My name is Mel, I’m 31 years old, but not exactly your average, healthy 31 year old. I have a condition called lupus or SLE, which means that I am in the high risk category due to the immunosuppressive medication that I am on. I have suppressive infusions once a year, take another immunosuppressant daily, and take daily steroids. My life is pretty normal; I work, I go to the gym, I go away – generally speaking I’m healthy, given my condition.
I went away skiing to Andorra on the 11th March, at that point in time COVID-19 was in the news, but for us we weren’t too worried about it. Two days into our holiday, Andorra shut the ski resorts, at this point we started to get worried.
That is when my cough began. I thought it was because I’d been drinking, staying up late and a month prior I’d had a chest infection so thought it may have come back. We made it home and apart from my cough I felt ok. During the week I had some strange sensations in my ears and nose, similar to if it was really cold outside when it wasn’t. I felt a bit odd, but still thought it was to do with a chest infection.
On Thursday, I spoke with my doctors and they said as you have no temperature it must be the chest infection back and gave me some antibiotics. On Saturday all was well until I noticed that I could not smell or taste anything. Stood by a burning fire, I could not smell a thing. I wasn’t really worried as this has not been publicised as a symptom, however, that evening my friend sent me a news story online saying that 2/3’s of patient with COVID-19 have no smell or taste.
On Sunday I woke up and that’s when it hit me, I felt like I had been run over. I was so tired, felt sick, couldn’t eat and had zero energy. I was also starting to get breathless. It sounds funny but at that point in time I thought perhaps I was just over tired, I’d had a couple of wines the night before, maybe I was a bit hungover.
On Sunday night I slept for 12 hours, I woke up on Monday morning I woke up and I could barely move and that’s when I knew it was more than a hangover or a chest infection. I texted my boss saying I wouldn’t be working as I couldn’t get out of bed. I dragged myself downstairs to the sofa and ate a banana so I could take my tablets. During the day, the only time I got up was to let my dog out into the garden and to refill my drink. I was exhausted, I ached, I was breathless, I was wheezy, and my coughing was out of control. I spoke to my GP surgery in the afternoon and the nurse practitioner called me. She said, if I deteriorated on Tuesday I’d need to ring again and attend a ‘hot clinic’ in the local hospital. The nurse was still under the impression I had a chest infection because I had shown no temperature at all.
On Tuesday I woke up and felt the same as Monday, no worse and no better. I called my rheumatologist and they said if it is COVID-19 I need to stop some of my tablets. With that they agreed I needed to be tested, but the issue being the hospital will only test inpatients. After much deliberation at the hospital between A&E and my consultants, they sent me to be tested. To avoid putting others at risk I had to drive myself – this was difficult but worth it. Private entrance, PPE’d up nurses and doctors, yellow warning tape everywhere, it was a surreal and scary experience on my own. After talking to me about my symptoms, masking me up and swabbing me (nose and throat), they sent me back home.
Wednesday, I woke up and felt much the same as the previous two days, no worse but no better. At 12pm I got the call from the hospital to say I had tested positive for COVID-19. To me this was a relief, not only to know why I’d been so ill but also I’ve got it, I’m through (I think) the worst and knowing that I’m high risk and if I can beat it given all of my immune problems, most people can.
It’s now been a week since I wrote this post and I feel like I am almost back to normal. My chest pain has subsided, I’m still sore around my ribs and I get tired easily. I am still breathless when doing much, but each day is easier.
I’m come off of my azathioprine, I’ve now been off it for 7 days and have been advised to have another week off of the immunosuppressant to ensure that my body has completely fought the virus. My consultant and the nurses have been great throughout this, giving me advice. They have said that they are unsure if I will be completely immune due to the steroids that I am on, they aren’t sure if my antibodies will develop in the same way as a ‘normal’ person, but I am being careful, still isolating and have not been out to do anything.
I want to say to those out there that are feeling completely anxious, nervous and scared about their pre-existing illnesses, those who are convinced they will be hospitalised if they fall victim of the virus. I am living proof that our bodies are amazing things, don’t always expect the worst. Yes, isolate and protect yourself as much as you possibly can, but try not to be scared, believe in your body, take vitamins, eat well and help your immune system to fight this.