My chest continued to feel tight over the coming weeks and it became increasingly difficult to breath.
I was given antibiotics and told to rest but I even having a shower made me out of breath. I called 111 four times, but at that point unless you felt you were dying, the advice was to suffer it out at home and not to bring it into the hospital.
All the medics I spoke to really didn’t have any answers other than rest and painkillers. I tried a variety of high dose supplements – Vitamin C, D, A, Zinc. I don’t know if they helped but I knew my Vitamin D levels were good when I had a blood test in February.
Seven days later, I developed what we now know to be the ‘cytokine storm’, which is correlated with the high chance of developing severe Covid. My lower back, pelvis and hips developed a deep stabbing pain, it was unbearable and I couldn’t sleep. I was given Codeine and was told to try to stay away from hospital if possible.
The pain improved over the next 48 hours but I could barely walk – I felt exhausted. I couldn’t stay in bed all day either as I had my daughter to look after and my athlete mindset told me to pick myself up and soldier on. In hindsight, this was a bad move as the lack of rest hindered my recovery.
To give you some context, I’m not your typical Coronavirus victim. I’m a 40 year-old doctor, a former professional athlete and ironman triathlon winner with no pre-existing health conditions. Back in January, two weeks after returning from a trip to Thailand, I started feeling a bit unwell, initially it was a sore throat which turned into a mild chest infection and high fever.
My GP didn’t for one second suspect it was Covid-19. At that time it was still mostly considered an exotic disease, one that came from bats in China. I felt a little better after I was prescribed some antibiotics but my sore throat and hoarse voice persisted.
Mid-March, things took a turn for the worst. I developed a severe headache, stomach pain, shivers, super high fever and sweats. Over the next week I failed to rest, I was on my own with my five-year-old isolating and lockdown had just started. There was so much unknown surrounding the virus and the stories coming in from Italy about people being left to die in hospital corridors made me terrified.
I went to A&E twice as I felt completely unable to function and my heart was racing. Stories about the increased risk of clots in young people contracting Covid was pressing on my mind. My body wasn’t feeling like my own, I felt entirely out of control.
Over the next 11 weeks a whole legion of bizarre symptoms came and went including a swollen throat, chest and face rash, ringing in my ears and weakness in my legs.
On the days I felt better, I’d do some form of light exercise which I could manage but later find myself completely wiped out with a resting heart rate that went from 40 to 90. Most evenings I was walking like an arthritic 80-year-old up the stairs, hauling myself up on the banister.
With my training, I often feel safe in medical data and knowledge but COVID is a disease so strange, unpredictable and variable in different people that my safety was eroded.
Having some medical equipment already at home helped me keep track of my symptoms. A pulse oximeter (the gadget which you wear on your finger and it tells you your oxygen levels), a blood pressure machine and the ability to take my own bloods and send it to the lab when we couldn’t access private care proved to be incredibly handy.
I also found the Oura Ring app and my Polar Watch helpful in monitoring my heart rate and overnight ‘recovery index’ and body temperature. Looking back, I wished I’d have gone into hospital earlier as the enforced rest and lung support could have prevented this chronic ongoing flare-up process I have now.
If I’ve learnt anything about this disease it is that no one should be afraid to seek advice and support repeatedly if you feel you are not right. In the US people are getting specialist opinion and more diagnostic imaging, whereas in the UK, many of the private insurance companies refused to cover anything related to Covid and I practically had to beg for a chest X-ray. I am still awaiting a CT scan which was ordered over a month ago.
Right now, I‘m still suffering from lung pain which appears related to inflammation caused by the virus probably because I didn’t rest well, I never gave my lungs the chance to heal properly. I also have joint aches and weakness meaning that any exercise continues to exhaust me. It is such an unfamiliar feeling when you are used to being able to run a 10k without breaking a sweat.
My biggest fear is that this could become a chronic disease, like Lupus, which results from a dysregulated immune system. The more information we collect on these Covid ‘long-haulers’ the better – but currently the government and media are not focused on them – just death rates and hospital admissions.
Prof Tim Spector’s COVID Tracker app joinzoe.com has been brilliant for collating millions of data sets and has picked up on 1 in 20 being affected with symptoms past 3 weeks. The nature of this disease is that for some people you can be better for days, even weeks and then the flare up comes. The hope is the intensity, duration and frequency of these flare-ups decreases with time. What we really want to know is how we measure these flare-ups (standard blood tests appear unhelpful) and how we can modify them.
For anyone still managing the symptoms like me, I’d advise that rest is a priority, along with good nutrition, some sunlight and support. Do not try not to soldier on – this virus seems to take hold of the hard-charging personality types and stick two fingers up. Remember exercise is a stress – usually a positive stress for most as we adapt and strengthen, but our resources are so weakened by this virus we need to reduce all stress as far as possible.
I also found hot steamy showers, and epsom salt baths with lavender and thyme oil helped me relax, as well as natural anti-inflammatories like Curcumin (I use liposomal turmeric) and Omega 3 can help with the inflammation as can following a anti-inflammatory diet.
For anyone thinking of ordering an at-home antibody test, the government has advised against this as they give both false positives and false negatives. I’ve been doing the Abbot Test through The Doctors Lab with my Wellgevity clients which now requires a venous blood draw, no more fingerpick as the accuracy was not as good.
There are many flags over what igG antibodies even means in terms of protection. They could provide immunity for the rest of the year or possibly not. The future is uncertain but it’s important we share our experiences and encourage others to do the same, so we can learn, evolve and support.