"I'm exhausted": Student Georgina on her devastating battle with long Covid

31 Mar 2021
By Georgina W., Student at University of Bristol

Struggling with long Covid is no joke. Here, third-year student Georgina describes her experience, one year on since first contracting the virus in March 2020.

When Covid-19 first hit the news last year, no one had any idea just how catastrophic it would be. Today, there have been more than 2.5 million deaths and almost 115 million cases globally since it was first discovered.

And while millions are said to have ‘recovered’, an estimated 10% of these people are suffering long term illness. Including me.

I am a 20-year-old, third-year student and I am one of the long Covid sufferers.

How it started

On 17 March 2020, my university decided to close. I travelled home with my mum the next morning. But just five days later, I developed a high temperature of 38C.

Strangely, I felt completely fine. In fact, I wouldn’t have even noticed it if my dad hadn’t felt my forehead and told me I felt really warm.

That night, the first UK lockdown was announced. At the time, I wasn’t really worried. The idea that you’d be fine if you were young was still being pushed. The next day, though, I woke up feeling like I’d been run over. I was so exhausted I could barely lift my head up. All my muscles ached.

This lasted for about a week and then I started to feel better. At the time, the advice was to stay home for seven days and, on the 10th day, I was feeling okay, so I went to the shops.

That afternoon, my chest began to hurt. It was like a crushing weight had been placed on my sternum. Two days later, I had a high temperature again and was isolating again.

I hadn’t heard of anyone getting these recurring symptoms, so I phoned my GP. She was concerned I might have developed a chest infection, so prescribed me antibiotics over the phone.

It took about a week, but I started to feel better again, and my temperature disappeared. I thought I was getting over it (or that the antibiotics were working).

But it came back. Again. The temperature, the fatigue, chest pain, muscle and joint pain, and nausea. This bout lasted for eight weeks solid. I went to my GP after four weeks. She checked me over and then told me “it’s a virus, you just need to wait it out”. I was sent home.

A hard summer

I started to feel better about a week before Father’s Day, so I was able to see my dad, outside and two metres apart, for the first time since I got ill. But while the temperature disappeared for the third time, the other symptoms remained – the worst being the pain and fatigue.

I figured it would take a little while for those symptoms to go. After all, post-viral syndrome is a very common complication after catching a virus and can last for three months. At 12 weeks, I figured this was what it was.

When things didn’t get better, I tried to seek medical help. I was repeatedly told “it’s a virus, you just need to wait it out”.

On my 20th birthday, however, my chest pain got really bad. I phoned my GP, who said I should go to A&E. Once there, they ran some tests to check for a heart attack and did a chest X-ray (my first ever X-ray!), but, other than raised inflammation markers, everything came back normal. They had no idea what was wrong with me and told me to see my GP.

In September, I reached out to my GP again. It had been six months and clearly “just waiting it out” wasn’t working. They agreed to do some tests (another X-ray and a whole lot of blood tests).

As a teenager, I had to have a lot of blood tests and I’ve always been easy to bleed, but, since having Covid-19, my veins wouldn’t cooperate. Now, it takes at least three attempts to get any blood.

The last blood tests I had took six attempts, three nurses, a ward sister, and, finally, an oncologist over an hour to get four vials of blood. All my tests so far have come back normal, except, again, for raised inflammation markers.

My life today

It’s now been a year since I first contracted the virus. I’m still ill. I’m exhausted and in pain all the time. I can’t leave the house.

A long Covid clinic has only just been set up in my area (my GP had no idea it existed, I got the information from a family friend working in the NHS). My first appointment was 23 March - exactly one year since I came down with symptoms. I’ve also been seeing a rheumatologist since November. My rheumatologist told me that, in all honesty, they have no idea how to treat long Covid.

I’ve been tested for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and many obscure illnesses. All tests have been negative. This is because there is no test to diagnose long Covid, so it has to be done by process of elimination. I’ve had chest X-rays, spinal X-rays and blood test after blood test after blood test. My latest bloods include looking for a rare gene.

I was meant to start my final year of my degree in October. I tried, but after a week it was clear I couldn’t continue with face-to-face classes. My university gave me the choice: suspend my studies for a year or complete my third year over the next two years.

I decided on the latter and am now studying two online modules from home. If I want to complete my degree, I will still have to go back to university next year. In a few months or so, my friends and peers will graduate without me and move on with their lives. I have no idea whether I will be well enough to go back.

Post-vial conditions, such as ME and fibromyalgia, have existed for decades with very little medical acknowledgement. We can only hope that this post-pandemic wave of new illnesses will lead to advancements in medical care for us all.

Please take Covid-19 seriously. Don’t think that if you’re young and healthy you’ll be fine, because the truth is you never know how your body will react.

What to do if you think you have Covid-19

If you think you or any of your flatmates have symptoms of Covid-19, please self-isolate immediately and follow the advice on the NHS website.

If you live with Unite Students, please do not visit your reception team, but let us know by using the ‘Register as self-isolating’ feature in the MyUnite app or emailing your reception team.

Where to learn more and get help with long Covid

Your Covid Recovery is an NHS page dedicated to techniques to help with symptoms (I personally didn’t find this helpful, but some people do).

Another resource that can be useful is Long Covid Support, a peer support and advocacy group with a website that has lots of links and articles. They also have a Facebook support group.

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Drama student in Bristol. Lover of cats, nature and theatre.