Long road to recovery for consultant at Stevenage’s Lister Hospital who contracted COVID-19
- Credit: Archant
A medical consultant who feared she’d had “last hugs and kisses” with her son and husband after testing positive for COVID-19 and battling the illness at home for two months is now highlighting how a growing number of people with long-term debilitating coronavirus symptoms are classed as mild cases because they are not admitted to hospital.
Kate Steiner, a consultant in radiology at Stevenage’s Lister Hospital, tested positive for COVID-19 on April 21 after waking up with a high temperature and dry cough.
“The worst part was the fatigue,” she said. “It was overwhelming – like being drugged – and I was unable to get out of bed for days. There was also severe back pain, very unpleasant hallucinations, and I was drowsy and intermittently confused, with difficulty in finding the right words to say.
“At this point I was isolated from the rest of my family, which was incredibly difficult, both emotionally and for practical reasons.” A week later Kate, who has mild asthma, became very short of breath and showed signs of an infection in her left lung, so she was prescribed antibiotics and steroids.
She began experiencing new symptoms, including loss of sensation to both feet, diarrhoea, constipation, palpitations, weight loss and insomnia.
Kate, 45, said: “The isolation from my family in the acute stage was very traumatic and when I was very unwell I wondered, like I am sure others have, whether we had had our last hugs and kisses.”
In the second week of Kate’s illness, both her husband and their 13-year-old son tested positive for COVID-19. “I will always feel incredibly guilty about infecting them both while I was asymptomatic before I became unwell,” Kate said, although both have since made a good recovery.
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Kate, a keen horse rider who was fit and well before contracting coronavirus, said: “One month in, I started to walk around the garden, building the time in five minute increments, but hit a wall at 20 minutes. Going from being very fit and active to this was really upsetting.
“The fifth week was like coming out of a concussion. The fatigue was still present and when it came in waves it was overwhelming. I have previously been on call for 48 hours continuously as a junior doctor, worked insane hours repeatedly and never felt anything like this. I had to sit down to peel vegetables or cook and even small tasks became very demanding. My battery was drained incredibly quickly.
“By the eighth week I had suffered a further two to three relapses of acute symptoms, including a new symptom which was severe right hip muscle spasm and nerve pain.”
Kate says she began to realise she is not alone in having symptoms which vary on a week-to-week basis, as well as relapses of acute symptoms.
She says: “The long-term illness is very poorly understood, but there is increasing awareness of it within the medical community, and media coverage has helped raise awareness.
“It makes sense that there is a spectrum of illness between severe cases and a one-to-two-week illness from which you make a full recovery.
“Many of us are still classed as having a mild illness when figures are reported because we were not admitted to hospital.
“There is hope though, as research and resources are directed in this area and long-term COVID clinics have been set up in some larger hospitals for patients with long-term symptoms.” She added: “It is certainly the strangest and most unpleasant illness I have ever had. I wish I had been warned about the potential long-term effects. It would have helped me better understand the risks associated with COVID and also made much more sense of the illness I have experienced and continue to experience.
“I appear to be through the worst of it now, but I am fully aware that I could relapse again, as many others have.
“As the lockdown measures ease I think it is important to raise awareness of the full spectrum of disease, especially the long-term illness secondary to COVID which is now finally being recognised, as research projects, rehabilitation units and long-term clinics are being set up around the country.”
Kate is making a phased return to work after testing negative for COVID-19, despite “still struggling”.
She said: “Before COVID I had a very busy, fulfilling life and I hope to get back to this, but it appears to be a long way off still.”