I've had my share of health problems in the past, as any reader of my blog or articles would know. A considerable chunk of my closest friends will also know that on the 27th of August this year I tested positive for COVID - much to my shock.
Now I've been very cautious, and you'd know this if you saw me on a daily basis. I never saw it coming and was pretty astonished when my lateral flow tests came back positive. I did a PCR and it also showed I had this horrible COVID-19. I will also say that when I first got it the only symptom I had was a slightly raised temperature and a bit of a lack of energy. But when I tested positive, I wasn't expecting much from it - despite having had issues in the past, my health is actually all very good and I've got a pretty good immune system (in fact just two days prior to the result I was talking about how rare it is that I get unwell).
What is this article?
You might ask, why am I writing this article. There are two key reasons why I have decided to 'document' my time in hospital and what COVID has done.
The first is that I feel that getting it out there is better than me sitting going through it over and over again. Writing is one of my hobbies, I do a lot of it on my blog and website. By putting this up on my website I am clearing my own mind of this. This was recommended by one of the nurses whilst I was in hospital.
The second reason is to explain and inform others about the experience I have had. By writing about this, hopefully, someone can pick something useful out of my experience.
Know this however, my time with COVID was not good. My experience with COVID was very serious and whilst I am young still, as well as healthy, COVID can be a vicious beast. It's changed a lot.
How it started
I was told I need to isolate for ten days. I thought that's fine, it'll be an easy ten days of isolation and I'll be back at work in no time. Except it wasn't.
No, it wasn't an easy ten days by any means. On Sunday my temperature just wasn't going down and at one point I recorded my highest ever temperature of 42 degrees which is absolutely nuts. On this Sunday, I called the NHS' 111 service and got to the hospital to get a checkup. The whole way up to the hospital I felt okay apart from this temperature. When I got to the hospital everything seemed fine and the checkup said that I was all okay. I was sent home again. Two days passed and by the Wednesday I was on my way back to the hospital again after my temperature continued to stay high.
When I got to the hospital, remembering how much I dislike being in the hospital, I was hoping I'd get a quick fix and be back out again. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I ended up staggering into the Western General and ended up in an x-ray room asking where to go. I was shattered, I could barely stand now. I came in and I was told I need to let reception know I'm here, I remember the nurse then saying that she would just go and tell reception after seeing the state I was in.
So they put me on a bed (or trolley really) in my own area. Within no time the fantastic nurses were all over talking to me and I got a few observations done (this is where they do your blood pressure, temperature, SPO2 and heart rate). At this point, I was very lightheaded. After a while of sitting around, they requested I got an x-ray, so they wheeled me to the x-ray room. Unfortunately, I just couldn't do it and fainted there and then (I've only fainted once before this in my life). I have no idea what happened next. I do not remember much other than the nurses telling me I fainted. I was now very scared. COVID was very real, and I actually had it, and it was doing something to my body now.
I was shifted to a ward up the stairs (I have no idea how I got there, I just remember parts of the journey to it). This was where I began to get really quite scared. It now looked like I might be back in the place that I dread going to - the Western General Hospital. I fear it because I have spent a lot of time there already, and I do not do well in the hospital. But of course, things this time could only be worse. I had COVID. And by having COVID I had to be quarantined from those I loved and care about. So I knew that this was going to be a tough couple of days.
By Sunday they were talking of moving me to the intensive care unit (ICU). I remember being slightly glad because of the fact I was being moved to the next stage of treatment. Little did I know that ICU would be the hardest part of the whole process. I kept trying to push to get me there faster so that I could be out sooner.
On Sunday I was moved to ICU. It was a bit scary at first: plastic sheets (known as plexiglass) were hanging from the ceiling in what looked like a bit of a makeshift setup. I felt like I was entering a radiation zone or something.
The first night in ICU (Sunday) was extremely difficult for several reasons but the main one was the lack of sleep I got when I was there. The inherent nature of ICU is that the care you are given is pretty much going on all the time. This means that whenever you are wanting to go for a sleep you are getting your observations done just five minutes into your sleep. ICU wasn't a nice place for me either since it was also the last place I saw my nana. All of this meant that my two nights in ICU were very difficult. Further to that, there was another person who was really struggling and not coping well. Because of this, he wasn't sleeping at all. This night was one of the worst nights of my life - every minute felt like 20 minutes (and I mean that not as a metaphor or simile, I mean it was a very long night).
