Long covid: Paul's experience

Paul Garner used to run 40km a week. Now a mild walk puts him in bed for days...
11 August 2020

Interview with 

Paul Garner


Image of a cosy bed and blankets


Patients with severe COVID-19 end up in hospital, often in intensive care, and many don’t make it. It’s no surprise that those who pull through may need months of rehabilitation. But in this programme we’re talking about those who haven’t been to ITU, were told their cases were ‘mild’, and expected to recover in a couple of weeks; that recovery still hasn’t happened. Paul Garner is one such person - he’s an infectious diseases doctor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and he’s been vocal about his experience. He told Phil Sansom how it started about five days after he first felt symptoms…

Paul - My heart was racing; I felt really hot; I felt absolutely exhausted; and I felt as though I was about to pass out. I actually thought I was dying, I thought, "Oh my God, Paul, this disease is really bad. And this is it." That was the start of this twelve week cycle of abuse from this virus. You just didn't know when you woke up in the morning, you might then have ringing in your ears, or you might have a blinding headache, or you might have pain in your calf, or you might have a cough, or you might have diarrhoea one morning, or you might just have a mugginess in your head and not be able to understand what's going on around you. It's really, really horrible.

Phil - Really? This has been twelve weeks of this?

Paul - Yes, but the thing about the disease, it changes. After about five or six weeks, I started getting these highs. You actually sleep, and when you wake up from the sleep you feel incredibly refreshed. And then you go out and perhaps walk a little bit too far, but bang, it comes back and socks you between the eyes. It's not just walking or physical exercise, it's also mental; and it's also emotional, so if you have emotional events, that consumes your energy and makes you unwell. This illness changes your life.

Phil - Have you had any of the coronavirus tests?

Paul - I had the antibody test done and that came out positive.

Phil - And how have doctors generally responded to you, with all these symptoms and this illness that just keeps going on?

Paul - Other people have suffered a little bit more than I have, a white male doctor. Other people have had some of their symptoms somewhat dismissed. And part of the reason is the symptoms are really so strange. I actually think that people sometimes don't believe the symptoms that they're getting, because it does mess around with your head. It messes around with your mood. And then if they have a doctor that is relatively unsympathetic or doesn't know about long COVID, they get dismissed.

Phil - Are there other people in the same boat?

Paul - There's thousands. Most of these people are people that are not officially recorded in the system.


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