Category Archives: coronavirus

What Does A Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc, Prolapsed Disc) in Your Back Feel Like?

The pain of a slipped disc in your lower back is a pinching, sharp, burning kind of pain. I describe it as “high-pitched.” It’s not an ache, or a pulsing a pain, it’s more of an intermittent sharp pinch. You can tell it’s nerve irritation and not anything to do with bones or muscles. For me, the pain of a slipped disc can’t be relieved by changing position. It makes no difference if I’m lying down or standing up, the pain is just as bad, resting doesn’t make it go away. If anything, resting makes it worse. Walking and moving feels better, sitting down in a chair increases the pain.

I use a hot water bottle on my back but when the pain from the prolapsed disc is bad it doesn’t really do anything. I could use ibuprofen but I don’t want to drug myself. I don’t like using medication to dull the pain. The pain is there for a reason, and I’d much rather be treated so that the pain doesn’t arise in the first place. When a slipped disc doesn’t get better over years or decades (as in my case) what are the treatment options? I wish I knew. I wish I was under a consultant. I wish I was receiving treatment.

But of course, you can’t get anywhere near a doctor or specialist these days. GPs aren’t minded to refer anyone, and triaging means that you rarely get through to a doctor anyway. The excuse for not seeing patients and keeping them at arm’s length is coronavirus, which doesn’t make sense because there’s barely any around now and we’re all vaccinated anyway. The severe triaging that goes on at GP surgeries, ensuring patients aren’t able to see doctors face-to-face, is a national disgrace. The protracted battle to get an appointment is exhausting and stressful and must put so many people off even trying. Which is the case with me. I have three or four problematic things wrong with me that I would love to get treated but I’m not even trying to get a doctor’s appointment. It’s a waste of time. They won’t see me. It’s a telephone appointment anyway and that goes nowhere. Lets hope I don’t have cancer, like so many others, who aren’t getting seen by the medical profession. We just live in discomfort and wait for a time when GP surgeries are forced by the Government to be welcoming to patients again.

I Had my Second Covid Jab, Here’s What Happened

I went back to the same building where I had my first Covid vaccination injection nine weeks earlier. I don’t know why I wasn’t given a full twelve week wait between jabs (which I would have preferred). They took my details first, checking I was who I said I was and that I was on their system, and then went through to another room where there was a nurse ready. I sat down in a chair and after answering a few more questions she prepared the needle with the solution, drawing it up from a tiny bottle. I let my left arm hand down the side of my body and relaxed. The nurse lifted the sleeve of my t-shirt, said, “sharp scratch…” and gently plunged the needle into my deltoid muscle. I felt barely any pain, and it was only in there for about 1 – 2 seconds, before she pulled it out and pressed a ball of cotton wool on the spot. She disposed of the needle in a special yellow sharps bin and taped the cotton wool to my arm. I then went outside and sat in the corridor for twenty minutes to make sure I didn’t have a rare allergic reaction, which I didn’t, after which I drove home. Easy!

All the rest of the day I felt fine. But late that evening I realised my entire body ached. All the joints in my legs had become painful and my thighs and shins ached. My left arm felt sore and I had a slight headache. I took paracetamol and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I kept dozing off then waking up 45 minutes later. At one point I woke up absolutely freezing cold. I was so cold I was shivering and even my thick winter duvet and thick, heavy throw on top couldn’t warm me up. Luckily I then had a menopausal hot flush so I was boiling hot and sweating profusely. At some point I managed to get a few hours sleep. The next day I took three doses of paracetamol and one dose of ibuprofen for a continuous headache and the body aches, but by the evening it had all calmed down and the pain was gone. I slept well that night and woke the next day back to normal, with perhaps only a tender arm.

So the first dose of the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine gave me no adverse side effects at all, barely a sore arm, but with this second dose I was unwell, although it didn’t last more than about 36 hours.

All in all I feel grateful to have had the vaccine and pleased I didn’t suffer any serious side effects. I look forward to a few months of confidence being completely protected from serious illness and hospitalisation from Covid before I guess we’ll all need to get our update vaccines to protect against the mutations that everyone will have brought back to the UK from their summer holidays abroad.

Three Months of Grim Winter Lockdown Easing, at Last

The children are going back to school as this long winter lockdown finally begins to ease. In the UK, cases of Covid-19 are now low, most vulnerable and older people, including myself, have been vaccinated. I believe the chance of any of us getting the illness, and especially of getting it so severely that we need hospital treatment, is very low. At the moment I feel positive, more so than at any time in the past year (apart from perhaps July/August 2020).

I’d be happy for our children not to have to wear masks all day at school. I think it’s still a wise policy for adults in confined spaces, but for kids to have to wear them every day, six hours per day, is too much, and probably not even necessary. Let them be free, I say. I very much doubt my kids are going to give me, or anyone else, Covid, especially since they’ll be doing lateral flow tests every week.

Peace of Mind

I am three weeks on from my first Covid vaccination jab. From this time forwards the protection is working. My body has learnt what to do with the virus if it gets into my system. It gives me a great feeling of confidence and security when I’m out and about. I still wear my mask and wash my hands regularly of course, but there’s the knowledge in the back of my mind that if I were unfortunate enough to contract Covid-19 again, it wouldn’t be severe and I almost certainly wouldn’t need hospital treatment. Isn’t that astonishing? The virus only came into the human population in December 2019, and 12 months later we have a highly effective, widely available vaccine. It’s truly incredible.

