LEANING over her kids’ beds to kiss them goodnight, Aimee Leanne Corbett struggled to keep her breathing steady through her tears – convinced it could be the last time she’d see them.
The mum-of-two had been battling severe breathlessness for weeks, after first being hospitalised with suspected coronavirus in March – and rather than recovering quickly, she’d only deteriorated as the weeks had gone on.
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While Aimee, 33, couldn’t be tested for the virus at the time, due to a shortage in tests at the start of the pandemic, she has since been told by her doctor that she was likely suffering not only from Covid-19, but pneumonia too.
Her ordeal has lasted for three months now, with major fatigue, breathlessness that grew so bad she was left having to crawl to the bathroom, and more recently, panic attacks. Sadly, she’s far from alone.
Many Brits are struggling with post-viral fatigue and other long-term impacts after being struck down by the virus.
Consultant Physician & Rheumatologist Gerald Coakley tells Sun Online: “I am hearing from a large number of people who have had proven COVID infections and have had ongoing symptoms long beyond the expected duration of a couple of weeks.
“Symptoms include fatigue, musculoskeletal leg pains, chest pain, and often quite severe psychological distress.”
Here three women reveal their own terrifying struggles, while two nurses open up on how they’ve been helping patients who spent weeks on ventilators and in comas slowly start their long road to recovery…
‘It felt like I was suffocating’
Wedding venue co-ordinator Aimee Leanne Corbett, 33, lives in Sittingbourne, Kent, with her partner Mike, 32, and her kids Tyler, 7, and Ava, 2.
She spent the night in Medway Hospital in March with suspected Covid-19, but has been battling fatigue, severe breathlessness and anxiety ever since.
She says: “I first started feeling ill on March 18, then one night I woke up and couldn’t catch my breath. It was a bit like someone was sitting on my chest.
I couldn’t really walk and I struggled to talk too, so I rang 111 and they called an ambulance… I was petrified.
They took me to hospital and put me on the Covid ward because they suspected it was that. At that point they were only testing people in intensive care, because they didn’t have enough tests.
They said it was either a chest infection or Covid at the beginning, they couldn’t tell, but they had to send me home.
I was literally bed-ridden for two and a half weeks, during which time I had numerous calls to 111 and visits from three more ambulances.
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At one point they thought it was pleurisy. I was struggling to get to the toilet, I was literally crawling to it, and my breathing was so bad it felt like I was suffocating.
They then told me they thought it was costochondritis, which is an inflamation of the rib cage. I just kept going downhill. My lips were white and blue and I was struggling to stand up.
I remember at one point I went to bed and I didn’t think I’d wake up the next day. I was just about able to get into my kids’ room to give them a kiss… I was just crying.
I’d been put on some anti-inflammatories but I was bed-ridden for another five days.
Then I came up with a hives reaction and I was given some steroids for that. Finally I felt like I could breathe again.
It was them my doctor finally told me he thinks it was Covid and then pneumonia. He was 100 per cent that it was Covid that caused it.
Ever since then, I’ve just been recovering slowly. It’s been about 12 weeks overall.
I used to do daily workouts for an hour, but I can only walk very slowly now.
I have to sleep sitting up, that’s the only way I can breathe properly, and last week I woke and started having a major panic attack.
I’m so scared of going back – it’s like a trauma.
‘I often struggle to get out of bed and keep forgetting things’
Surgical registrar Dr Geraldine McGroarty, 30, lives in London with her boyfriend Guy, 33, who works in finance.
She was diagnosed with severe Covid-19 with overlying pneumonia after falling ill at the end of March, and spent time on a critical care unit in Royal Free Hospital. However, she’s been struggling to recover ever since with severe fatigue.
She says: “I developed temperatures and shakes and shivers at the end of March, and five days later I couldn’t even speak in full sentences, I was that breathless.
On the Saturday morning I woke up being completely unable to breathe. I coughed up about a pint of fluid, so I had a feeling I had pneumonia and knew I needed an assessment.
I was taken to hospital, and as soon as I had a chest X-ray I was taken to a more high dependency area of the A&E department. [They discovered] I had very severe Covid with overlying pneumonia.
I was taken to a critical care unit, and that’s when things get fuzzy for me – I don’t really remember the first two days that well.
