Covid Tales: ‘Jenny’s’ Story
The news, and COVID-19: two things that have been inseparable since March. Recently, it’s been full of the restarting of NHS services and wild students returning to University campuses. These issues in the news are at the forefront of decision-makers’ minds, but what about the issues that aren’t covered, like issues that don’t quite fit into a single news theme?
The fact that a person can be both a student* and someone waiting on medical procedures seems to be out with the comprehension of many, so it doesn’t seem like those of us in this group are featuring in decision-makers’ minds.
I have chronic tonsillitis, possibly since S3, but the pattern was only noticed in March (worst. timing. ever.) as in December it started getting significantly worse. Below is a little bit of the tracking I had to start doing in March- each bullet point represents a new occurrence of tonsillitis, with the months as reference to show the time between each one, and then there’s extra info to help show what I’ve dealt with this Summer:
- May: phoned my GP surgery, spoke to a nurse on the phone, who prescribed antibiotics. As tonsillitis gives you a fever, and my parents are pharmacists, I had to be tested for Covid;
- June: same thing again (nurse phone appointment, another antibiotics course, another Covid test) but with an added GP phone call appointment and new antibiotics because I wasn’t improving;
- July (pt1): I was allowed to skip the nurse this time (lucky me), GP phone call appointment, more antibiotics etc. and… you guessed it another Covid test (one of the staff actually recognised me at this point, I felt like one of the people in Starbucks who go so often that the baristas know their order, except, you know, it was a Glasgow Airport test centre for a deadly virus…).
- July (pt2): I started falling down a lot, more than my usual clumsy self, then started getting scarily unwell, I was extremely weak and in a lot of pain, both in my throat and in my joints. The GP said it sounded like I have rheumatic fever* (RF) and prescribed medication.
- This is an appropriate time to note: every single GP and nurse I spoke to, asked about quinsy* but despite the severity of it, and the increasing possibility that I had it, or could develop it, thanks to coronavirus and my constant fever, GP’s literally wouldn’t touch me with a 2m stick DESPITE 3 negative Covid tests.
- Also, every time it was a different GP, so it was frustratingly inconsistent. I found out from one GP that the other GP- who said I had RF- didn’t put in my notes that that’s what he thought it was, and didn’t do the tests necessary to confirm it. So it’s basically as if I didn’t have it.
- August: eventually I got to talk, consistently, with a GP who didn’t feel the need to make me get more Covid tests, especially as I had been on bedrest for a month, and she finally did what other GPs had only mentioned: urgently referred me to ENT. At the end of the month I got seen by ENT and the consultant put me on the waiting list for a tonsillectomy (finally).
But now it’s almost two months since ENT, uni is back, and I have no clue how long it’ll be on the waiting list, I’ve just learned the normal wait is 12-15months! I’m better than I was with RF, but since July, I haven’t gotten better. I’ve only gotten less worse. I’m worried.
I’m worried because there must be hundreds of people, like me, who have not been seen. I’m aware that I’m so lucky, I have parents whose job (well, part of it) is knowing when symptoms are so bad that hospital treatment is needed, but many people aren’t so lucky, and are reluctant to ‘bother’ the busy NHS. It’s so much easier to accept not being treated right now because there are more urgent cases but, right now, the news is full of these cases not being treated.
I’m worried because the impacts of my illness do not stop at me: every time I had to get a Covid test, my Dad had to stay off work until I got my result, which was even more stress on top of what he was already dealing with. Pharmacists were not the Covid-frontline, but they were the general-public-frontline: they took a lot of work GPs weren’t doing, along with the increased number of prescriptions due to panic ordering and now they’re doing flu vaccines. Then there’s the stress on my Mum, who (is higher up in the NHS, not a pharmacist you’d get in Boots etc. anymore) works from home, so looks after me in between her NHS meetings.