The next morning, after not sleeping at all, I was very anxious to be getting away from all of this. I told the nurses I was struggling slightly.
For the next two days spent in ICU, every time I saw the doctor, my question was the same: "when will I get out?". The question was always later extended to "how do we know when I have recovered?" This is a question that seems like there is never an answer when it comes to COVID. I think this was the trickiest bit about the whole experience in hospital. You see when I had cancer, it was easy to know that I'd have two or three weeks of chemotherapy and then I'd go home again, but with COVID there was no end date and it was always presumptuous as to when I would get out.
On the first day in ICU (the Sunday evening), I was told I now had pneumonia but that it was very mild and that with a bit of antibiotic I will beat it no problem. The doctors didn't really seem very concerned about me, which was a relief. I was put on oxygen to assist my breathing and told by the nurse that I need to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, something (for some strange reason) I really struggled to do. After eventually getting the hang of it, they moved me down and down in the amount of oxygen that I needed - my body was fighting off the virus on its own.
On the Monday, the doctor said I was doing well again and that my oxygen levels should be reduced to 3 litres (no idea what this means other than it was positive). He mentioned that I should maybe move back to the ward on Tuesday or Wednesday. I immediately disagreed and told him I should be back on the ward on Tuesday, not Wednesday. He did state that he felt that would be okay but would want to check up on me the next day. Monday was a horrible day as I had nothing to do with only my phone on me at the time - I missed my MacBook. The worst thing about Monday was the smell of the food from the person next to me - I have no idea what he was eating but I had to even ask for a new breathing tube because the smell had infested that too. Whatever it was, it just made me feel sick. Speaking of food, however, this was the first day I actually ate anything that wasn't jelly or ice cream when I was brought a lovely veggie haggis.
At some point on Tuesday morning, the doctor informed the person next to me that they would be moving him that day. I felt that I needed to move too as that was what I was promised. The doctor eventually got to me and explained that they were happy to move me too and that it was to take place the next day. My SPO2 was good enough and my breathing was now okay.
Later in the day, they did move me back up to ward 42. It was here that although out of ICU, that I felt that I couldn't cope any longer. Have you heard of cabin fever? Well, that's kind of what it is like for me in hospital. Having spent quite a considerable amount of time in hospital in the past, I have become so very afraid of spending any more time in hospital, especially the Western General.
The first day back on the ward was nice enough, getting to see some of the nurses I had seen previously in the ward and they were taking good care of me. I was still very frail and unable to do much and still wasn't eating much.
The first day on the ward; Wednesday, was a boiling hot day. I remember looking out the window and that made it all the harder as I wanted to be out there, not in here. My mum came to visit me though, and that was nice. This was the first time I'd seen my family since about a week before. My mum also brought me my MacBook Pro which was really good because I could actually do something that didn't involve me twiddling my thumbs.
Then, Thursday 9th came. This was a hard day but my mind was made up I was getting away on this day. I was questioning the nurses a lot on when I might get out since they told me I was past the contagious side of things and that the pneumonia was now clearing. It was now that I felt that I needed to take action for my own mental health. I questioned the nurses again and again. She agreed I needed to see the doctor urgently. I actually broke into tears when one of the nurses came to see me and explained that I wasn't coping mentally anymore.
I text my mum at about 13.15 saying I couldn't stay any longer than the Friday and told her I needed her to support me getting out of the hospital.
A small portion of the dialogue I had with my mum
I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I told her I needed my own bed. Whilst in hospital, I kept taking off my oxygen mask and saying to everyone I am breathing fine on my own without the oxygen. Half an hour later than the initial text about me wanting away by Friday, I changed my mind and wanted to get away that day. Mum of course was disagreeing but I told her my decision was final and told her that the doctors just need to support me not fight me.
