Sunday is Sandra Potter’s favourite day of the week. It’s the day she spends with her son, plays with her granddaughter and doesn’t have to face the nightly ritual of eating alone.
“I live for Sundays,” Sandra said.
It’s a welcome change of scenery from the daily routine her life has become, stuck at home on her own, looking for things to do and struggling to catch her breath.
It’s almost a year since Sandra, 72, was struck with Covid. Little did she know that 12 months on, it would still be stopping her in her tracks.
Sandra is suffering from long Covid, a complex condition experienced in the aftermath of coronavirus. Symptoms range from breathlessness and chronic fatigue to anxiety and stress. It is estimated that up to 10% of people who had Covid are now living with long Covid.
“Before Covid, I was always active and loved going out and about,” great grandmother Sandra said.
“Now, I have to spend the first few hours of the day sitting by an open window, trying to catch a breath.”
Sandra, from Broxburn, fell ill on March 17 last year, the same week the over-70s went into lockdown.
“I had a temperature and tiredness and for five days I felt dreadful,” Sandra recalled. “I wasn’t tested but I phoned the NHS helpline and they were pretty sure that’s what it was.”
After five days, the retired shop worker started to feel better.
“I thought I had knocked it on the head,” she said. “But I was determined to isolate for two weeks, to be sure that, if it was Covid, I didn’t pass it on.
“On day 10, I woke up and tried to get out of bed but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t breathe. Then the cough started.
“I called 111 again and the doctor said she could hear my breathing was laboured, but not bad enough for them to hospitalise me. The advice was to stay at home, rest and, if it got any worse, to dial 999 for an ambulance.”
The breathing difficulty would have sent most people into a panic, but having had first aid training, Sandra knew fresh air was the best medicine.
“I threw the windows open and breathed and coughed and breathed and coughed until the worst passed,” she said. “And that’s pretty much still where I’m at now. Every morning for a year.
“I’ve never really got any better, but on the plus side, I haven’t got any worse. It has changed everything. I am no longer the person I was before. I can’t do the things I used to do.
“The breathlessness is OK when I’m sitting down, but I can’t walk very far without having a rest. For a long time now, this has been my life. It’s the constant day to day of it that gets you down. And the exhaustion. I can’t go a whole day without a nap.
“But I’m not complaining. To be honest, I’m just lucky enough to not have had to go to hospital with Covid as so many people went in and never came back out. I’m thankful just to still be alive.”
Widow Sandra says the hardest part is the feelings of loneliness.
“Patience isn’t one of my strong points, but I have to be as I don’t have a choice,” Sandra said.
“Entertaining myself on those long days at home is hard. I knit and sew and I’ve started painting by numbers to pass the time.
“But it’s the lack of people to talk to that’s tough. Talking on the phone just isn’t the same. I live for Sundays when I can get some company. That’s my chatty day.
“Thankfully I’m not contagious, so I can be in a bubble with my family and not worry about passing it on. But I do worry about catching Covid again. I’ve had the first dose of my jab but I could still catch it – and I’m pretty sure if I did, I would be a goner.”
Sandra says doctors have so far been able to offer very little help or advice on managing her symptoms – and when she might start to feel better.
“They just say to stay at home and rest,” she said. “It feels like I’ve just to get on with it.”
But she’s hoping help is at hand. Charity Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland (CHSS) and the Scottish Government are investing in a project to help care for people experiencing long Covid.
It means that CHSS’s advice line, will be rolled out nationwide, becoming a routine support network for NHS patients with the condition.
Sandra said: “I am so pleased someone is finally listening. I saw a doctor after I first got Covid, and she apologised as she couldn’t do anything for me. She said, ‘Just take it easy and try to recover’.
“Well, I’m trying, but I’m still not feeling any better and I know there are lots of people like me.
“It is a relief to hear this condition is being taken seriously. It gives me hope that there might be a recovery for us all.”
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