I last wrote a blog in mid-November. It was called ‘Under Pressure: Education in a New Era’ and it was about the many complex pressures in the education sector at present. Intentionally, I didn’t mention Covid; I had wanted the focus to be on other challenges, all of which have been around for longer than the virus itself.
Like other Headteachers, I’ve spent the last two years trying to calmly lead a school community through very choppy waters. There have been all of the pressures I previously wrote about, plus all of the ‘normal’ day to day challenges which are part of school life. All of those have been juxtaposed with the ever present risks from Covid 19. At times, the weight of responsibility for keeping everyone safe has been considerable.
I finally succumbed to the virus on 9th December. I’ll remember that day for some time. I’d actually forgotten to test at home that morning so I took a lateral flow test in my office as soon as I remembered. The double lines came as a shock (I had a heavy cold but no other symptoms). Then there was the realisation of everything I would miss at home and school over the next few weeks. I quickly gathered my things and left school, in something of a haze.
December 9th was actually the last time I set foot in school. In fact, I’ve only occasionally left the house since. This little blog is about what happened when I caught Covid. It’s about how life can change suddenly and it’s a reminder that life is precious.
My initial period with Covid was probably similar to many other people’s. I isolated for ten days and was largely bed bound for that period. I was certainly ill – an intense cold, facial pain, fatigue, tight chest, loss of smell – but I wasn’t hospitalized. My seven year old daughter tested positive the day after me so we took refuge together. Being one of the most cheerful and optimistic people I’ve ever known, she made for great company!
For about ten days after my isolation ended, I tried to revert to normal life. It was the start of the Christmas holiday for me, my wife (a teaching assistant) and our four children. There were all the usual parenting duties and housework, plus Christmas preparations and multiple festive events on the calendar. I was tired but I assumed I was recovering.
And then, sometime between Christmas and New Year, it hit me like a brick. I got up one morning, felt lousy, returned to bed and stayed there for almost 24 hours. I ached all over and had no energy or desire to move. That day marked the beginning of my post Covid illness – a condition which has eventually been diagnosed as Post Covid Syndrome or Long Covid.
Long Covid seems to affect people differently. According to the NHS and the British Heart Foundation, it doesn’t seem to matter how seriously you have the initial virus and it doesn’t seem to matter how fit or healthy you previously were. (On saying that, asthmatics do perhaps seem to be more prone to Long Covid.)
Until mid-December, I was fit and generally healthy. I had a very busy life, at home and work, and I wasn’t good at resting. I liked to get up early, run before work (and at weekends) and do jobs around the house and garden in any other spare time.
I’ve now been ill with Post Covid Syndrome since late December. My life has changed profoundly. Recovery seemingly isn’t linear so some hours/days/weeks are better than others. I now feel fatigued and exhausted almost all of the time. I have no energy, like someone has removed my batteries. If I get up from a chair too suddenly, just to go to another room, my heart rate soars. If I go upstairs or do a simple job (like emptying a bin), I lose my breath. My oxygen levels are fine yet clearly my respiratory system isn’t functioning in the way it should.
When I’m talking, I often forget words and stutter mid-sentence. This is particularly awkward during phone calls. When I’m listening, I find it hard to concentrate. I also can’t separate sounds so I find it stressful when there are various noises and conversations at the same time (like in a busy household!). I’ve driven to a local shop a few times but, again, this seems to require more intense concentration than I remember.
Following medical advice, I’m trying to build up my strength and stamina, but it’s tricky. If I do one simple thing, like a short walk or a visit somewhere, I can then feel immediately exhausted, like I could sleep for days. Sometimes I do fall straight to sleep. On some days, when I’ve felt a bit better, I’ve done more chores or walked further. However, this has sometimes caused setbacks and affected me for days on end. Finding the balance is tricky.
There’s also the matter of palpitations and changes to my heart rate. Pre-Covid, my resting heart rate was quite low, at around 45bpm. It’s now generally 65-75bpm, and often it suddenly jumps much higher. It can soar when I’m resting, sitting and sleeping. An ECG has shown my heart to be medically ‘normal’ but the feel and effects of my increased heart rate take some getting used to.
It’s been ten weeks now. My wife and I have been trying to look for patterns and to establish if any particular routines work better than others, in aiding my recovery. We’ve recently found that, if I have very slow and gentle starts (ie stay in bed all morning), I can get up and just about stay awake for the afternoon and evening. This is clearly a long way from my old life and routines but it is progress.
I’ve not written this blog for sympathy and I’m not trying to be self-pityful. A great many people have endured much greater suffering and loss. For all the headlines and statistics, there’s still a lot of confusion, scepticism and misinformation about Covid and Long Covid. This is just my experience. It’s very real.
On the worst days of the last few months, I’ve been sitting or lying down worrying about breathing. Breathing is life itself. When you’re struggling to breathe, everything else falls into perspective.
My family and friends have held me up for these last two months. Their love and kindness has been astounding. My employers and colleagues have been hugely supportive too. School has continued without me; the team has got this. For now, I’m putting all of my effort into resting and recovering.
