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My cough was so bad, I had to sleep sitting up

Kevin, who is 51 and has asthma, caught COVID-19 in March 2020.

I was diagnosed with asthma 7 years ago. I’m careful to take my medication correctly, as well as taking my peak flow every day. When my management is in check, my asthma is fine and doesn’t affect my day to day life.

My experience of COVID-19

I started feeling unwell on 25 March. After work the next day, I felt so weak it felt like I’d been hit with a mallet. I phoned NHS 111, and was advised by a doctor to stay at home to recover. I was told to drink plenty of fluid and take paracetamol. Two days later, I wasn’t feeling any better. I had terrible fatigue, felt extremely weak, had a horrendous cough and a constant dry mouth.

All weekend I felt very unwell and could barely eat. On Monday morning I rang my GP, who took over my care. They said I had all the symptoms of COVID-19, which I had suspected too. My cough had gotten so bad I had to sleep sitting up in an armchair. I was also prescribed a saliva generating spray, as no matter how much water I drank, my mouth felt very dry.

In those first 2 weeks, I lost 2 stone. I had no appetite and didn’t eat properly for 3 and a half weeks. I could just about manage to stand up from the armchair to go to the toilet. I felt this way in total for 5 weeks, didn’t sleep in my bed for 7 weeks and was off work for 11 weeks. During this time, I wasn’t given a COVID-19 test. They could only give them in hospital and my GP wanted to keep me out of hospital where possible, to recover at home.

On 11 May, nearly 7 weeks after I first started feeling unwell, I thought I was getting better, as my cough was disappearing. But I then developed a pain across the left side of my chest and back. I rang my GP and went in for an examination.

I was admitted to hospital, because they thought I might have a blood clot. I was admitted to a COVID ward, which was scary. All the staff were dressed head to toe in PPE and I had my own private room, which I wasn’t allowed out of. The staff were amazing and checked up on me all the time. They didn’t find a blood clot, but they did discover I have a partially collapsed lung and severe lung scarring from COVID-19. I’ve been told this will repair over time, but they can’t give me a timeframe.

I feel better now, but there’s still a way to go

I feel better now than I did before. I still struggle with shortness of breath and a numb foot, which is currently unexplained, but my GP is looking into it. I also get terrible fatigue, especially after a day at work. After a phased return to work, starting with 2 hours and building up from there, I’m now back working full time from home. My employer has been very understanding.

I’ve started doing daily exercise to build up my strength, by going for regular walks and using my exercise bike for 10 minutes every day. It’s been a big help and I enjoy getting the fresh air.

COVID-19 has changed my life massively. I can’t guarantee I won’t get it again, which makes me worried. I feel nervous about going anywhere. My hair has also started to fall out. I’ve seen on Facebook support groups for people that have had COVID-19 that this is happening to other people too.

My GP has been my main source of support. I have mild cerebral palsy, so I have a GP I speak to regularly, and they’ve always been at the end of the phone if I want to speak to them. I’ve also found support through Facebook groups. 

I think more understanding is needed of COVID-19 and what people are going through. Everyone’s experience of COVID-19 is so different.

On the road to recovery

As of November 2020, Kevin has reported feeling better:

I’ve had a change of asthma pumps and they’re working really well for me. I still get bouts of fatigue, but working from home is a big help, as it allows me to deal with it better. However, the numbness in my foot is still there and doctors think I could have permanent nerve damage. All in all, I’m way better than I was. Now I’m just waiting to see where the Long COVID clinics will be set up and when this happens, I’ll ask for a referral.

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17 February 2021