A Workington social worker is still suffering from the effects of COVID-19 – one year after she contracted the virus.
Lisa Rowe caught coronavirus last May and is still plagued by debilitating fatigue and, more recently, speech problems meaning she can only speak with a whisper. Migraines are also a regular occurrence for the 44-year-old, who remains extremely breathless and struggles to do even small tasks without becoming exhausted.
The social worker is now being supported by the North Cumbria Integrated Care long COVID service.
“I thought I had a cold so I was just taking it a bit easy, but then my breathing got so bad that I couldn’t take my inhaler that I use to control my asthma,” Lisa said.
“Not for one minute did I think that I had COVID because I didn’t have a new persistent cough and that was the main symptom they were emphasising then.
“I went to Workington hospital where they were absolutely brilliant and explained they would take a COVID test in case. The next day they told me I had tested positive. I was stunned, I couldn’t have been more careful and hadn’t been in shops or anything.
“They told me that I should go in and even though I explained that I was feeling better they insisted. My oxygen levels were really low and a few hours later I was in intensive care fighting for my life.”
Week in intensive care
Lisa spent a weekend in intensive care before she stabilised enough to be moved to a ward where she stayed for another two weeks until she could be discharged home. She was still very weak from the effects of the virus but she had no idea then that her next battle was about to begin.
“Being in hospital was really hard, obviously restrictions meant I could have no visitors but I was able to keep in touch virtually which helped. The staff in A&E, intensive care and Ward 2 at West Cumberland hospital were amazing,” she continued.
“It was early June before I was discharged and three or four days before I came home was when my voice went really weak. I haven’t been able to speak clearly since. The virus has caused a rare problem with my voice that will need long term treatment every three months now and I have to go to London or Manchester to help manage it.
“Voice problems can be common in long COVID but the condition I have is so uncommon the consultant said I’m the only one he knows of that has is following covid pneumonia. The team at North Cumbria Integrated Care have been incredible.
“Very quickly I was referred by Barbara in the respiratory physiotherapy team to the speech and language therapy team to try and get my voice back. Barbara has continued to help with my breathlessness and breathing techniques. I am also being supported by the psychology team. I have still not been able to return to work. This has been such a blow to my confidence and it has been so hard, losing my voice has been only one small part of the long COVID.
“The best thing is everyone who is supporting me are talking to each other, they are working together to make sure that I don’t have three appointments on the same day and that they are all aware of where I am in relation to my recovery in their service.
“Initially I did find it weird that three different services were talking about me but I honestly can’t thank them enough, it is fantastic that all the services are working together for me rather than on their own. Dr Lane, Barbara McCready, Lorna Gamberini and Dr Angela Waind have been incredible through the past year.
“I physically can’t do the things that I could before, I can’t go for a walk with my three beautiful Labradors and some days even just making a cup of tea exhausts me. I really can’t thank everyone who is helping me enough, hats off to the team in North Cumbria having a team that works together like this is amazing and I can’t thank them enough. Special thanks to Barbara McCready who coordinated the support I needed from the other services, I am so grateful.”
Dr Matthew Lane is a respiratory consultant and has been monitoring Lisa’s case closely.
He said: “While Lisa’s ongoing symptoms regarding her voice are rare, the fatigue and exhaustion she feels are not. This virus is something that we have never seen before and a year down the line long COVID is now recognised as a very debilitating condition.
“As professionals, we are learning all the time about the effect of and the possible treatments for this new virus. Everyone is affected differently from COVID-19 and I am very proud that we have a truly multi-disciplinary service in place in Cumbria to support people like Lisa.”
If you have COVID symptoms that have continued for 12 weeks following a positive diagnosis you should visit your GP about accessing the long COVID support.