Charlotte Godziewski By: Charlotte Godziewski
Lecturer in Sociology and Policy
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25 Nov 2020 : I'm out of breath

It was around mid-October when I likely got covid. I say likely because my test came back negative. However, for a variety of reasons (including what I describe in the paragraph below), and according to the doctors I spoke to, that test was most likely either a false negative, or it was done outside of the narrow time-frame in which tests best work. Anyway, I felt really lucky because I wasn’t even that sick. I had a cough, mild chest pain, one or two days of ‘feeling sick’ but not even a fever. So I thought 'awesome, I’m lucky enough to experience only a very mild version of covid! Woohoo!'

By mid-November, I was feeling better, not quite perfectly fine yet, but much better, as you would expect when you’re recovering. But suddenly, around the 18-19 November, out of the blue it got worse again. A new symptom (I had had it very mildly only very briefly in October, didn’t think much of it at the time) kicked in and is now refusing to go away: shortness of breath. It is now to the point that I cannot hold a conversation without finding it difficult to breath, and I regularly need to gasp for air. This makes recording lectures or holding webinars and meetings very difficult (luckily I was able to reschedule pretty much everything this week). Even without talking, I now often struggle to finish my inhalations, and depending on the days, it’s sometimes accompanied by a weight-like dull chest pain. Breathing while eating is now suddenly complicated, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot finish a yawn anymore (I know this sounds trivial, but I just discovered this can become quite anxiety-triggering). Even though the rest of my body feels fine and not particularly tired (according to my legs, I could be hiking in the Peaks again), I feel dizzy after walking just a few hundred meters. This discrepancy is strange and makes me doubt whether it’s all in my head or not. But then, at times when I feel better, I have a comparison point and I realise that the times I feel worse are very much real. One aggravating factor is that – as someone not at all used to any breathing difficulty – I find it quite anxiogenic, and that leads to a vicious reinforcing cycle that is difficult to control and sometimes ends in a panic attack.

I spoke to the NHS covid helpline service, which put me in touch with a GP, who put me in touch with another GP in my area. All these phone conversations didn’t help my breathing, but I must say that the GPs on the phone were really, really helpful and empathetic and just wonderful: even though the whole process was quite bureaucratic, the people you end up actually speaking to are just amazing and I’m really grateful to them. They reassured me that this was quite common even in young, previously healthy people, and that there is no reason to believe I wouldn’t fully recover, even if it may take a while. The GP in my area prescribed me one of those asthma inhalers, as well as a chest X-ray just to be sure.

The X-ray is next Tuesday, it is probably and hopefully going to be normal. It’s probably nothing to worry about. But the uncertainty is weird. Of course, there’s always uncertainty, but I suppose in the case of covid it is more visible, because it’s such a new disease, we don’t yet have hindsight, and medical doctors are quite open about this uncertainty. So in the end, I think it’s all going to be a matter of managing the symptoms until they go away, in a muddling through kind of approach. This feels a bit lonely and scary, but I’m lucky to have plenty of support from friends, family, and colleagues.  

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