An NHS worker has revealed the ordeal of living with long COVID.
It is increasingly coming to light that not everyone who overcomes the coronavirus returns to a clean bill of health, with some enduring complications after clearing the infection from their body.
Some experts have argued “long COVID” should be considered a condition in its own right, with patients enduring everything from fatigue and hearing loss to palpitations and even signs of organ damage.
Liz Walker, 57, from Wiltshire, spent 16 days in hospital after catching the coronavirus from a patient at work.
Now home, the NHS activity coordinator claims she is “not the same person”, with long COVID leaving her breathless, aching and enduring “intense” heart palpitations.
Scans and tests have revealed “issues with her blood, inflammation and heart and liver damage”.
The mother-of-four is due to have a heart scan in November to uncover the extent of the damage.
Walker, who had chronic fatigue syndrome before she caught the coronavirus, thought she was having a flare-up when she developed a sore throat, “terrible” cough, and aches and pains on 4 April.
She began feeling better over the next few days, until walking upstairs one morning left her “physically unable to breathe”.
After collapsing on the bed, Walker was rushed to hospital, where she tested positive for the coronavirus.
With her oxygen levels “right down to the floor”, she even had the “‘do not resuscitate’ conversation” with her doctor.
“I wrote goodbye letters to my sons and husband just in case,” Walker told Yahoo UK. “I couldn’t see anyone or have any visitors.”
Watch: What is long COVID?
Walker pulled through, however, life is far from normal.
“I’ve never stopped experiencing the symptoms of COVID,” she said.
“I tried to get a grip and go back to normal life, but I kept getting breathless and my joints constantly ached.
“The heart palpitations are really intense. When they start you really begin to panic but I’m used to it now as it happens so often.”
A formerly active person, Walker enjoyed crafts, kite flying and photography.
“I went on holiday recently with my family but instead of walking and taking pictures of the scenery, I couldn’t face it, I was constantly looking out for the next bench,” she said.
“I’m not the same person I was pre-COVID.
“The scariest thing is not knowing whether it’s going to get better. I’m constantly worried it’s going to get worse.”
With long COVID a new phenomenon, Walker’s doctors have been unable to predict what her future may look like. They are also stumped on how best to treat her condition.
“I got an inhaler, but it didn’t help,” she said.
Walker was off work for three months and is slowly going back to her part time hours.
“Just walking between wards leaves me feeling absolutely done in,” she said.
When asked if the ordeal has affected her mental health, Walker said: “If I dwelled on everything, I would be more worried, more anxious, probably more depressed.
“I’m going to go day by day until I find out what happens in November. It’s a coping mechanism by avoidance.”
Walker has enrolled onto the clinical trial COVERSCAN, which aims to map “how COVID-19 impacts the health of multiple organs”.
“The scan and tests revealed I have issues with my blood, I have raised inflammation indicators of the liver and a dilated left ventricle,” she said.
“I was surprised to see my breathlessness was a result of damage to my heart and not my lungs.
“I know now my heart and liver have been damaged by the disease but I don’t yet know what the implications are or how long I’ll be feeling like this.”
The “huge wakeup call” has encouraged Walker to be more health conscious, with her cutting back on salt to limit any further damage to her heart. She also feels better having switched to decaf coffee.
With the UK firmly in its second coronavirus wave, officials are implementing local lockdowns and other restrictions to help stem the spread.
When asked about people flouting the rules, Walker said: “It’s not about just surviving the bout of COVID, it’s the damage it does to your body afterwards.
“I find it quite amusing that people who [might] spend a lot of money looking after their health are neglecting their long term health because they see COVID as just flu. It screws with your heart.”
Watch: UK coronavirus cases high but deaths low - why?