Whether it be a virus from some descent or a long term illness there is one thing I know for sure and that is that you’re not alone. I sit in the lounge side by side with my partner tuning into a radio update during the Coronavirus outbreak in April 2020, and instead of an update we are fed the most beautiful, honest and authentic account of an individuals experience attending a funeral, describing the sterile approaches from blue gloves to antibac gel, the empty church bar 4 seats albeit spaced out. The words filling the air were meaningful, the songs personally chosen, but the atmosphere holding the tears back that only just fell as she walked away. How many funerals have played out in this way or in a virtual manner..?
These words, this story from the radio echoed an experience I to had recently and that is a momentary feeling of loneliness, when my childhood Asthma reared itself again as a 42 year old adult. It came from nowhere for 3 years I’d not taken one puff of an inhaler despite years previous to that on adult doses of steroids, theophylline, blue and brown inhalers with many nebulisers to control my stubborn respiratory illness. But i’d been given a break of 7 years and now 3 years in a 42 years on earth. I was out of puff, wheezy, I know it well, it’s a distinct sensation in my body and sadly unmistakeable. I reach for my Ventolin when I get back home, 4 doses in I’m wondering why it’s not giving me the usual relief..? I check the date, of course it’s 3 years out of date! I request more and I know confidently to request the brown one too because my symptoms are intensifying. These very moments took me on a journey, a long one full of loneliness, despair, fear and confusion. I collect the prescription without looking at it, taking it straight to the pharmacy in a sealed bag that I accept with such gratitude and again I did not check the contents till I get home at 5pm. I rip it open to discover two of the same inhalers, two blue (Ventolin to those in the know) I know this is not good as I approach the weekend, the doctors and pharmacy are both now closed. My strong mindset kicks in I’ll be okay, stay calm and everything will be alright. By Monday symptoms have become harder to control and I ask my partner to take me to A&E, I breathlessly answer the usual check in questions and in the 90 minute wait I meditate for the entirety, hearing my name at the 90th minute I think I’ve manifested it! A quick realisation knowing that my name is actually being uttered gently by the doctor. I slowly enter the room to control my breathlessness I sit down to gather myself for the conversation ahead. I start with ‘I’m much more ill than I may appear as I have just meditated to stay calm’. He nods in acknowledgement, a short while into my explanation the doctor sparks into action, clearly new to the department or hospital itself as he attempts to find somewhere for me to receive a nebuliser. He checks if I can walk or need a wheelchair, ‘I’ve come this far I’ll walk’ I say. We start in the emergency department where I am not deemed an emergency and instead ushered to ‘fit to sit’ (anyone that’s been told to take a seat in this space will know that this warrants a blog on its own!!) In fact there’s so much to say here that it may deviate from the reason why I write this particular blog, so please hold a space in your mind for this part of the story…fast track to being sent home with the usual pack of steroids that has always been the way to tame my type of Asthma. By this time my mum is on her way to help support me and the family and 30 minutes before she arrives I notice my legs have an unusual rash that is creeping up my body, tummy, back and arms. By the time I’ve scuttled to meet mum at the station and shared this with her the rash has intensified so I reach out for a doctors appointment, I’m seen and sent home with an antihistamine for Urticaria. The heat flushes in and out of my body and creeps onto my neck, I experience fever after fever, by the evening I have a tingle in my top lip by the morning I look like I’ve got a fat lip. I remain focused on getting the kids ready for and to school in fact I drove Coco to school. In hindsight I could feel myself getting much more unwell and didn’t want to scare the kids. By the time I return home I tremble and stagger to the couch ‘ help me’ I state between a swollen face as my throat tightens. Ambulance collect me with little urgency and so much unsureness of how to treat me that i wish I could request another set of medical team! My body starts shaking uncontrollably and I am asked so many questions many of which I can barely answer and in no time at all I am chosen for another ‘fit to sit’ stint (and yes you guessed it i’ll write about this at another time). Nobody knows what I have reacted to and I am told to stop steroids, changed preventative inhaler, no blood test or further exploration. My rash eases over the next few days but my breathing is still tricky, I can’t lay down at all to sleep and only rest sitting up on the sofa, by this time the doctor agreed to provide me with nebules to self administer my nebuliser at home – the best presant I’ve ever received. I learn that the usual brown inhalers don’t exist (Becotide – a name some old timers in the Asthma circuit may remember) anymore and I’m on my second version of, first one was Flixotide, now it was Clenil – both did nothing for me. I receive lecture after lecture from medical professionals that I have been taking risks by not taking my inhalers consistently over the last 3 years despite being so well for those years, it amazed me that no one asked me what I had been doing to be so well for so long – that’s another story too!
By the 3rd Doctor’s appointment, this fresh pair of eyes sent me for an x-ray that afternoon the next day I had a call to say that no wonder I was feeling so unwell both of my lungs were clouded with a bacterial infection, namely Pneumonia.
The reason I write and share this experience is that throughout this time i felt so lonely, so fearful of how unwell I was, that I might be leaving this world and my family behind and wondering what the message was in such a paralysing illness. I could barely walk between the lounge and the kitchen, the only activity I could muster out of pure stubbornness to surrendering to 100% rest was making dinner for the family. Though I was giving my mum so many flashbacks of childhood illness I could barely recollect anything of this power and strength determining what I could and couldn’t do. I continued to worsen and had to head to A&E again where I sat it out for nearly 9 hours to get myself on the right route to a proper recovery.
The reflections I have now is ‘did I have Covid?’ Is that why I was so unwell and couldn’t seem to get better. The doctor tells me it’s unlikely as it was bacterial and went on for months rather than weeks and those who were around me did not fall ill but I can empathise with respiratory battles that illnesses like Covid deliver.
I am thankful to sit here typing and now feeling resilient once again, my favourite therapy is writing amongst a time of unprecedented uncertainty and the grief of the lives lost during Covid-19 break my heart. I feel and hear and honour every life lost in this global pandemic and wanted somehow to bring us altogether in energy and love and push it to every bedside where illness has overtaken someones body. If I could utter something into everyones ear at this time it would be ‘you know yourself, you know what’s working, you know what’s not working. Find strength in every single moment this experience provides us with, there are many lessons and lives will pass us by but they will never be forgotten and we are holding your hand and holding space for you virtually and never ever feel alone’.