Claire and her sons caught Covid in March 2020. Her oldest son had alarmingly purple/blackening toes for many months but thankfully felt fine, while Claire was badly affected after five days, and both the twins were unwell. Claire and her twins have all continued to have different and varied Long Covid symptoms in remitting and repeating waves for over a year. Claire is the most affected and was bedridden and unable to work for months. She still has cognitive and physical symptoms, now works part-time and can only walk short distances. She uses a wheelchair to aid her mobility. Claire is very active in the Long Covid community after setting up a Facebook-based patient support group (now part of the charity Long Covid Support) and is part of the NHS England Task Force for Long Covid. Claire was interviewed in December 2021.
Claire caught Covid in March 2020. For the first five days, she just had a mild sore throat so continued working from home but kept her sons off school as a precaution. On Mother’s Day, the day before the first UK lockdown, she woke up with what felt like a heavy weight on her chest and felt worse and worse throughout the day: “I felt like I’d been run over… it didn’t feel like anything I’d ever had.” Claire summoned the energy to email colleagues to hand over her workload. She says the following few weeks and months were a blur- Claire went to A&E for the first time the following Friday. Her sons, 11-year-old twins and a 15-year-old, had to fend for themselves at that time, as her ex-partner was shielding his vulnerable mother who lived with him. A&E said her oxygen levels were fine even though she was gasping for breath and had developed a sudden acute pain in her lungs, and she was sent home. On medical advice, Claire went to A&E another four times in the following months with severe heart palpitations, chest pain, and after what felt like a stroke. For most of the summer of 2020 she was severely incapacitated, almost completely bedridden, with sensory overload, so she couldn’t watch TV, listen to the radio, read, or sleep, and had to lie on her front as it was easier to breathe.
One night she felt immense pressure in her head, developed pins and needles in her arms and legs, and was unable to move or call for help before she thinks she must have lost consciousness. It was so bad she was surprised to be still alive in the morning.
Her sons too had Covid during this time. The twins’ symptoms relapsed and remitted repeatedly over the following months, but – unlike their mum – they had periods of being symptom free. One twin had daily nosebleeds for several months, chest pain, blistered ‘Covid toes’, was totally wiped out and slept a lot. His twin brother had severe sickness and diarrhoea for weeks on end, with joint and abdominal pain. Her eldest son felt fine but had blackened ‘Covid toes’ for several months. Claire was in phone contact with her GP for the children but didn’t seek other medical attention for the boys at this stage. With Claire bedridden, her eldest son had to learn to cook and did the cooking and laundry and other household chores – Claire doesn’t know what she would have done without him. With no family nearby, Claire relied on friends and neighbours to do the shopping.
The twins started secondary school in September 2020 but with symptom relapses, school Covid isolation periods, and another lockdown they struggled socially at school due to all their time out. Claire was considering home schooling them while they planned to relocate to her parents’ village. One of the twins developed seizure-like symptoms. Initial tests showed signs of epilepsy, and they are awaiting further appointments.
Claire had been furloughed during the early months of the pandemic but tried a phased return to work in September 2020, working two days a week from home. She struggled so much, both physically and cognitively, that she had to stop work and use a combination of sick leave and holiday allowance until they ran out in April 2021. Her memory and concentration levels meant she was unable to do her usual work as a copywriter – she could barely compose a text message. Her workplace has been very supportive, adjusting her work to more verbally orientated tasks, such as client surveys, which she felt she could cope with. Although by no means what it was pre-Covid, over time Claire’s cognition improved so she was able to build up to some of her previous responsibilities and now works three days a week from home.
After 18 months of being ill she tried a private, three-week course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which overall she feels helped, although the benefits were offset by two major relapses caused by physical assessment tests during the therapy. Her GP has been supportive but doesn’t know how to help. “I know from people in our support group that some of the most upsetting and greatest causes of anguish and trauma have been from not being able to access medical help and being disbelieved or gaslit.”
Claire is very active in the Long Covid community after setting up a Facebook-based support group that is one of the largest of its type in the world and now part of the charity Long Covid Support. She was also a founding member of the NHS England Task Force for Long Covid and works with researchers. She co-founded the online Long Covid Choir, which was included in a feature on Channel 5 News and won a prize in an online community choir competition.
Claire believes there should be a wider use of anti-viral treatment for prevention of severe acute Covid as well as for people with Long Covid and thinks vaccines for Covid should just be part of the arsenal against Covid, alongside a wider range of mitigations.
Claire feels lucky she has such supportive parents, friends, and neighbours and has been able to claim state benefits with the help of a friend who completed the paperwork for her. She is able to work part time and is financially more secure than others with Long Covid, but has to be careful as she now earns just over half of what she did prior to falling ill.
Claire is now a disabled badge holder, has ongoing symptoms, and can only walk short distances and uses a wheelchair to aid her mobility. Although her health continues to be ‘dreadful in a lot of ways’ she feels her life has become very rewarding with her volunteer work with the Long Covid community. She says, “the people I’m meeting, the experiences I’m having, and the purpose that I’ve found in my life have helped get me through one of the most difficult times of my life.”