An Aberdeen man still suffering the effects of coronavirus 10 months after contracting the disease has spoken out about his experience.
Callum O’Dwyer became so ill with long Covid he was forced to move back in with his parents and put his career on hold.
At times the 29-year-old engineer was left “gasping for breath” and so dazed he was slurring his words.
But he has now joined a major research project to tell the stories of other patients like him, with a view to improving healthcare and training.
The £375,000 initiative, run by staff at Stirling, Aberdeen and Oxford universities, will explore the impact of long Covid over the next two years.
While many people recover from the disease relatively quickly, growing numbers are being left to contend with severe long-term health problems.
Virus took hold fast
Mr O’Dwyer first started feeling the effects of coronavirus on March 23 – the first day of a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.
“I hadn’t been feeling too well,” he said.
“I’d been part of a skeleton crew at work so I went in quietly to collect my stuff to set up a home office.
“But I felt so tired and overwhelmed, I had to go straight to bed.”
Over the following fortnight, Mr O’Dwyer said he experienced a range of “typical” Covid symptoms – a fever, a persistent cough, difficulty breathing and constant nausea.
On two occasions he felt so ill he contacted NHS24 by dialling 111, asking for advice on whether he should make his way to hospital.
He said: “Even if I was just sitting in an armchair or lying on my bed, I was gasping for air.
“I felt really unwell and tired all the time but, by around day 12, I started to feel a bit better.
“I was able to do the dishes and take the bins out.
“I was ready to get back to work and, basically, my breathing issues came back and I was hit with this horrible fatigue.
“Then I was even more sick than before.”
Long Covid sets in
Day 29 – into my 5th week, feeling a bit perkier, muscles still very physically weak and I’ve noticed how much they have shrunk everywhere. Realising it will take me months to recover fully but more upbeat than last week! He’s me enjoying the sun sitting at my windae pic.twitter.com/H2fWv2uTyi
— Callum O'Dwyer (@callumjodwyer) April 20, 2020
Alongside the tiredness, Mr O’Dwyer felt himself becoming physically weaker and weaker.
At one point he was so frail he was unable to pick up a one-litre water bottle – weighing a little over 2lb – to drink from.
“I’m 29 years old and, before this, I was going for runs and going to the gym,” he added.
“And I was getting out of breath just from sitting in my chair for too long without a break.”
Mr O’Dwyer found phonecalls with friends and loved ones draining, and even the act of sending a text message was taking a heavy toll.
While he had support of family dropping off essentials, he was finding it increasingly difficult to properly take care of himself and decided to move back in with his parents.
Even with their support, there were days he was “barely able” to climb their stairs.
Other issues emerge
In the months since, Mr O’Dwyer has had spells where he has felt fitter and more able to get about – including taking the family dog for a walk several times a week.
And when his girlfriend, who lives in Edinburgh, has been able to travel north to visit, the pair have spent time in his flat – restoring some of his independence while ensuring he remains looked after.
In this time, however, Mr O’Dwyer has also faced a number of setbacks.
In August he started experiencing heart issues, including palpitations, and at one point his heart rate soared to 140 beats per minute (bpm) just from lying on his bed.
A normal resting heart rate is typically between 60-100bpm, increasing to around 130-150bpm when exercising.
On top of this, he has suffered from “excruciating pain” and breathing difficulties when trying to venture out for a gentle stroll.
Mr O’Dwyer said: “I’ve also had brain fog, which has affected my memory quite a lot and my capacity to think things through and problem solve.
“Sometimes it would get so bad I’d be slurring my words as if I’d had 10 pints.”
He added: “My immune system has really taken a hit, but I’m slowly building my way back.”
Signs of recovery
Doing more of this “walking” thing and yeah, think it will catch on pic.twitter.com/bxxGTPbEzb
— Callum O'Dwyer (@callumjodwyer) January 9, 2021
While Mr O’Dwyer has picked up a viral bug in recent weeks, setting back some of his progression, he is still optimistic about the improvements he has made.
At the start of the month, he began taking the family dog out for a walk once every two days.
He has also been helping with household chores, such as emptying the dishwasher.
He said: “It’s been a long hard slog and one of the main things, up until recently, is that my recovery has not been linear.
“As soon as I thought I was getting something sorted out, something else would come up and things would go backwards for a bit.
“It’s had a huge impact on my life and a lot of negative outcomes.
“But hopefully I can keep slowly improving.”