‘I could be sitting doing a mundane task and I’ll get a rush of adrenaline and my heart starts going’
Daryl Fletcher says people living with the long-term effects of the virus fear they’ll be forgotten as the public move on from the pandemic.
But the most recent research from an Irish study showed that up to a quarter of patients are still affected by the virus a year after infection.
It found unusual blood clotting issues in people who hadn’t been severely affected by Covid, as well as more serious cases.
Daryl, a medical secretary in Belfast says her initial infection in October 2020 left her feeling under the weather for ten days and she lost her sense of taste and smell.
But within weeks of recovering from the virus her health started to deteriorate. She had a severe dose of tonsillitis, which led to quinsy, an abscess behind her tonsils, and weeks of antibiotics.
The most frightening symptom for the previously healthy 37-year-old was heart palpitations, for which she now has to take beta blockers.
“I was sitting watching TV and my heart started to race. It was so bad I had to phone an ambulance,” says Daryl, from Strabane.
“I could be sitting doing a mundane task and I’ll get a rush of adrenaline and my heart starts going.
“With the beta blockers now it will calm down, and instead of happening every day or every other day it’s once or twice a week.”
She says the most worrying aspect of the condition is that multiple tests have shown there is nothing wrong with her heart.
Along with the palpitations she also has daily pain in her back, arms, and legs, bouts of severe headaches, pins and needles in her hands and feet, which also become numb, and fatigue.
Daryl had to move in with her mother because of the long Covid symptoms, which also impacted her mental health, for which she was prescribed anti-depressants.
“I’m not rushing to the doctor with any of my symptoms because I know it’s all coming from Covid, and that Covid causes all sorts of damage.
“Previously when I’ve had to go to A&E, I’ve been so ill, and no one could give me any answers. You’re met with blank faces.
“I wasn’t running any marathons before I caught the virus, but I could walk everywhere. I did a city break in Edinburgh recently with a friend and the walking nearly killed me.
“I’m only 37. I shouldn’t have all these aches and pains.”
The most recent long Covid study, led by Professor James O’Donnell, a consultant haematologist based at the National Coagulation Centre at St James’s Hospital in Dublin offered some hope to sufferers like Daryl that their condition is being investigated.
He says in the US the National Institute of Health has identified research into long Covid as a critical medical need.
“They are encouraging people to do this research and find new ways of diagnosing it and new ways of treating it. In America, it is an absolute number one medical priority,” says the expert.
There are no exact figures for how many people in Northern Ireland have the long-term condition. According to government figures there have been 713,000 confirmed Covid cases here since the start of the pandemic. Research by UCL and Kings College London estimated that one in six are living with the aftermath of the virus which could be nearly 120,000 people in Northern Ireland.
The Long Covid Facebook Support Group set up by Andy Yeaman in Newtownards has seen its numbers jump in the last year from 250 to 681.
High-profile cases like Jools Oliver, wife of TV chef Jamie and actor Alyssa Milano have helped keep the focus on long Covid, but Daryl says more should be done.
“When I read about the blood clot study it made me think are they ever going to come out with some medication to help people with long Covid.
“They’re calling them micro-clots which a normal blood test won’t pick up.
“I know that it’s a new illness, but I feel that GPs and doctors should be reading up and researching it more. They are the people who treat you and they need to know.”
Daryl has now been able to go back to work after months off sick and then a phased return to her job. She still needs to rest regularly and has cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
She says the fear among long Covid sufferers is that they’ll be left behind, and it’s evident among the Facebook support group that people feel they can’t talk about it.
“In October it will be two years since I had it and I know if I keep mentioning what’s wrong with me people say, ‘are you still talking about that?’ I still have symptoms, but I feel people don’t want to know.
“Millions have had Covid, it’s such a widespread illness, so based on that how many people have long Covid,” says Daryl.