as a district councillor not to feel entirely safe in my own town."
Sarah Bütikofer, NNDC leader, said it had been a "privilege" to serve alongside Ms Ward.
She said: "Karen has always put the best interests of the residents of her ward and of North Norfolk first.
"During her time on the council she has chaired the overview and scrutiny committee, and been the portfolio holder for planning whilst playing an instrumental part in driving forward our agenda for change."
Ms Ward's council seat will be contested at a by-election on May 6.