I’m very much looking forward to brighter days, to better health and to returning to the everyday things which I sometimes took for granted.
19 thoughts on “A Headteacher’s Short Story about Long Covid”
So very sad to see this Steve. Love and Prayers.xx
Thank you so much, Anne!
That is very much appreciated.
Hope you are well.
The children are certainly missing you, but they will continue to send their love and get well wishes in the hope that you are well enough to return to school soon. Better days are just around the corner xx
Thank you for saying this. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again. It’s felt like an eternity! 🙂
Your symptoms describe my wife’s experience exactly. She is a sixth form teacher and isn’t able to take long term time off so we are trying to manage her symptoms around her working. It has been 15 months for us and our lives have totally turned upside down. She was a regular ultra marathon runner and we live in the Lake District with two dogs so we have gone from being very active outdoor people to hardly leaving the house except to work. It’s very very hard to stay positive some days and I have taken on a carer role on top of my regular job. We both hope some treatment plans or medical developments for this start to be developed very soon.
Thank you for getting in touch. I’m so sorry to hear about your wife’s health and the ongoing effects on your life.
I have heard from a number of people affected by Long Covid today. Although not a statistically large group, there is a recurring theme of fit/sporty people being adversely affected.
Compared to your wife, I’m still in the early stages with this condition. I sincerely hope that your wife recovers fully and that you can both return to the life you previously enjoyed.
Sending love and best wishes.
I read your piece in the guardian, and want to send you my sincere sympathy. I suffered from long covid as well, and very well recognise the feeling of having “no batteries”. I wonder if you have read any research on the link between the microbiome and long covid? There are papers out there, and more research seems to be coming all the time. I think this is an important facet of the long covid puzzle… most routine medical scans are not looking into our gut bacteria, but they impact every part of our health. Last year, I stumbled onto a medical diet that addresses gut bacteria imbalance (dysbiosis) and have been following it for over a year now. The fatigue lifted after a few weeks on the diet. It wasn’t a magic cure, I had lots of ups and downs, but the change was dramatic, and thankfully now most days are good. If you’ve read this far, thank you. I took a part time job in my childrens’ school as a midday supervisor part year, and I have huge respect for teachers and school administrators. If you are interested, I’d love to tell you more about the diet I’m on- I’m very passionate about it. Best wishes to you.
Thank you for your email. It’s kind of you to get in touch. It’s very interesting to hear how your diet has brought about improvements in your health.
I have had IBS for about ten years and I have had to explore different diets as a way of managing the condition.
At present, I don’t especially want to move to a medical diet, though if Long Covid persists I will consider all options. At that stage, I would be very happy to speak to you.
I wish you all the best!
Thank you for your reply. I do understand not wanting to follow a medical diet, it’s definitely a massive commitment! A friend of mine with long covid has gone a slightly different route – she is having vitamin B12 injections, which have helped her tremendously. You could look into B12 deficiency, it’s an interesting topic. When the gut is damaged or inflamed, B12 is not absorbed (along with other nutrients). It may sound minor, but the symptom list of B12 deficiency is really similar to that of long covid. She is also (mostly) following a medical diet though. She had her microbiome tested via stool testing, which showed a nasty bacterial strain had taken hold – this is another area you could look into. Best of luck to you, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Hi there, I just wanted to let you know there is a Facebook Group for TeachersWithCovidUK , I highly recommend joining, as you state in your Guardian article, it is a new disease, and Doctors and all the medical professions around them are learning alongside those of us finding themselves still suffering sometimes two years on from our initial infection. We have found advice, care and treatment options vary wildly around yhe UK. A lot of Drs think it will get better over time, and some people do, but others have had serious, and potentially permanent, complications, so please be proactive and seek help for new or worsening symptoms. We share experiences, successes, and failures, liaise with researchers, speak to the press, politicians, OH forums, and medical conferences. and try and raise awareness as you have done. Thank you for speaking so candidly, and do join us. Kodama
Thank you so much for your email! I really appreciate this information.
I’m being very cautious and following medical advice, as well as researching other people’s stories.
I will join the Facebook group and look forward to finding out more!
I wish you all the best!
There will be many ME/CFS sufferers relating to what you describe and no doubt wanting to caution you to pace very carefully. You are at the early stage of post- viral illness and it is crucial to listen to your body. December 18th 1989 is etched in my memory, I had a normal respiratory virus and it was my son’s 18th – we had a family party, Xmas came and went and though tired I went back to my busy life/ work. Six weeks later I totally collapsed and I have had severe ME ever since. I wish now I had allowed myself total rest but was so wanting to get back to work and my normal life. I truly believe that long covid is no different to ME/CFS and the terminologies are just labels we attach to various post viral conditions. In my humble opinion it simply doesn’t work to try and build up stamina in the early stages. That’s when the damage gets done – so please try to completely rest your body and brain as much as you’re missing work etc. There is an argument around deconditioning but even doing stretches and lifts while in bed will work around that – I was about to do further training as a dance/movement therapist so understand how hard it is to pull back from activity. Good luck and I sincerely hope you make a total recovery from this debilitating condition.