On having the virus .. and coming out the other side

This isn’t a post I’d ever want to write, but it’s also a post I’m delighted to write. Because I’m now home from hospital after recovering from serious virus-related pneumonia. I’d been ill for a week beforehand so had – luckily – been in isolation, I’d felt I was recovering but then started coughing non-stop, became breathless and eventually dialled 111 who sent paramedics.

I’ve been trying to work out how I can usefully share this information with everyone – I certainly don’t need sympathy now. Yes, it was one of the most scariest, loneliest and grim experiences I’ve ever had, but I’m one of the lucky ones. SO LUCKY.

However, there are things I learnt which I can share – so please do feel free to ask any questions you may have. I know there’s a difference between reading cold information and talking to someone who has been through it so I’m happy to talk if I can, although it  does feels important to say that this virus affects people in completely different ways. There’s not one answer to anything, but I’ll be happy to share my personal experience if it might help you. So here’s some of the things I learnt or was told…

  1. When you’re coughing, sit up if you can. Yes, it’s exhausting, and I just wanted to lie down and wait until it’s over, but as soon as I was told by a clever nurse to sit up, I could feel it was the right thing to do. I’m sure there’s science here if anyone wants to share, but one thing was that it allows phlegm to form which is better for your lungs.
  2. Drink water, water, water. A raging thirst was one of my symptoms but it’s also essential to get better.
  3. Have Vitamin C, as much as you can healthily stuff down you. I’ve developed an obsession with oranges.
  4. Do as many breathing exercises as you can bear. I love my yoga so I thought I’d be fine here, but the breathing it seemed I needed to do was through the mouth (now counter-intuitive to me) and out through pursed lips. One of the things I learnt is that breathing is everything. Everything.

And if you have a friend or relative going through this, here’s what you can do.

  1. Be careful with the messages you send. I was getting many concerned messages from friends and relatives that I just didn’t have any energy to deal with.  The truth was that I was concentrating on my own journey, rather than wanting to reassure others, so I either ignored them – sorry! – or sent a quick xx. The irony is that I loved reading most of them, often again and again, but I couldn’t manage answering SO be aware of this. Don’t overwhelm with your concerns, however well-meaning, but – if this is a close friend – do stay in touch. Just a picture of a tree, a dog or a sunset was magic, together with a quick line to say I was being thought of, no need to reply. One dear friend whatsapped at 3am to say she was awake and if I was, then she wanted me to know I wasn’t alone – that helped more than I can probably ever manage to tell her. MAKE IT CLEAR YOU DON’T EXPECT HEALTH UPDATES OR REPLIES, and if this isn’t a close friend or relative, then wait until they come out of hospital. Harsh of me, but I didn’t have the space to become part of someone else’s drama.
  2. Don’t expect them to bounce back. I’ve been home three days now and can only just manage walking up and down stairs without needing to rest. I might even think about reading a book soon – I certainly couldn’t have written this before. Recovery is a disappointingly long journey.
  3. Let them talk about what they’ve been through if they want. You’re all alone in the hospital room for what seems forever. Things go round and round in your mind, not all good. I’m very aware that there’s a temptation sometimes to want to draw a line under an experience like that, there are narratives we want to hear and those we don’t. I’m lucky. I have a partner and friends who have let me tell them exactly how scared I was, without wanting to immediately turn it into a ‘well, thank goodness you’re OK now’ story. Yes, I am OK, but all the dark stuff is somewhere inside now too.
  4. You don’t beat Corona. This isn’t a war story – you can’t be plucky and brave and fight it off. I might have thought this once, but I know now that I’ve lost my confidence in my own strength. I hope it comes back eventually, but the truth is that once the virus gets you – and it doesn’t seem to discriminate – then you just have to wait it out. Some people will have mild symptoms, others more ferocious. Never make someone feel as if they should have done more not to get it. BUT ALSO STAY HOME. This is serious.

AND LASTLY, oh God the NHS. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. Those nurses and nursing staff at Pembury Hospital were amazing. I could tell exactly how scared they were to come into my room – I was a danger to them after all – but they still did. Every time. With kindness and compassion and professionalism. I will never stop being grateful to them. When this is all over, let’s not forget who it is exactly that we can’t live without.



