By Amanda Eleftheriades
Climbing four flights of stairs used to be all in a day’s work for Cath, a paramedic with the Scottish Ambulance Service.
But 18 months after falling ill with Covid-19 she can barely manage one flight without becoming breathless.
Both Cath* and husband Mick*, also a paramedic, caught the virus in October 2020.
At first they both experienced flu-like symptoms – aching joints, high temperature and tiredness – but nothing as severe as many of the people they had blue-lighted to hospital.
“Initially we were just a bit tired,” Cath said.
“But by the end of the second week I didn’t feel as if I was ready to go back to work, I was just constantly tired.”
Her doctor gave her a sick line for a further two weeks but by the end of the fortnight she was struggling to breathe, and Mick was experiencing similar symptoms.
“Just going to the shops took it out of me, I had to lie down when I came back, but it wasn’t like when I saw my patients – they were at their worst – so I wasn’t too concerned.”
But the following week Mick started to get pains in his back and chest.
The couple knew the signs were not good and called an ambulance.
At hospital Mick learned he had suffered a heart attack.
He was one of the lucky ones. Following treatment and medication Mick was able to return home and is now back at work.
The Long Road To Recovery
Cath’s recovery was not as straightforward.
Still struggling to catch her breath whenever she climbed stairs or a slight hill, Cath knew she couldn’t do the lifting and carrying required every day in her job.
In March 2021 she tried going back to work on a phased return, initially doing alternative duties and then being a third crew member in the ambulance.
She eventually returned to regular duties, but after an emergency call which required her to climb 88 steps left her unable to breathe or speak to the patient, she knew she was still not fit to do her job.
“This happened on another four occasions, anything more than one flight of stairs and I just couldn’t breathe.
“At home when I was changing the bed or standing ironing I would get pains across my back – that was a whole new symptom.”
She was referred to her Occupational Health and after various tests was again signed off her work.
As an NHS employee Cath’s salary and job were protected.
“If I hadn’t been working for the NHS and had to go down to half pay, I would have been struggling and wouldn’t have a clue where to go for help.
“I would probably have taken early retirement.”
Many Long Covid sufferers are unaware they are entitled to financial support if they are unable to work or face additional difficulties at home.
Joe McCormack, manager of West Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau, explained: “The illness was recognised by the DWP back in March 2021.
“People who are unable to return to work or lose their jobs because they have Long Covid maybe entitled to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is up to £608 a month.”
An Unspoken Epidemic
An estimated 1.3 million people in the UK have contracted Long Covid.
Latest data from the Office of National Statistics shows 506,000 have been struggling with the symptoms for over a year.
Yet just 480 Covid-related PIP claims have been made to the DWP.
Joe added: “When people have been fit, healthy and worked all their life, it comes as a shock to suddenly find they can’t do even simple everyday tasks, let alone work.
“Many have no idea how to claim the benefits they are entitled to, or they feel uncomfortable asking for help.
“But that is what our Welfare State is meant to be for, it’s what our parents and grandparents campaigned for, and it’s what we all pay for through our taxes.
“I would urge anyone who is unable to work and is unsure what help is available to contact us.
“One of our advisors will help them through the process and make sure they get every penny they are entitled to.”
West Dunbartonshire CAB are now offering telephone and video call appointments, so it is no longer necessary to visit an office for support.
Just call Freephone 0800 4840136 or visit www.wdcab.co.uk/contact-us
Chest Heart & Stroke advice line – 0808 801 0899 (FREE from landlines and mobiles)
Text NURSE to 66777
https://www.alliance-scotland.org.uk/blog/news/call-for-participants-accessing-social-support-for-long-covid/ – share experience of Long Covid with researchers aiming to improve care for people with Long Covid in Scotland
ENTITLED TO – free online benefits calculator blog about coronavirus and benefits
*Names in this article have been changed at the request of the interviewee
This article was first published in March 2022 and information was accurate at time of publication.