Personal accounts began to appear in mainstream media, including from patients who were doctors themselves. I waved those articles around like flags of credibility.
For months, I slept up to 18 or 20 hours a day. Friends in Britain and Europe who hadn’t died were having similar experiences. Mercifully, my diagnosis of dementia was reversed, but I had to learn that, in the poetic words of a Dutch friend with long COVID, “all this belongs to me now”.
Britain has recorded about 130,000 deaths from COVID-19, but experts believe the number is much higher, because deaths are ascribed to COVID-19 only if they occur within 28 days of diagnosis. Many people take months to die. The British Medical Journal recently reported that one-third of patients who had recovered from COVID-19 were readmitted to hospital with symptoms within four months.
The British Office of National Statistics estimates 1.1 million people in Britain had ongoing COVID-19 symptoms up to March 2021, having contracted the virus at least three months before. That is roughly one in 60 people.
Many of us are continuing to get worse. I find it darkly amusing that my symptoms are unfolding like a textbook in the making. I now have type 2 diabetes as a result of liver and pancreatic damage, as do many other people with long COVID.
It’s difficult to talk to a doctor on the phone, let alone see one. The shortage of doctors and nurses in Britain is due largely to Brexit, the transition period of which ended on December 31, 2020. The majority of the European medical professionals we relied upon to prop up the National Health Service had to go home.
The Conservative government under former prime minister Theresa May spent millions of pounds recruiting medical staff from Africa and Asia, only for them to be denied immigration status because they did not meet the income threshold Mrs May had set while home secretary.
Unlike Australia, Britain did not impose lockdown or close borders early enough. The government wasted billions of pounds on test-and-trace schemes that did not work, on defective protective gear from Turkey and on supply contracts without tender to cronies of the government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
COVID-19 will not go away. We shall have to learn to live with it, the way we have learned to live with up to 25,000 deaths a year in Britain from seasonal flu.
Now, vaccine rollouts are taking place across the world. For people who are anxious about the blood clot side effects in a tiny number of millions of people worldwide who have had the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, I hope my personal experience of COVID-19 and long COVID will then realise how much the benefits outweigh the risks.
I had my first vaccination in February and am now awaiting my second.
Michele Nayman is an Australian writer and editor who worked for The Age during the 1980s. She moved to Britain in 1990, where she has worked for The Guardian and other publications.