Recovering from Covid-19 - a Research Nurse's perspective
My name is Abigail, I’m 41 and a Research Nurse at Solent NHS working in primary care. I also occasionally work in A&E at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.
I have recently recovered from Covid-19 and whilst dealing with the virus I noticed that there are hardly any accounts from people who have had coronavirus, but haven’t ended up hospitalised or in intensive care. I would have found it really useful to know what other people had experienced with Coronavirus, so I decided to share my experience in the hope that it might help.
I started feeling unwell on the same day as Boris Johnson, Friday 27th March.
I woke up in the morning with a fuzzy head that I couldn’t get rid of all day, and just didn’t feel quite right. I had done a 12.5 hour shift in A&E the day before, so wasn’t sure if I was just tired but felt like it was more than that. I was due back in A&E the following evening but spent all night awake coughing. I read the Public Health England (PHE) advice which stated that I should stay at home if I had a temperature or persistent cough, so I had to call A&E and cancel my shift.
For the first week I felt like a fraud, hypochondriac, and frustrated that I couldn’t go to work! I did have a very nasty cough and was sometimes sick when I was coughing. I also had a sore throat, blocked nose, headache, body ache and a very mild temperature, but before Covid-19 my way of dealing with a cold would just have been to power on through!
In my research job I checked my emails and kept in touch with work. I did try to call a research participant but was unable to speak to them because I was coughing too much, so I probably wasn’t as well as I thought. I cleaned my house as I was worried that the worst was still to come! Fortunately my daughter, who is five, was with her dad and we made the decision for her to stay there until I had been symptom free for 24 hours, or after seven days of isolation.
During the first week I wasn’t sure if I had Coronavirus or whether it was just a normal cold. I was worried that I might have a normal cold and then I would have to self-isolate all over again when I did get Covid-19, which I was sure that I was going tot at some point working directly with Coronavirus patients.
However, by the second week I knew that I definitely had the virus. Exactly one week after I had the first symptoms, my sense of taste and smell completely disappeared. I was feeding the cat and noticed that I couldn’t smell her food anymore so started sniffing strong smelling things just to make sure! Then I realised that I couldn’t taste anything at all, it was so strange! When that happened I knew that I definitely had Covid-19, as losing your sense of smell and taste are very distinctive symptoms that don’t occur with many other illnesses.
My other symptoms also got a lot worse, especially during the night and in the mornings. I had a blocked and runny nose, headache and body ache that was incredibly painful. I took paracetamol every four hours which helped to some extent, but started to wear off after about three hours. I had extreme fatigue and would think about getting up and moving for about an hour before actually doing it.
I was also extremely thirsty and drinking non-stop but had absolutely no appetite which is very unusual for me. By the end of the second week I was so nauseous that I couldn’t even look at food and noticeably lost weight. I was really pale; I don’t think I’ve ever been so white before, and felt dizzy when standing up. I was breathless when talking or walking upstairs and found it hard to sleep at night because I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
My parents were very worried and called me every day. I didn’t want to worry them so tried to sound upbeat but talking was hard; my dad asked me if I’d made a will and what I would like to happen in the “worst case scenario,” which wasn’t really what I wanted to hear!!
It was hard when Boris was admitted to intensive care because we had become unwell on the same day, deteriorated around the same time, and there he was in intensive care. I stopped reading or watching the news because there was always a report about a young, fit, healthy person dying or becoming very unwell, and I didn’t want so see it. Every day I kept thinking that I must get better but I either got worse or stayed the same. One day I would try to do something small and would then have to spend the whole of the next day on the sofa. I called the NHS 111 service and spoke to a doctor who reassured me that what I was feeling was normal given the impact of Covid-19, and that people were often taking three or four weeks to recover.
It was a really hard week, feeling very unwell and isolated. I wanted to talk to someone but didn’t have the energy, and then there were moments where I’d panic and worry about what I would do in the middle of the night if I deteriorated. But I knew that panicking wouldn’t help with my breathing and so I kept trying to think of the positives.
I kept telling myself that I am young, fit, female (as men seem to suffer more from Coronavirus) and don’t have any underlying health conditions. I was very pleased that I became unwell whilst my daughter was with her dad, and thought that she probably wouldn’t have been infected. The day before I got the first symptoms I was working in A&E, surrounded by patients who had the virus, but I’d been wearing a mask all day so I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t have infected anyone else which was reassuring. It was also good to think that I would hopefully develop some immunity; making returning to “normal” life a bit easier.
By the third week I didn’t have a temperature or cough and wasn’t sneezing or blowing my nose, so would most likely no longer be contagious. I checked the PHE advice again, as it is constantly changing as the situation evolves, and technically I could have returned to work but there was no way that I was well enough to do that.
My daughter, however, was really missing me so we decided that she could come home. I thought that I would be well enough to look after her, but I was absolutely exhausted and still found it hard to even speak. She watched a lot of TV (which made me feel guilty!) but she was so pleased to see me and the cat.
I ventured out to the supermarket (my first trip out since lockdown), but nearly had to walk out because I felt so sick seeing all of the food. The nausea was completely debilitating and I could barely eat anything; plain pasta or toast once a day at the most. Ginger beer and tonic water helped– I still couldn’t taste anything so it was nice to have the bubbles which were a different “texture.”
My nausea has finally gone and my appetite has come back with a vengeance! I still can’t taste or smell much, although I think it’s slowly coming back as I can taste salt and can smell my daughter’s feet!! I wake up in the mornings feeling like I’ve got a hangover, dehydrated and with a headache, but this goes away after a couple of hours. It’s only now that I’m realising how unwell I actually was. I kept telling myself that I was fine but I really wasn’t.
I’ve started working from home again, but am holding off on A&E shifts for the time being. I’ve been chatting to friends and no longer feel lonely, so I know that was just the self- isolation. It’s been amazing to go out and appreciate the spring sunshine. I walked up a hill for the first time a few days ago and was very breathless and had to stop, so I know I’m not completely better but I’m so relieved to be pretty much back to normal.
I feel lucky to be alive and keen to get back to work. I’m hoping this will involve some Coronavirus research; as I now feel well equipped to handle this, given my first-hand experience!