I’m worried about the impact of the blame being put on students for Covid spreading. The accusation by the media and the general public that students only went to halls to party is horrible and attempts to invalidate what really made them go to halls: fears of not making friends, ‘blended learning’ promises, or- what I think is the most forgotten reason- not everyone has a home environment where they can do uni work. At the same time, I’m upset that I constantly see people (not just students) breaking the rules; even more so when it’s friends going to each other’s flats or going out, blatantly disregarding the rule of 6, but then message me and say things like ‘I hope you feel better soon so you can join us!’ apparently oblivious that it’s those who are breaking the rules that are part of the reason surgeries needed to get better are delayed or, even more so, the reason I can’t even see my Brother, or my Grandparents, or a friend, due to the household visits restrictions as I’m not well enough to leave the house. I know the situation in halls must be tough, but they can (or at least could) go out for a drink, or for food, with one other household- assuming they’re not in self-isolation-, they’re not stuck completely having not seen anyone their age for 7 months.
I’m worried about uni: that we will be pushed back to campus. It already takes me so much longer to do anything because I’m constantly exhausted (also, arthritis + Strathy hills? Uhh, no thanks). In some ways, Covid has been a strange blessing because I can do my work at home: lectures and tutorials, I can sit in my bed, with everything I need nearby. I can’t work easily outside of the house, I can barely do work outside my room as the stairs are still an absolute mission some days with my joint pains, never mind carrying textbooks or my laptop. I did my Summer exams and half of my assignments while ill, it wasn’t easy, but it would have been ten times harder if I had to go to campus and sit in an exam room. I don’t want to have to suspend my course, I love having something to keep me busy and focused, otherwise the impact of being home, unable to see friends or family, would be a lot (more) on my mental health.
Please do not get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for the NHS, and I’m not underestimating the severity of coronavirus, my Gran was in hospital with it at the start of lockdown. However, I’m still incredibly angry and concerned, for not only myself, but for so many others- who don’t have healthcare workers in the house like I do-, whose conditions are worsening, possibly even to life-threatening levels due to lack of treatment.
I’m also incredibly grateful for uni, I understand it is a complex situation, and I don’t envy the tough decisions university leaders are having to make. The Law School has been great at communicating (they made us weekly Spotify playlists over summer, how sweet is that?); they’ve confirmed we won’t be doing ‘blended learning, so I don’t need to worry about going to campus; and, my Personal Development Advisor was so helpful when I contacted him about my situation; but other departments, like my friends’ ones, have not had such great communication and clarity. It’s concerning to see the uni rejecting valid ideas from the student union such as an opt-in blended learning system. It could be so valuable: I could continue to work (from my bed) until I get my surgery and recover, while still allowing my friends who also live at home the chance to attend actual classes which I know they want so much.
The problem reaches farther than those awaiting treatment for themselves: students’ household members may be waiting, so they may need to isolate to protect the household member until they’re recovered. It’s not just physical health either: mental health services have stopped in a lot of areas, despite them surely being the easiest to run over the phone. It’s also not just this semester, the NHS backlog is getting longer every day. If Covid disappeared tomorrow, there would still be a backlog, we would still be waiting and we would still need support to continue our studies and clarity that we will be able to do so without being forced to campus by being penalised for being absent. Normally if a student needed surgery, they’d submit medical evidence, be given the necessary time off and speak to their individual department for help on ensuring they do not fall behind: this is not suitable right now because getting through to the GP just to be seen is a fight, never mind asking for evidence. We may not be a big group, worthy of news stories, but that doesn’t mean we can be forgotten: I really hope the decision-makers at uni take us into consideration when thinking about what steps to take next.
*Note: when I talk about students, I’m mostly referring to 17-24yr old. These issues are, of course, not limited to younger students, or even just to students, but I do not believe it is my place to say anything to do with groups that will have different circumstances in which I have no experience of, and cannot therefore understand, like those of mature students, students with long-term conditions (i.e. those who are at risk but not because of cancellations e.g. diabetics) and staff.
*Rheumatic fever is a rare but serious complication of a bacterial throat infection, more common in children, caused by the immune system fighting off the original bacterial infection but attacking the healthy tissue instead, often causing joint paints (rheumatoid arthritis). It’s one of the only illnesses the NHS still recommends bedrest for.
*Quinsy is a slightly more common but even more severe complication of tonsilitis, where an abscess forms between your tonsils and the wall of your throat.
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