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I can identify with our callers, because I had COVID too

Pam Parry jointly leads our helpline team who are on hand to answer your questions and offer vital support, advice and reassurance. This includes our specialist Post-COVID Hub Helpline. In March Pam got COVID herself. Here she describes how it affected her and her work.

I think I got COVID when I met a group of people in March. There was someone there who was symptomatic, though at the time he thought it was just a cold.  

I vividly remember Friday 20 March. We were leaving the office ready to start working from home. I got to the top of the steps at Moorfields Station in Liverpool, and felt fine. By the time I got to the bottom of the steps, I felt like I was going to pass out. It was like I was drunk, my head was aching, and by the time I got off the train I didn’t feel safe to drive home, so my son had to come and collect me.

I soon got a high temperature, and I was shivering and shaking and my teeth were chattering all night. I thought: it can’t be. It must just be a bug. I can’t have COVID-19.

I felt like I had an elephant sitting on the front of my chest

The following day I got gradually worse. I couldn’t eat. I was convinced my son had started smoking, because I could smell smoke all the time. I felt like I had an elephant sitting on the front of my chest, and an elephant on my back, and my ribs were on fire. The cough was just horrible – the noise of it. I’ve got asthma and I was checking my peak flow, and it was dropping. I was getting worried.

I phoned 111 and was holding for nearly two hours and still couldn’t get through – waiting times were often long then. In the end I asked the GP for a phone consultation about my asthma.

I only took a week off work, but I should have taken more because I was really ill. I just felt so bad for my colleagues who were dealing with so many calls. The breathlessness carried on for about five weeks. I still get tired, but I’m pretty much back to normal now.

Many are struggling with post-COVID, we are here to listen

I count myself very, very lucky. I’m talking to people through the Post-COVID HUB Helpline who got the infection back in March and April, and they’re still struggling.

For instance, I spoke to a lady yesterday who’s developed heart failure. She’s got a pulmonary embolism, pseudomonas and neurological problems – and people were still saying that the post-COVID thing was all in her mind. I listened, and then talked her through being more proactive, and having the confidence to say ‘look, I’m still not right and I need further investigation.’

I’m shocked at the amount of young people in their 30s and 40s we’re hearing from, people who were previously very fit and healthy and never had a lung condition, who are still really struggling six months down the line.

It’s sad when people ring us and say things like ‘you’re the first person who’s listened to me’. The NHS is trying its best, but it’s time-limited. We have that time and we can listen.

I never bring it up on calls that I’ve had COVID. I couldn’t say ‘I’ve had it, but I’m alright!’. But when they say ‘I’ve got this awful burning under my ribs’ I can certainly identify with what they’re saying. We don’t have all the answers – it’s still too new. It’s about empathy, understanding, and knowledge.

Our helpline team have been coping with a huge increase in demand this year, and have been doing a wonderful job offering advice, support and reassurance. 

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Thank you so much Pam. Yes your lady sounds as if she needs a chest CT to rule out having bronchiectasis with Covid on top. So speaks a retired GP who has bronchiectasis band is doing her level best NOT to get Covid19!
I would just like to say thank you to Pam and her team on the helpline. Always on point with information, and reassurance, hope you're feeling better these days Pam xx I'm still struggling a bit. It's a big learning curve xx
Thanks to pam for that info . It varies from person to person but it all helps . There is nothing worse than not knowing .

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5 October 2020