A personal story from Debbie Duncan – ARNS Research and Education Sub-committee member.
“One of the things I have been reflecting on having experienced Covid-19 is that no matter how prepared you are nothing can prepare you for this journey of fighting the disease. I feel like a juggernaut came racing down the road and slammed into us.
I remember on New Year’s Eve 2019 watching the TV reports coming out of Wuhan and having a real sense of concern about this new virus. I am a respiratory nurse specialist and have small airways disease and bronchiectasis – a result of long term asthma and developing MRSA whilst working in primary care. I have lived and managed my own condition with its up and downs for a number of years.
In January a friend and I wrote and published some articles on this new virus. I ordered Dettol soap to be delivered to my grown up children via Amazon. I bought new pyjamas, packed a hospital bag and bought a pulse oximeter. I was controlling the fear of the shadow of this disease.
In February, I made the decision to minimise any external contact and then went into shielding, as I was clinically vulnerable. Working as a lecturer I was able to work from home. Throughout the Spring and Summer months I regularly kept fit and ensured that I was doing all the things that could support my resilience. I would often sit outside in the sunshine for an hour a day to breathe, recharge and absorb all those sun’s rays.
As a family we navigated lockdown and shielding as well as celebrating birthdays a very small wedding and the birth of grandchildren. It was a time of challenge and celebration. We have used so much hand sanitiser and soap- I think I bought out the shops with the medical strength disinfectant wipes. In August, I did my Christmas shopping to ensure I was not in the shops during the Christmas rush. All the way through this year I have been writing for the public and nursing press on different aspects of Covid- 19 and living through a pandemic. I have been supporting my own specialist nurses navigate the challenges working in the NHS.
On the 20th December, I delivered Christmas parcels to friends. Whilst out and about I went to help someone who needed me, who later transpired to have developed Covid-19. Throughout the Christmas period I was tired and had awful sinusitis. I had restarted my prophylactic antibiotics in mid-November. These symptoms were not new to me. Then on the 28th December, I developed a high temperature overnight and my cervical glands were enlarged. My peak flow dropped by 100, I felt tight chesty and wheezy. I was already taking all my prescribed medication.
The pattern of this disease differs from person to person. My husband has had fevers, has an awful dry cough and is very fatigued. He is also very breathless at times. My asthma has been triggered, I had urticarial, sinusitis, ear ache and fatigue. I think the problem is you know the symptoms, you hope it is not Covid but the pattern recognition is unclear. How will it progress? The one symptom that is not on the websites or is not mentioned is the sense of anxiety and fear of where will this illness will lead. I have lived under its cloud for many months. I thought I was prepared.
I was not prepared for these last few weeks. I knew I had it but it was not until the test result came back and someone from the Public health Agency rang me, did I really accept the diagnosis.
I have had pneumonia on a number of occasions, I was not prepared for how awful I would feel. I have never felt as fatigued as this. Even as a hospital inpatient I have worn my own clothes during the day as I believed that pyjamas are for night time. The pyjamas that I bought in January have seen so much daylight these last two weeks.
I have also discovered new things about this disease. I marvel at how my body is fighting for me to overcome this disease. The urticarial went after five days but then the sinusitis came back and exploded in my head. I have tried to work out if new symptoms are due to covid, side effects of medication or something else. I have used everything in my armoury from prescribed medication, over the counter remedies and high strength multivitamins.
I think I also had a fear of the two-week mark but we are moving through that period now. I am tired but sustaining my oxygen levels. I am coping with the breathlessness. It is harder watching my husband navigate how he is feeling – who wants to see those we love battle illness? And there is the fear of other family members in our bubble developing Covid-19. There are definitely unusual symptoms of this disease that I am learning about. I didn’t really appreciate the trajectory of the illness. Most of all I have come to appreciate that fear and anxiety should also be included in that list of symptoms. The uncertainty of it all can be challenging. The helpful conversation from the Contact tracer and the fact that my GP wants to speak to me again later this week despite the fact they are so busy helps. Their reassurance means such a lot and I know that if I need more help I can ask.
I feel that now I have seen the juggernaut I can cope better with what it brings towards me. Faith, hope, resilience has all helped at this time. And in the fridge are pots of soup and lots of pies from loving friends and neighbours who are offering us a range of support. The value of psychosocial support can never be underestimated.”