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Case study: Long Covid - Julie's Story

Long Covid and its impacts

By Julie Davis, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, CRN West Midlands

Many of you who have worked with me over the years know I like my sport! In February 2020 I was preparing for the European and World Powerlifting Championships and would have classed myself as someone who was fit and healthy. 

My job can be quite hectic, but I also tried to make sure I got my 10,000 steps in as often as possible so I definitely kept myself busy and active.

We all knew Covid-19 was a threat, but at that time I think many of us thought that if we did catch it, and were young, fit and healthy, we’d not really have a problem fighting it. For me it was more about keeping those around me safe who weren’t in that position.

I caught Covid-19 quite early on at the end of March 2020; I didn't feel too bad and apart from an annoying cough I pretty much sailed through it. It was before testing started, so I wasn’t 100% sure but an antibody test at RWT in May confirmed I’d had it.

I thought I’d got off quite lightly and all was good until around June time. I started to really struggle with muscle pain, fatigue and poor breathing. I could barely function some days - I had to give up training, and had gone from someone who ran 100km to someone who couldn’t walk up the hill in the park without stopping.

First stop was the GP - they did a few tests and my oxygen levels were really low and I had some scarring on my lungs. They said it was most likely Long Covid, and then they admitted that they really didn’t know what else to do! There was no magic cure - the only advice they could offer was to take painkillers, get rest but stay active, and live a healthy lifestyle. This is why the research into Long Covid is so vital.

I had good and bad days during the remainder of 2020. I had days where I felt 100% and nothing was wrong, and then others when I was just so fatigued that I could barely function or get my words out. And these days came out of nowhere so it was really difficult to prepare for, but I kept a diary for triggers and that seemed to help so I could tell if I was pushing it too much, and when I needed to take a break.

The other aspect that was difficult is the mental side of the condition - being permanently shattered and in pain gets you down. We were in lockdown so there wasn’t much we could do anyway, but I just wanted to hide away. It’s almost like ‘existing’ had taken all my energy, and there definitely wasn’t anything left for being sociable. I felt like I was doing a bad job at pretty much everything - I didn’t/couldn’t  see my dad as much as I should have, and felt guilty for that and my family didn’t really get what I was going through so I started distancing myself even more. 

Having to pretty much give up training was hard to take as well - I’d worked so hard over the years and as each week went by, I just knew I was getting weaker and would probably not be able to compete at powerlifting any more.

In 2021 it started to improve a little. My GP advised that I should take up running again as the next stage in my recovery… I thought they were crazy! The stairs finished me off some days so how was running going to help? But I dug my trainers back out of their five year retirement and started slow. It was a genius idea from the GP - within six weeks I was back up to 10km, and within three months my VO2 max levels had gone from 33 to 41. I felt like I had started to turn a corner.

I still get good and bad days, but at least the good days are more often which just gives me a bit of hope that the end is in sight. It’s been a long and hard road. I’m back training, hitting Personal Bests in the gym, and have the World Championships in Poland to look forward to in October.

I’ve shared my story because in some organisations, senior leaders are supposed to be superhuman, and even if we are struggling, some would see this as a weakness and try to hide it. This last year has shown that I am certainly not superhuman! And admitting that is sometimes the hardest thing.

Everyone’s Long Covid journey is different - don’t think that going for a run is going to cure you! If you are suffering with any long term effects, or have people in your family who are, really read up on the topic, seek advice from medical experts, and look into the research that we are carrying out in the region to see whether any interventions would help. One of the reports I read said there were over 120 symptoms - that’s quite a list, and a huge public health issue that will be with us for years to come.

I do still feel like I’m one of the lucky ones however; I’m here to share my story and many others aren’t. If you are struggling with your recovery be patient, be kind to yourself, and ask for help when you need it (I’ll always have time to spare) as it may be a long road to normality.

Check out some of the sites and resources below. 

CRN West Midlands Wellbeing Site

‘Long Covid’ exercise research trial by Warwick University and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust

Take part in the Zoe App Long COVID survey

Long COVID: What do we know so far? Webinar 27 July 2021, 3.00pm

NHS Employers Information on COVID and Long COVID