Leave a Comment

  1. Thank you for this – it’s sobering stuff and glad you’re out the other side. My local hospital too. I’ve been texting sick friends for updates rather relentlessly – may scale that back a bit now!

    • Pembury were amazing. Re texts, it was wonderful to know someone was thinking about me – but I didn’t know how I was half the time, let alone want to share the news! It’s funny how responsible you end up feeling. Happy photographs and kisses were very welcome – little windows to remind me that there was a life out there. I put one friend’s photo of her walk as my screensaver, so I could pretend I was out with her.

      • Well thank God your alive and now you feel like you have been given the chance too do something good in your life more advice and caring for people more needy you are one of the lucky ones take your time moving forward X

    • Oh wow it’s good to hear all of this thank you for taking the time and using precious energy to
      post it. Take your time and expect to take
      a few months at least before you feel energised again (had pneumonia twice so know how exhausting it is for months after and that’s without adding in covid). So glad you’re on the mend x

    • Thank you Sarah for sharing your journey through the coronavirus to the recovery stage.
      You have given us all hope!
      Can’t thank you enough!
      Be strong, be happy.
      Much love xxx

  2. thank you for writing this Sarah – absolutely no need to reply! wishing you slowly to get stronger – day by day xxx

  3. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been through it too, and might write about it later. At the moment, it’s taking everything I’ve got to try to get my strength back.
    Good old Pembury hospital. (I was at school nearby).

  4. Thank you so much for being so honest Sarah. It is really helpful. I hope lots of people read it and realise they too need to stay at home! Take care and hope you feel stronger soon.

  5. Oh, Sarah, so shocked to read this – and so relieved that you’re back home. Thank you for this; incredibly useful. Off to share it. Take care, and continue improving! xx

  6. Thank you, Sarah. It was à thougjtful and kind post, to think of others when you’re not 100% by any means yourself yet. It is much appreciated. Keep getting better and stronger. Love Géraldine

    • Yes, Caroline – we are so lucky. Those amazing staff coming in to my room, without proper equipment, every time and finding the space to be so caring. I will never forget it.

  7. Oh my gosh Sarah! You are amazing, brave and wonderful! Thank you for sharing! It’s so scary!

    I’m so incredibly glad to hear that you are home and getting better!

  8. My God. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, but so thankful you are on the mend at home. We all need you out here, all us writers all over the world . I pray you now and your whole family stay well. Thanks for all the tips. Alas, more will become ill but your post will be helpful and comforting, for sure. ❤️

  9. For many of us, it’s only real when a flesh and blood, normally healthy friend is laid low.
    I hope your account alerts the vulnerable to what’s at stake.
    Thanks for the strength to share.

  10. I’m relieved to read this. I’m on day 11.. Not hospitalised. They tell you ‘self isolate’. My usually strong trusting spirit has/is being tested. At slight improvement, friends and family think ‘that’s it now, you’re on the mend’…….not so. The heavy alien thing in your lungs which drains every ounce and tests/pushes all the vital organs and functions is still very much there. Never just think, that’s it, it’s gone today, unless you are fully well. They still don’t know if some die from underlying disease or Covid 19 itself. My feeling /body response is that Covid 19 takes all of your strength and resources, whilst underlying weakness has it all taken away. You are a host after all and are expected to be a good one with this virus.
    Folks don’t forget Vit D3 and yes loads of C and water, water, water. You can ONLY rest.

    This has knocked my body and spirit for 6. I’m not out of the woods yet. You start to question will it actually leave, this virus that knows so well how to infiltrate and take over your entire system. I’m still hoping, because hope is all you feel that you have left.

    God help those who cannot get through this. I pray for everyone over the next few months.

    Such important advice for well meaning friends too! These boosting messages are so important, but without expectation helps massively.

    Thank you for this article. Thank you my friend Isabel for sending it to me. X

  11. A typical and most caring post ..clear and precise and totally honest .a real Sarah piece of writing. Glad you are on the ‘mend’. So am I after a good 2 weeks ..in bed at home. Much Gratitude.

  12. Oh Sarah, so pleased to hear you’re on ‘the other side’ of this. Thankyou so much for sharing your insights and lots of love for a steady and full recovery. Xxx

  13. This kind of post is what has been missing. Lots of us are very worried about catching Covid 19 and there’s very little information about the experience itself. So glad you’ve come through and brave to write what you have — I’m sure it’s hard to revisit. I hope you continue to improve, day by day.

