COVID-19 has put my job on hold

Maggie, 48, is a teacher living in Belfast. She started feeling unwell in March 2020 and has been living with symptoms ever since. She’s been referred to a 6-week COVID support programme, but has had to give up her job for the time being.

I started to feel unwell in March 2020, starting off with really bad fatigue. I went to a friend’s wedding and left early, which just isn’t me. After that I started having flu-like symptoms and then one day, while I was teaching, I got a burning pain in my throat, which then moved to my chest. My GP said they 100% thought I had COVID-19, but I couldn’t get tested at the time.

Since then, my chest pain has been pretty consistent and I feel short of breath all the time. My fatigue has got worse and I’ve struggled to get up and down the stairs. I’ve also been struggling with palpitations, anxiety and migraines. My GP can’t tell me when I can expect to recover completely.

Three-year waiting list

I went to the Mater Infirmorum Hospital in Belfast three times and they kept turning me away. They were only admitting emergency cases at the time, which I completely understand, but I wish there had been some advice and support available.

When I did eventually get into hospital, I was told I couldn’t get a COVID test, as they weren’t giving them to that many people at the time. I had a CT scan, which was clear, but was told that COVID-19 might have impacted my upper respiratory nerves.

Thankfully I’ve now been referred by my GP to a 6-week COVID support programme, where they’ll give me advice on how to manage my symptoms. This is the first help I’ve been offered, though.

I’ve also been put on steroids and given an inhaler, which have helped. My GP has also tried to refer me to a respiratory specialist, but I’ve been told there is a three-year waiting list.

Even talking can be hard

I can do activity for about two hours a day and then I need to go to bed. I’m usually always out and busy, so this has been a massive change. Even talking can be hard – I sometimes have to ask my friends if I can text them, rather than chat on the phone. I still feel breathless and have chest pains and fatigue.

Before I got COVID-19, I’d been working as a supply teacher for a long cover period. However, I’ve had to give this up because of how I’m feeling. When I was teaching, it felt like I was going to collapse in the classroom – I felt pain in my chest and was struggling to walk up the stairs or talk to the children.

I also planned to launch my own crafts business back in March. It was heart-breaking not to be able to launch this as planned, but I’m keeping the dream alive and hope that I can open this soon. Part of my work involves using a laser cutter, which I can’t use at the moment because you need to wear a mask, and I find that wearing one makes me feel breathless.

Finally, someone understood what I was going through

At first, I felt like I couldn’t get any help. I got COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, so back then no one really knew about post-COVID (also called long-COVID). But about 4 months later, the GP was able to offer me support.

In terms of the help people like me need, I think there needs to be dedicated post-COVID departments or centres at GP surgeries and hospitals. The government needs to explain to the general public what post-COVID is, to help build understanding. Employers need to be better informed as well.

The British Lung Foundation has been an amazing source of help and support. I found their website, then called their helpline. It was an absolute lifeline for me. I remember that first phone call – I was sitting in my car and I cried afterwards. Finally, someone understood what I was going through. They explained about inhalers and steroids, and gave me tips on how to feel better.

Support groups have also been so helpful and allowed me to share my experience with people who have gone through a similar thing. The Long Haul Covid Fighters UK Facebook group has helped me the most.

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17 February 2021