WHEN the first wave of Covid swept across Scotland in March 2020, Tracey Binnie was among those struck down by an infection she compares to a “cross between the flu and pneumonia”.
“Breathing was really difficult, I was coughing a lot, the fatigue was really bad. I had headaches,” she said.
“It took 10 to 14 days for the initial infection to ease.
“I started feeling better, then a few weeks later I just crashed.
“I remember waking up one morning and my body was just so tired, I couldn’t move. I thought ‘that isn’t right’.”
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Over the following weeks, Mrs Binnie, who lives with her husband and teenage daughter in Tranent in East Lothian, continued to struggle.
She said: “Stairs in the house became a real challenge. I was so fatigued and breathless that getting up and down them just wasn’t an option after a while.
“I spoke to my GP and they said: ‘okay, you possibly have post-viral fatigue. That normally takes around three months to clear up – come back to us if you’re not feeling better in three months’.
“Obviously things didn’t get any better so I phoned them back. By that point we were starting to realise that there was something more to this Covid infection for some people.”
Before Covid, Mrs Binnie – now 41 – had been preparing for a new life after finishing her contract with Citizens Advice Scotland and launching a full-time pet sitting business.
She said: “It was going really well, but I was self-employed for around two weeks before I got sick.
“My old life is gone. It’s taken me a long time to adjust to the new normal.
“I really miss going on long walks with the dogs. I’ve always been quite an outdoorsy person, but I really can’t do any of that without ending up in bed for two weeks after a day out at the seaside.
“I’m living a new life. My husband has become my carer. I’m not capable of doing basic things like housework.
“My GP has been fantastic but, for others, unfortunately, there’s still a lot of gaslighting and disbelief going on.”
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She describes the fatigue as “crippling”.
“It’s like a burning sensation in your muscles. Some days I can’t even lift a cup to my mouth because I’m so tired. I’ve never experienced anything like this fatigue before.
“Even a simple act like going to make a cup of tea, I’d have to rest for half an hour. Trying to get people to understand that is very, very difficult.
“There is a difference between ‘I’m tired, I’ve had a busy day’ and ‘I’m so tired I can’t even move my legs’.”
For Mairead Johnson and her husband, the Long Covid nightmare began shortly after Christmas 2020.
The couple, from Greenock in Renfrewshire, had avoided the virus all year by only shopping at night and shielding the rest of the time due to Mrs Johnson’s pre-existing conditions, including angina and chronic kidney disease.
They still have no idea where they became infected.
“We started feeling ill on Boxing Day,” said Mrs Johnson.
“We’d been at our son’s for Christmas Day, but nobody else got it.
“By the Wednesday, I was feeling really, really ill with nausea and I collapsed in the bathroom.
“I was so dehydrated because I couldn’t keep anything down. The paramedics came out and asked us if we’d lost our taste or smell. We hadn’t, and we didn’t have a cough, we’d never had a fever – so they were like ‘don’t worry, you haven’t got Covid’.”
As she continued to feel worse, Mrs Johnson eventually filled out the online form claiming that she had lost her sense of smell afterall “just to get a Covid test”.
It came back positive.
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Mrs Johnson, 58, says the following weeks were a blur as she and her husband took it in turns to sleep in their bed or on the couch, too exhausted to do anything else.
“We haven’t had a feeling of ‘wellness’ since,” said Mrs Johnson, who previously worked as a school cleaner.
“I couldn’t get to the school now never mind cleaning it. It takes a whole week to clean the house if we’re lucky.”
Besides a persistent cough and a lack of energy, Mrs Johnson has noticed other “weird things” happening to her body ever since the infection.
“My heart races – I can go up to over 200 [beats per minute] just sitting on the couch,” said Mrs Johnson.
“Two weeks ago I woke up during the night really itchy – you would basically think someone had thrown a bucket of boiling water over me. I had big red splodges from my wrist to my elbow, down my legs, across my torso.
“My hair stopped growing for eight months. I’ve lost my yawn reflex – where you see someone else yawning, you yawn. I don’t have that anymore.
“You just don’t know when you go to sleep at night what you’re going to wake up with in the morning.”
Her one plea is for the NHS to take the condition seriously.
“It’s not fantasy. It’s not panic. Don’t brush it away – listen to us. There’s thousands of us, this is a chance to learn.”