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Local News

‘I’m never free of the fatigue’ – Long Covid in Yorkshire

today18/03/2021

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Kath Clements first came down with Covid after working a 12-hour shift at the New Selby War Memorial Hospital on April 24 last year.

Nearly a year later, she is still unable to work.

After developing a minor temperature, the healthcare assistant was left effectively bedridden for six weeks.

Her long list of symptoms included “searing pain” against her skull, severe fatigue, pain jumping from bone to bone, swollen glands, and an abnormally fast heart rate, known as tachycardia.

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“Without my family there’s no way I could have fed myself,” she said. “I was just unable to do any of the basics.”

But even though Kath’s health has improved, she still feels she can only do 20 per cent of what she could do before – not to mention a few relapses she has had on the road to recovery.

On a typical day pre-Covid, the mother-of-two would walk 25-30,000 steps. Now she manages about 1,500 a day.

“I’m never free of the fatigue,” she said. “It hits me like a ton of bricks. I can’t even unscrew a bottle top.

I can do a few jobs around the house but I pay the price the next day.

“My breathing’s quite shallow and I have a lot of pressure in my chest.

“I’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s so painfully slow and frustrating.”

Long Covid has left Kath ‘struggling to do 20 per cent’ of what she could do before

As abnormal as Kath’s situation seems, the mysterious condition known as Long Covid is by no means rare among those who have caught the virus.

About one in ten people infected with coronavirus in the UK will experience symptoms for at least 12 weeks, according to Office for National Statistics data released in December.

That means as many as 36,000 people in Yorkshire and the Humber could have suffered with Long Covid in the pandemic so far.

But its symptoms are wide-ranging and unpredictable, said medical professor Sarah Rowland-Jones, who is researching Long Covid patients at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield as part of a national study.

The symptoms are very varied, it does seem to have the capacity to affect many parts of the body,” the University of Sheffield academic said.

Different people have quite different experiences.

“It doesn’t seem to pick out people who were ill beforehand. We’ve seen quite a lot of people who were extremely fit before who got Covid and are now incapacitated.

It’s so unpredictable, people gradually get better over time and then seem to go back to where they were weeks before. It’s like snakes and ladders.”

The Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield
Researchers are investigating Long Covid at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield
(Image: TIM DENNELL)

Recorded Long Covid symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, heart palpitations, cough, voice problems, and issues with taste or smell.

But some patients are experiencing neurological problems too.

Kath and two other Long Covid sufferers, Maddie Culling and Annie Glover, all suffer with “brain fog”.

I can’t always speak the right way. It makes you feel stupid,” Kath said.

Maddie, from Hebden Bridge, still suffers from a number of neurological symptoms since contracting the virus at the start of April last year.

I speak a lot slower than I used to, I forget words mid-sentence,” the 32-year-old said.

“Sometimes I get the feeling that insects are crawling under my skin.”

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Researcher Sarah has also seen this in her studies.

“We run cognitive tests, one is to ask people to name as many words as they can starting with ‘f’ in 60 seconds,” she said.

“Someone who had scored quite well in other areas said ‘football’ and couldn’t think of anything else, he was getting quite angry with himself.”

Many Long Covid sufferers say they are frustrated by their situation and face skepticism about the condition.

Maddie used to practice Muay Thai kickboxing before she contracted coronavirus. Now breathlessness, heart palpitations and joint pain mean she sometimes has to walk with a stick

But still she feels some people are not taking Long Covid seriously enough.

“Sometimes it comes across that [Long Covid sufferers] are weak and don’t want to get better,” said Maddie.

I’m determined to get back to doing exercise but I can’t do it.”

Mirfield retiree Annie Glover, who has suffered with Long Covid since October, felt people do not properly understand fatigue.

Annie Glover has struggled with Long Covid since October

“It’s overwhelming,” said the 65-year-old. “Then you go to bed and you can’t get to sleep for three hours.”

Meanwhile retired Saltaire teacher Alison Cairess said people “got sick of hearing about” her struggle with the condition since she contracted coronavirus last March.

After 10 days bed-ridden – “I felt like I was going to die on three occasions,” she said – the 58-year-old thought she was beginning to recover.

But five weeks on the avid tennis player found herself unable to exercise.

“I would walk to the end of the road, my heart rate was going up to 150,” she said.

Yet she still faced skepticism – including one doctor saying she likely had anxiety, Alison said.

I rang the doctor’s and they said it was nothing to worry about,” she said.

“They were really blasé about it, and my family was saying ‘You must be better now’.

I didn’t know it was Covid. I had no sense of smell, but that wasn’t in the government guidelines at the time.”

Alison has since attended a special Long Covid clinic set up at St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford.

“They understood and believed me,” she said.

Alison Cairess said she faced scepticism from her GP and family

But she also said the 37,000-strong Long Covid Support Group on Facebook was crucial in helping her deal with her condition.

To find out other people are suffering with the same thing is a relief,” said Maddie.

NHS support is also being rolled out across Yorkshire for those with Long Covid.

In December NHS England announced “Long Covid clinics” would be set up at 10 hospital trusts across the county.

NHS trusts in Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Barnsley confirmed their clinics are now operational.

Meanwhile a York Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust spokeswoman said its clinic was still in the “planning stage”.

In Leeds, a specialist rehab service run by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust has helped 450 Long Covid patients since it was set up in September.

With no specific treatments yet found for the condition, the clinic’s team is using a number of different methods to help patients recover.

A specialist Long Covid clinic was set up in Leeds in September

Due to the average age being 48, most patients are needing individualised support with return to work,” said clinical lead Rachel Tarrant.

“We are using a self-management approach to care, giving them the tools to self-manage their symptoms as they continue to recover over time.

“Often simple lifestyle interventions when used in tandem are proving very effective.

We have developed some virtual courses to treat the main symptoms of fatigue, brain fog and breathlessness, which our occupational therapists and physiotherapists lead.

The dieticians in the team have also created some unique resources – virtual courses to support healthy eating and poor appetite and a podcast we can send out to patients to help smell and taste re-training.”

But treatments are constantly changing as medics learn more about Long Covid.

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With so many sufferers requiring specialist support, the condition is likely to put more pressure on the NHS.

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned in February that Long Covid is “likely to cause significant challenges… the health and social care system in the coming years.”

But it is important not to forget the human stories behind the numbers.

While some Long Covid patients feel optimistic about overcoming their unpredictable illness, others are less so.

“All I’ve been told is it will get better over time,” said Maddie. “That hasn’t happened yet.”

“At the moment I feel quite positive and gradually better, I can exercise more,” said Alison.

I had a lovely, active, fulfilling life. I don’t want more than I already had,” Kath said.

I’ve got to say I will get back there.”

Written by: Rother Radio News


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today18/03/2021


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