Covid Scotland: Glasgow nurse opens up about ‘soul destroying’ experience of coronavirus

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A young nurse from Glasgow said she felt as though she were “dying” from Covid-19 in a recovery process that has lasted ten months.

Lorna Graham, 27, has opened up about her experience of the virus after being diagnosed on April 8 and being off work for six months.

The nurse said the experience was “the worst I have felt in my life”, saying at times she felt as though she was drowning.

Ms Graham, who has been a nurse for three years, said: “The acute phase of my illness lasted a few weeks and I can truly say I felt like I was dying. Without question it was the worst I have felt in my life.

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“I have had sepsis and swine flu but this was different. It felt like I was drowning; at times I couldn’t get a breath.

“This all happened despite me being a fit 26-year-old. I wasn’t a fitness fanatic, but I was active on my days off.

“In the first few weeks I was at the Covid assessment centre a few times and was sent to hospital, although never admitted. I had a temperature, no taste or smell and just slept and slept.

“I waited to recover fully and it just never came. It was October before I felt able to go back to work.”

Ms Graham said her symptoms changed throughout the illness, sometimes suffering shortness of breath, other times feeling as though “someone is digging their knuckles into my back”.

She continued: “My sense of smell has not come back, so it’s been a long time since I tasted a meal properly.

“I can tell if something is sweet or savoury, or salty or spicy. But not what the actual taste is; it’s odd.

“I also get ‘fake’ smells. I can smell smoke sometimes, when nobody near me is smoking. I also get a mouldy smell which isn’t pleasant!

“There is no pattern to my flare-ups. Right now I have felt unwell for about six days, and other times it can be three on, three off. I’m not unwell enough to be off work, but I am tired and fed up feeling like this.

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“I have tried some support groups, but come off them as it’s soul destroying. So many people are just floored by this.

“I probably look fine. I’ve lost more than a stone and my friends have all commented. I am the thinnest I have been since I was about 14 but I’m not trying to lose weight; it’s just happening to me.

“As a nurse I know that and know there are so many people in greater need than me right now.

“On the other hand I am 27 and need to know if this is normal and is there anything else I can be doing to help myself.”

In Scotland, over 185,000 people have tested positive for the virus since March 2020, with over 57,000 of these cases recorded within Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

To help people cope in their recovery from the virus, NHSGGC’s Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy teams have created a new online resource, having distilled what they have learned from helping people recover both at home and in hospital.

The new self-management resource is available to the public and is aimed at anyone managing the many types of symptoms associated with Covid-19.

It also notes the pace of recovery may be slower than expected.

Common symptoms can include: fatigue, breathlessness, reduced exercise tolerance and lack of physical strength. The resource offers advice on recovering from the virus, managing breathlessness, general wellbeing, managing fatigue, exercise programmes and more.

Lynn Glen, physiotherapist, NHSGGC, said: “We know that the lingering effects of Covid-19 can vary from person to person.

“We wanted to help people get back on their feet, to gain knowledge about the virus, learn how to manage their symptoms and ultimately recover with this new resource.”

There is also a dedicated resource for patients with the most severe symptoms who have spent time in intensive care.

Ms Glen added the impact of Covid-19 on people’s mental health shouldn’t be overlooked. 

She said: “This can be a traumatic and difficult time for both patients and their families.

“The impact of prolonged ventilation and admission to an ICU can have severe affects on the body, as well as the mind, it can leave some people with a variety of symptoms including anxiety, fatigue, poor exercise tolerance, depression, not wanting to leave the house, avoiding friends, poor memory, poor sleep, pain and weakness.

“There is a dedicated section for people who are recovering from COVID-19 after being treated in ICU.”

Advice for relatives, carers and loved ones of people who are recovering, who may be facing their own physical and mental health challenges, is also available.

Dave Furniss, Deputy professional Lead for Physiotherapy, NHSGGC, said: “As the short term and long term effects of Coronavirus become more evident, this resource is needed now more than ever for patients, relatives and health care professionals.”

Juliet Harvey, Practice Development Physiotherapist, NHSGGC added:  “This Practice Development project was brought together in response to COVID-19 utilising work done by therapist across NHS GGC. 

“I am very grateful to all, in particular Physiotherapist Lynn Glen, Eleanor Duncan, Claire Cox and Gillian Ferguson for the hard work and tenacity in bringing this fantastic resource together with the support from the web team.” 

Top Ten Tips for Recovering from Covid-19:

Take it slow – recovery may take longer than you expect.

Eat well – your body needs nutrients to get better. This can be difficult when you lose your sense of taste / smell but just as important.

Sleep well – your body needs rest, take it easy.

Plan your day – especially important if you’re feeling fatigued. Plan your day and week to include consistent activity, rather than boom and bust cycles which may leave you more tired.

Deep breathing – sit in a relaxed position, breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, lying on your front can also help.

Stay active – your physical strength may be impacted so build yourself back up with regular activity like walking or at home exercises.

Get up – easy to forget in lockdown, make sure you are regularly standing, set a timer to make sure you’re getting up once an hour.

Get out – make sure to get outside with nature proven to improve our wellbeing.

Relax – remember to relax your mind however that may be. Some people find meditation helpful.

 Stay connected – speak to your loved ones regularly about your recovery and how you’re doing. We all need support. 

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