  14. Thank you Sarah. Wishing more strength each day. You are a strong person in every sense. I believe you will find and trust your strength again. Lots of love. Pam x

  15. Many many thanks Sarah for sharing this. My husband is in an at risk category and my nightmare was the thought of him being in hospital and not being able to be in touch. It is amazingly reassuring to know that you were able to have your phone with you – despite the bombardment of messages – for which many apologies if it still feels like that! Wishing you a steady and strong recovery.

    • I was surprised at being able to have my phone too, Wendy, but it was definitely a comfort blanket. I should edit my post really – because I did read and re-read every message, it was just being aware that I didn’t have the energy to reply that I worried about. The best messages were those of photos and comments from people enjoying themselves – little windows on life. What was Interesting was how many people said after that they felt guilty about that, but it helped me. Good luck with this, it is a scary time and I wish you well.

  16. Sarah just seen this and thanks for writing. No need to reply but how long since you felt symptoms and how did that fit in with how operating in week before. We all seem so much more aware than say 10 days ago. Best wishes To you all

    • Hello Mark, I felt I was ill for about a week before going to hospital, but it was definitely up and down in that time. I was still wondering if I just had a cold. However, it was after a day of coughing and being completely breathless and a fever that we rang 111 – although even then I wasn’t sure if I was just being a bother. It’s so hard to know what to do. Re the week before, I had isolated myself as soon as I felt ill, even though – then – the official advice was that I was OK to go out. Yes, thank goodness we know so much more now.

      • Many thanks and hope you get back to a full recovery soon. The way it’s going I imagine just about everyone will get it at some stage unless they can find a vaccine. It’s almost like now we are trying to just spread that reality out over a longer period but for individuals still a lottery in how it affects them .

  17. Thank you Sarah, it can’t have been easy to write this. You will have helped more people than you will ever know.
    Wishing you all the best in your recovery.

  18. This is so helpful and well written x I am in remission and the recovery you describe is so similar as I suffered pneumonia. I am scared but your advice has helped. Thankyou x I wish you a full and speedy recovery xxx

  19. Dear Sarah, so glad you are on the mend. What an ordeal! Thank you for writing about your frightening experience in such an honest way. Yes, aren’t we fortunate to have our medical care with the NHS, and in Canada too. I’m grateful that Claire is on the mend after 3 weeks of what seemed to be a much milder case. Not sure if it was because she didn’t meet the criteria for testing, and self-quarantined at home. Much love, Deborah

  20. So glad you are home. Lots of rest. Even with ‘normal’ pneumonia a few years ago it took a long time and an ocean of chicken soup to get better x

  21. After all you have been through, Sarah, thank you for taking the time and energy to share your helpful experience with us all. That is precious.

  22. Thank you for this post. I have had some health emergencies in my life and ended up in the critical care ER. I know that sometimes something as simple as sitting up can be a game changer. Thanks for those tips. If I get this virus I will not forget these tips. Don’t rush back to doing too much. That is something I learned from my experiences. Take time. Life is standing still at the moment anyway. 💕.

  23. Thank you so much for finding the strength and courage to write this. I have an inkling of what you must have gone through; I went through chemotherapy on my own, without friends or family to help, and the terror and fatigue were unbelievable. At one point my white cell count dropped to zero and I was hospitalised and quarantined for 10 days. One thing I’ve always said looking back on that experience is that it was hard to have to ‘take care’ of other people and their fears and concerns while I was fighting so hard myself. It sounds as if you feel the same. We can all learn something useful from this, whether for our friends or for ourselves. I hope your recovery continues until the darkness inside abates, along with the physical symptoms.

  24. Hugs to you Sarah and I’m so glad you’re out on the other side of this horrid virus. Thanks for this post and your honesty, You’ve filled in so many of the gaps that none of the TV recovery stories can hope to fill. I’m a bit uneasy about those stories… yes we need them because it gives hope amongst the rest of the grim news, but I wasn’t sure about wheeling out someone so obviously exhausted from their ordeal that it was quite the right thing for their continued recovery.

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