Living with long Covid: ‘I survived the illness, but the life I knew was snatched away from me'

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Thousands of people worldwide are suffering from the lingering effects of Covid-19 – from severe fatigue and struggling to breathe to coping with memory or hair loss. Health24 spoke to a number of long haulers. This is Kerry-lee's story.

Kerry-lee, 32

Contracted Covid-19 in June 2021.

I tested positive for Covid on 10 June. It felt like I had a bad sinus infection and a headache that wouldn’t go away. A rapid test and PCR test confirmed I was Covid positive. About four days later, it felt as if something was sitting on my chest, like I just couldn’t get air. I told my pharmacist how I was feeling and he said I needed to go to the hospital so that I could be assisted. At the time, I didn’t have medical aid and started freaking out. I went to Life Roseacres hospital and my fiancé took out a loan so that they would treat me. I’m scared of our government hospitals because I lost my best friend in a government hospital – they didn’t have enough medication to give her. 

I thought, “I’m only 32; I feel like I’ve got a lot still to give.” My fiancé told me not to worry, that he’d sort it out. He made a payment, and they got everything up and running. I ended up developing Covid pneumonia and blood clots in my right lung, so my body was relying on my left lung for oxygen. That’s why I was so tired and breathing was becoming impossible. I was told that at that stage the hospital had no bed capacity but that they could put me into the ICU, but that there was no guarantee I was going to come out. I said I’d rather go home.

I was prescribed a lot of medication, including antibiotics and blood thinners, and I needed to have oxygen at home. For a few weeks, it felt like I was never getting any rest. I was on oxygen for two months. I had nightmares and it was horrible. 

I had a fear was that I was not going to be able to breathe and that the oxygen would run out.

I had to see a pulmonologist to make sure my lungs were clear because the virus had damaged my lungs by killing the tissue. He gave me many different asthma pumps. I have to use one that opens my chest in the morning, another one at midday, and a third one that opens my chest at nighttime. I didn’t use asthma pumps before my Covid-19 infection.

long covid
Image: Supplied

Return to work

I’m a high school teacher, and the first week after I returned to school I felt dizzy and like my chest was on fire. No amount of water or lozenges eased this pain. I thought that once I got back into my normal routine it would be easier. But I was terribly wrong. I had brain fog and would forget the simplest information, or to take my medication, so I had to write down everything. I battled so badly that I developed panic attacks. I feel like I’m losing myself. I used to be a bubbly, outgoing person that was willing to help anyone. Now, I'm scared to even speak to people because my speech is not 100% clear. 

By the time I finish work at around 2 pm every day, I’m completely exhausted. It feels like I’ve been awake for more than three days. I still get chest pain quite often. And a few times it felt like I was going to have a heart attack. The doctors have said to me, “Kerry there’s nothing wrong; it’s the virus that has attacked the tissue, and that’s what you’re feeling.” So the chest pain is related to the virus affecting my lungs. It’s like they're overworking, especially when I spend the entire day talking. Some days, I get shortness of breath and on other days it feels like I’m fine, so my health is like a yo-yo, up and down all the time. 

My doctor has given me Neurobion because I’ve been getting really bad muscle spasms randomly in my wrists and joints. My wrists ache so badly that I sometimes can't hold a pen and cry because of the pain. The worst is the body aches – almost 90 days later, I have a damaged ligament in my ankle. I've also experienced a lot of depression.

Although I survived this terrible illness, the life I knew has been snatched away from me.

It's a horrible fight. You're fighting to stay safe from this virus but you’re also fighting to stay positive and hope that life will get back to normal.

I also have to take vitamin B12 once a month. It’s horrible; it burns. In addition, my doctor has given me some other things that boost my immune system. It feels like I own a pharmacy. Last month he gave me a drip with a whole lot of vitamins to keep my energy levels up. 

I do think doctors are more prepared now to deal with Covid and long Covid. They’ve got an action plan and they stick to it. The nice thing is that it’s not only one doctor, but that there are many doctors getting together trying to help us as best as they can. I know things will never be the same because many people have lost loved ones and jobs due to Covid. But in terms of our health, I think doctors are doing a great job and they’re helping us to manage the condition. 

*Many people suffer from the long-term effects of Covid-19, even many months later. If you are one of those people, and wish to share your experience, let us know, and your story can be told in our Living with long Covid series. You are not alone. E-mail your stories to zakiyah.ebrahim@24.com

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

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