Long COVID: 'I thought being young and fit would protect me - I was wrong'

·3-min read

More than 60 clinics have been opened in England to help the thousands of people suffering from long-term symptoms of coronavirus.

Research shows that one in five people develops long COVID symptoms including brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness and fatigue.

Around 186,000 people have suffered problems for up to 12 weeks, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The clinics bring together doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists to offer both physical and psychological assessments and refer patients to the right treatment and rehabilitation services.

They are accessed via a GP's referral.

Tom Stayte, a 32-year-old creative entrepreneur based in London, has suffered long-term symptoms for months. This is his experience with the illness.

"If you'd have told me back in March that my 'mild' case of Covid-19 would lead to a life-changing illness of nine months and counting I'd have laughed, yet here I am.

"I thought being young and fit would protect me, I was wrong. I used to run marathons, now struggle with even gentle yoga.

"Not a day goes by without some sort of symptom or pain. At times I feel like a prisoner inside my own body.

"I look back at my old life and realise what a privilege it was to wake up every morning with good health."

"After thinking I'd recovered in March, the illness roared back at the beginning of May with a bewildering array of symptoms.

"A tight band crushing around my chest and restricting my breathing, drenching night sweats, muscle spasms, skin rashes, bulging blood vessels, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, nerve pain, abdominal pain, weight loss, cognitive problems, confusion, phantom smells, tastes and sounds, numbness and tingling in my limbs. The list goes on.

"I felt like my body had been hijacked

"I was terrified, but my GP, hospital doctors and consultants, kept insisting I was suffering from anxiety. When doctors couldn't explain my symptoms with a blood test or scan, they often denied I was sick at all or downplayed my symptoms.

"I felt like I was going mad. I cried when I finally found an online patient group and I realised I wasn't alone. We now know that one in 10 people who catch COVID-19 go on to suffer from Long COVID.

"I was shocked to learn this is known as medical gaslighting - when difficult-to-diagnose symptoms are dismissed as 'anxiety' or 'all in your head', and that I had got just a small taste of an experience that many women and many in the BAME community know all too well.

"Although things have improved since the summer, 'normal' still feels a long way off. Nobody really knows when we'll get better, or if we'll get better at all. Nobody has lived through this illness before and the research doesn't exist yet.

"But if this long and humbling illness has taught me anything, it's to be compassionate and patient - both with myself and others. In order to heal we must all - patients, doctors and scientists - work together and create a genuinely holistic approach to treating Long COVID.

"The long haulers I've connected with over the last nine months are the strongest, most resilient and resourceful people I have ever met. Just because we don't know how to cure this yet, it doesn't mean it's not possible. I believe it is and I will never, ever give up."