Caroline Robertson can vividly recall asking her husband to check on her every 10 minutes as she lay in bed terrified she could stop breathing at any moment. Caroline, a specialist physiotherapist based at St Mary’s Hospital, feels lucky to have beaten coronavirus but months later she is still struggling with recurring symptoms.
As Islanders are once again told to stay at home to save lives, she has shared her experience of the pain and fear after catching the deadly disease in order to warn others to take the virus more seriously.
When do you think you were infected?
“Honestly, I haven’t a clue how I caught it. No-one at work was unwell; a friend had been ill a week before with a slight temperature but her tests came back negative. It’s a mystery”.
What were your earliest symptoms and how did the illness develop?
“I remember it started with a tickly cough and a bit of chest tightness towards the end of March last year. It was really infrequent. Within 24 hours, the cough had become more persistent, the chest and throat tightness was slowly worsening and I had developed a temperature. I remember feeling really washed out and was unable to get out of bed for about four days.
“I was terrified I was going to stop breathing. I’ve never known anything like it.
“I had such a banging headache – it was like having a knife stuck in my head. Around four days down the line I realised I had lost my sense of smell. The chest tightness was persistent and my throat felt like it was being squeezed. Later I heard about “the COVID strangle” and that’s exactly how it was.
“A week later the chest and throat tightness hadn’t settled. I was becoming increasingly worried and phoned 111 for advice. That evening, I remember lying upstairs and asking my husband to check on me every ten minutes as I was terrified I was going to stop breathing. I’ve never known anything like it”.
How are you feeling now, both physically and emotionally, and how long did it take you to recover?
“I know now that I had long-COVID as I don’t think I got my energy back until at least July and my breathlessness and throat tightness took months to subside. Even now, if I get really tired or stressed, my tickly cough and tight chest returns. I still don’t think I’m 100 per cent over it.
“At my lowest point I was truly afraid I could die.
“I’ve never had anything like this before. It’s the long-term effects that are really draining. I do feel lucky to have come through this. I’ve never worried before that I might stop breathing and at my lowest point I was truly afraid I could die”.
What precautions did you take to protect those around you from catching the virus?
“My husband and family were great. We tried as best we could with keeping apart in the house but we’re fairly certain my husband caught it as he was ill a week later with a temperature and severe fatigue”.
Has the virus changed you as a person and your outlook on the current situation, particularly with cases on the Island rising so sharply in recent weeks?
“I know so many people now who are testing positive for COVID and sincerely hope they get away with minor symptoms. I’m fit and well but I was amazed by how hard it hit me. I dread to think what it would have been like if I’d been more vulnerable. I still hear people saying that it’s just the flu. I can reassure you that this is not the flu. I underestimated how devastating COVID can be and I’m still living with the long-term effects. As Islanders, we must do everything possible to protect our community”.
You can listen to Caroline’s story as she chats to Ian Mac about her COVID-19 ordeal