It was the first week in March that I began to feel grotty. My energy levels seemed quite low and, uncharacteristically for someone always on the go, I just wanted to rest. I was in Parliament in London, but kept my activity to a minimum and as soon as the votes had been done went straight home to bed. At that time, Britain was reporting the Coronavirus. China had been first affected, and by this stage it was virulent across Italy and Spain. Britain, too had been reporting an uptick in cases.
I phoned 111 as a precaution and they suggested it wasn’t COVID-19 because there had been no reported cases in M34 (even though I explained to them I worked in SW1 and London was becoming a hot spot in the UK). Anyway the tiredness developed into classic COVID-19 symptoms a week later and so I spent the next fortnight in complete self-isolation. I wasn’t tested so I don’t actually know for sure it was Coronavirus but it was awful, especially the sheer exhaustion and breathing problems. The ‘illness’ lasted for about 12 days, by which time the country was in lockdown. I use inverted commas because the reality is that, whilst the Coronavirus passed, the illness is still with me.
I’m what’s now being called a “long-termer” – yes it’s a thing. For a surprisingly large number of COVID-19 sufferers, the illness doesn’t end after two weeks. I’m on week 16 as I write this article and it’s at times debilitating for me.
The exhaustion comes back frequently, and to the point where just doing simple tasks around the house brings me out in a massive sweat of the type you’d get from running a marathon. I have lots of dizzy spells. I’ve never had vertigo before this. And oh, the brain fog! In a job where you have to have a razor-sharp mind, my short-term memory is shot to pieces.
My GP is very good and at least recognises it as a type of post-viral fatigue that’s reportedly common in many after COVID-19, but her only suggestion is to take Vitamin-D tablets. I’ve been doing that for two weeks now and it has helped a little bit (and I stress a little bit), but there’s still no light at the end of the tunnel yet.
The reason for writing about my experiences isn’t to garner sympathy – hey, I’m a politician, I’m used to not having much of that – but to raise awareness of the group of people called COVID Longtermers. There’s a lot of us, and studies are being done into the longterm effect Coronavirus may have on some people. And if you, like me, are several weeks into this debilitating illness, join the Facebook Group ‘Long Covid Support Group’, where there’s lots of advice, support and you’ll see you’re not alone!