I was put on oxygen and some sort of mask, as well as antibiotics, I just remember feeling exhausted.
I was getting hallucinations and then I was told, ‘you’re very sick here and we’re really not sure which way this is going to go’.
When you’re not sure if you’re going to get out of hospital, you think about the last time you’d seen your parents and everything, it’s awful…
I was really lucky in the end and was put on a trial. We don’t know if that’s what helped me recover so quickly, it’s very theoretical, but I was discharged just shy of a week after going in.
I completely rested for about a week after that and slowly I felt like I was recovering, so I started exercising again.
I’m normally fit as a fiddle – I’m a rugby player and long-distance runner – but about two weeks ago I just seemed to have absolutely crashed with the post-viral fatigue.
There’s a big of cognitive function that’s gone too. I really struggle with short-term memory and forget a lot of things.
I often struggle to put into words what I’m trying to say too.
I often feel like I can’t get out of bed. It’s such a different way of life.
Now I’m starting to exercise again, but I have to make sure that’s the main thing I do that day.
I still find it bizarre that I’m 30 years old and was told that this illness – that we all thought really only affected the elderly – might kill me.”
‘Doctors say I could now have 30% less lung capacity’
Community support worker Allanna Hills, 28, lives in Herne Bay in Kent with her parents and two younger siblings, 16 and 20.
She too was struck down with Covid-19 in March and is still struggling every day, She has now been told she could be left with 30% less lung capacity.
She says: “I started with cold-like symptoms in March, before my temperature skyrocketed one night to 39.
This went on for a good week and I had no appetite.
About a week later I went into QEQM Hospital in Margate because my breathing got really bad. They thought it was a different virus at that stage and said I had double pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism.
I was sent home with a load of antibiotics and blood thinners to isolate and then about five days later, my breathing got really bad again. It’s like you’ve got a filter between your lungs and your mouth.
I went back in and that’s when they tested me for the virus and told me I had it. I was admitted that time and stayed for a couple of days.
They said it was Covid pneumonia and sent me home with a lot of medication, but I had to go into hospital four times in total.
I had a two or three week break about three weeks ago, where they said my pneumonia had cleared up, but the breathing has got bad again and now the pneumonia has come back.
I’m taking it really slowly now. You have days when you can have a shower and do some washing, and then days when you can’t even get out of bed.
Going up the stairs is hard and we have a corner shop on our road, and I struggle to get to that sometimes. I get so breathless. I’ve also felt exhausted constantly.
Some doctors have told me I might not be fully recovered for 6 to 18 months, while some have said that because of how long it’s taken to try and manage the pneumonia, I could have a 30 per cent less lung capacity. They reckon they could be damaged. It’s terrifying.”
‘Some people are too weak to even pick their phone up’
There are two NHS workers that have seen these horrendous impacts more than others.
Lucy Mummery, 54, is a critical care follow-up specialist nurse at Kent & Canterbury Hospital. She is working with Sarah Gotke, 43, a critical care specialist physical therapist, on a series of virtual sessions for people recovering from very serious Covid-19.
“It’s post intensive care syndrome (PICS),” Lucy says. “There’s breathlessness, pain, fatigue, muscle loss, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and cognitive impairment.”
They say this has been very prevalent recently – with most of the people they’re working with having been on ventilators for up to 40 days.
“Anyone who’s been in intensive care, 2-4% of their muscle mass is lost every day that they’re in intensive care on ventilators,” Sarah says.
“We speak to them about their recovery being anywhere up to a year. To them that can be quite horrifying news.”
They have seen a mix of age groups in their weekly sessions, with patients from 30 up to mid-60s.
Their sessions comprise of around 30 minutes of exercises, then a 15-20 minute mindfulness relaxation session, before they open the discussion up so everyone can chat to each other about their own experiences.
“We’ve had people that say they’re so weak, when they’ve got their phone back, they’re not even able to pick it up. They’re often not able to feed themselves,” Lucy explains.
Ultimately, she says Covid-19 can make impacts worse overall – as the isolation is huge.
“They were nursed often in areas where we don’t normally look after patients, so they often may not have any daylight,” she explains. “Sleep has been a big issue.”
They’re both now hoping the sessions they run will become commonplace right across the country.