Wednesday, January 12, 2022

15 months after contracting Covid, 46-year-old Linda Dalton from Piltown has never regained her quality of life. Dymphna Nugent reports…

IN February 2021, Linda Dalton was still reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 virus, which she had tested positive for in October 2020. At the time, she spoke to Dymphna Nugent about the debilitating fatigue which would manifest in the afternoons, and the chronic pain which had never left her. These symptoms were slowly being recognised as ‘Long Covid’, an illness which is still not given proper recognition in Ireland, despite patients presenting in GP clinics with lingering after-effects. Fifteen months following her initial diagnosis of Covid-19, Linda’s quality of life today is so poor and so heavily impacted that she struggles to remember a time when it wasn’t so. Like many of us, she finds it hard to remember what life was like before Covid-19.

Linda Dalton, 46, being assisted by her husband, Graham

Health impact

Children are very adaptable, it’s the adults and the elders that find this whole Covid thing exhausting and disruptive to their lifestyles. The entire experience has opened my eyes to anyone living with an invisible illness. This means they look ok on the outside, they have no scars, cuts, bruises or evidence of an outwardly illness,” said Linda. “Everything that is wrong with me is going on in the various systems of my body. My brain, I have short term memory loss, foggy brain and my speech can become slower, slurred and I stutter. My heart, I have been left with unexplained sinus, tachycardia, an unusually fast heartbeat. If I forget to take my beta blockers my resting heartbeat will be 138 beats per minute (a normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute). My nervous system is affected because my hands will curl in on themselves, become rigid and leave nail marks in both hands until they are manually released by another person or I get my energy back. I don’t remember the time before Covid.”

At 46 years of age, Linda, who was once a keen cycling fan and a constantly in motion mother-of-three and grandmother-of-two, can now no longer walk and talk at the same time without becoming breathless, such is the impact Long Covid has had on her lung capacity.

The arrival of the Delta variant, swiftly followed by the Omicron variant to Irish shores, renewed fears in the strength of the virus, but life did begin to return to a degree of normality as restrictions were altered, and people returned to the workplace. For Linda, however, these new variants changed nothing because she was, in her own words, “housebound.”

Managing symptoms

I have come to terms with the fact that I am now living with a long term chronic illness of which there is no cure yet. So I have had to adapt a totally new lifestyle and prioritize my day to day living accordingly,” said Linda. “My health is the same, it’s now 15 months since I tested positive for Covid-19. If I don’t remember to take my medicines I am immediately transported back to my worst days after Covid, all my symptoms return. In fact, I forgot to take my medication on a few occasions and this is exactly what happened. So I know that the Covid residue is still there lurking below, hidden until it gets a chance to rear its ugly head. The tiredness is managed by ‘pacing’, which the ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) community taught me and I am entirely grateful for their advice.”

Pacing’ refers to an activity management strategy to help patients to limit the frequency and severity of their relapses. It involves balancing periods of light activity with periods of rest in order to create a predictable pattern of health.

Investigations

No further tests were done since the summer of 2021 as the doctors don’t know how to treat Long Covid yet because it is such a new illness. The closest anyone has come to making a breakthrough is in Germany where they believe microclots are blocking the different systems, for example our brain, heart, lungs and nervous system and starving them of oxygen and nutrients. I have so far seen an infectious disease consultant, cardiologist, neurologist and physiotherapist to help with my breathing and pacing. I haven’t seen anyone since the summer of 2021 as they have run out of tests that they can do on me. I have just been sent home with a bunch of medicines to manage my symptoms. I still have that pain in my rib cage, I’m used to it now. I think it might be something to do with the scarring and 2cm nodule they found in my lungs after my first CT scan, but nothing has been done about this since.”

Although the HSE has announced intentions to establish clinics across Ireland for the treatment of Long Covid, nothing has yet been done. It is Linda’s wish that those who experience Long Covid will have treatments available under one roof without the added stress and fatigue of long waiting lists to see specialists such as infectious disease consultants, and neurologists.

In February last year, Linda told this newspaper ,“I feel like I have lost 20 years of my life. I feel old, unfit and I feel like I will never recover.” Almost a year has passed since then, and while her state of health is unchanged, she has resigned herself to accepting that she suffers from a long-term illness and that medication and pacing are what will allow her to play a part in the future of her family.

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