The doctor came round to me and I explained I couldn't stay here anymore and that I was going to lose it very soon. I told him I was self-discharging myself now. To my delight, the doctor explained I was doing well and would be okay provided I would have someone available to help me over the next few weeks. I explained that whilst I do live alone, my family and friends live around me and can support me over the next few weeks. The doctor explained that I would need to get a checkup at my local hospital in a few weeks but that as I would be sufficiently supported by family and friends as well as my GP that going home was not be a bad idea.
I got a hold of my discharge slip which I filled in hastily and without much more thought. My mind was set. I was going home. I phoned my mum to inform her and she couldn't be there fast enough. I kept on checking my phone to see where she was. This was all very exciting!
When my mum did arrive, I was actually ready to go. MacBook and iPhone were all I still needed to pack. I know that I left some food in the fridge, and it did hack me off initially because I hate wasting food, but in the grand scheme of things, I accepted that leaving the hospital was my priority. When I got outside and got into our Mini Cooper, I felt like shouting 'freedom' in a Mel Gibson-style way (but I didn't have the energy or oxygen in my body to do so). I felt like I was getting out of prison or something. This was such a good feeling.
The way home felt like a good three or four hours but in reality, was short of an hour. It was such a good journey.
When I got into my own home, the feelings I had were mostly a warm and happy feeling, but there was also a bit of sadness. I had missed my house and Charlie (who was currently staying at mum's house and not at mine).
That first day at home, Thursday, was tricky. I couldn't get in and out of the bath on my own and needed the help of my mum. My appetite was terrible still. I managed to have my first proper bath in just over a week so I made sure I had lots of bubbles and everything and really enjoyed just relaxing.
I cannot believe how useless I felt that day. Everything I did, from simply getting up the stairs to getting to my bed was a huge victory that I felt I needed to celebrate.
Recovery has been slow. The most obvious problem is how big everything that was once simple has been. I actually struggle with such simple things as stretching up to put plates away or going down to make a cup of tea or getting in or out of the bath. Everything takes a lot of my energy and makes me dizzier. Another side-effect I had initially was a lack of taste with food and drink, or at least a changed taste, as well as being able to smell things a lot more (for example, I could smell the petrol like it was up my nose when I was in a petrol station).
But the worst problem I now have is brain fog. And I mean really bad brain fog. When will this go away? I do not really know, but as you will know, my job requires me to think a lot, and it's not one where I can just zone out from time to time. The brain fog, I have been told, is linked to my energy levels, so as they improve so too will the brain fog. In fact, I have noticed that it has been getting better over the last few days (I write this on the 21st of September) since I am no longer doing things like adding triple letter es into words like cheese for example. My typing speed has also improved again back to around about 55 words per minute (I'm normally ~85wpm) and my accuracy has seriously improved now that I am back on my MacBook Pro. My spelling is slowly getting back to normal again too.
A strange side-effect I got from this was my supposed lack of morals and care. As many of my readers know, I'm a vegetarian but was formerly a pescatarian, but when I came out of hospital I started eating fish again and didn't seem to care I was breaking my most important rule in life (I cannot eat any living thing). My morals were all broken, I didn't seem to care anymore. Further to this, I saw Charlie (my rabbit) who was one of my main reasons for getting out of hospital but just didn't seem to care about her anymore. I didn't find her cute or adorable anymore nor did I really want to see her. I will say this only lasted one week and then my morals came back and I started caring again.
Other issues I have been having include pains across my body for example when standing still or walking on hard surfaces, my arms going numb after a short period of time sitting still, dizziness when moving around and general fatigue. I'm also covered in bruises from where I have had injections. Another big issue right now is the continued chest pains I'm getting (we'll see if that's anything to worry about once I get my follow-up x-ray). I also had depression as I have had in the past, more post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where I kept returning myself to the Western General Hospital and putting myself through all the pain of it all again in my head - I just couldn't get out. This, again, only lasted one week and then I was back to how I was before hospital.
So where do I go from here? I do not really know. My recovery is going to be a long and slow process. Who knows how long I'll be out of things but who knows how the heck will I return to doing the things I love like cycling and teaching?! I'm so scared that I might not fully recover from this (long COVID) but I am staying positive.