I wish to God that the world would work just as fast on climate change. In my mind that is an even greater disaster than Covid and we don’t seem to be doing much about it.

I Had The Vaccine Today, Here’s What Happened

I arrived at the centre early this morning after giving myself a pep talk about why I shouldn’t be nervous. In the past I’ve had drugs for all sorts of diseases, malaria, yellow fever, typhoid etc due to travel, and haven’t once had any strange reaction or significant side effects other than a sore arm. So, I told myself firmly, there was no reason to be scared about this one. It’s been given to nearly 10 million other people, most of them very old, frail, or unwell so why on earth would I waste time and energy thinking about how it could harm me when it hasn’t harmed anybody else at all, out of millions?! This is what I told myself. It’s all true, but…

People with health anxiety can have unrealistic worries about taking the simplest of medicine so a new vaccine is a bit out of my comfort zone. But I knew it was the right thing to do and would benefit me and my loved ones, and indeed wider society, a great deal – and is far, far easier to go through than getting the illness itself.

Back at the centre I was greeted by a staff member who ushered me into a small side room where I confirmed my date of birth, NHS number, and a date for my second dose of the vaccine. I was also given some paperwork stating what vaccine I was having (Pfizer BioNtech) and a list of possible side effects – which I definitely didn’t want to know about! Then I was lead out of the side room into another small room where a nurse was waiting for me. I sat down in a chair and she asked if I’d ever experienced a significant allergic reaction to anything before, I confirmed I hadn’t, she asked if there was a chance I could be pregnant, I guffawed, and then she stood up and prepared the vaccine. I was feeling pretty nervous by now. I needed the loo and had sweaty palms and my heart was beating fast. I took my jumper off and rolled up the left sleeve of my t-shirt while she drew some colourless liquid from a vial into a short needle. She then asked me to drop my left arm straight down, not hold it bunched up, and in a quick movement stuck the needle into my deltoid muscle. It was not painful at all, just a tiny sting… and it was only in for about two seconds before she pulled it out again and said, “there, all done!”

It was so simple. We chatted a little bit about hot flushes (I’d already said I wouldn’t put my jump back on in case I got too hot) and then she showed me out of the room and more staff directed me to sit in a chair in a side corridor, or in another room in socially distanced chairs. I had to sit there for fifteen minutes while they waited to see if I had a severe reaction, which I didn’t, and after my allotted time was up I was free to leave. I still didn’t feel anything adverse and was DELIGHTED with myself for going through with it.

I went straight from there to the canteen and got myself a cup of tea, which I drank while reading the news on my phone, and after that I volunteered for Macmillan for the next three hours as planned. At about midday I got a slight headache and took two paracetamols in case it got worse, but I can’t say for sure whether that was caused by the vaccine or whether it was one of my regular headaches. I’m in a migraine phase at the moment and have been taking strong pain killers for that for the past three or four days anyway. Today was the first day in ages when I didn’t wake up with a migraine – thank goodness!

Other than that I feel fine. Colleagues at Macmillan say they felt tired or dizzy, had headaches and an aching body after the injection, and many of them said they had very sore arms where the needle went in, but so far none of that applies to me. Just the minor headache. Tomorrow may be different – I don’t know. I’ll do an update at the bottom of this post so you’ll know.

In conclusion, without doubt it’s worth it to have the jab. I’ve seen the disease kill a man with my own eyes, and I’ve personally experienced getting the vaccination. The two do not compare – they’re opposite ends of the extremes. Even for people with health anxiety or GAD it’s much much better to get the vaccine than not.

UPDATE: Day 1 after the injection – no side effects whatsoever. Day 2 after the injection – no side effects I can directly attribute to the vaccination. Felt a little headachy, but that’s fairly normal for me.

Should I Have The Vaccine?

The facts:

Me: Caucasian woman, 51 years old, no underlying conditions, but volunteers in a hospital. I’ve been offered a slot to get vaccinated next week. The vaccine will be the Pfizer vaccine (I know this for various reasons). My questions are:

  • How effective is it against the ‘new’ UK variant (the Kent variant) of the virus?
  • Would it be better to wait until the Novavax vaccine is released?
  • How effective is the Pfizer vaccine against the South African variant? Or the Brazilian?

I don’t feel I have all the information available to me to make a decision about what is best for me to do. I bet the Government knows the answers, and some scientists, but I would like to make an informed decision too. My gut is telling me not to have the Pfizer vaccine next week and wait for the Novavax but that depends on the answer to other questions: if you have already had a vaccine will it make you ineligible/bottom of the list for a second (likely more effective) type? The Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are based on the early (first?) variant of the virus but will those first variations die out completely in a few months or will they hang around for years? How many vaccines will we be able to have?

The problem is I don’t really know how vaccines work or how delivery of the various types against the different variants of the virus is going to be organised. I don’t know what to do for the best.

Sore Throat

Well, I’ve had a sore throat for about two days now, and along with the soreness there is a feeling of a slight chill in my lungs, as if there’s a thin lining of lint inside. It’s now five days since I sat in the Covid ward with Albert as he took his last breaths, and my great fear is, of course, that I’ve caught the virus from him – because I wasn’t given the appropriate PPE – just a blue paper mask to cover my mouth, when it should have been something more appropriate for the AGP (aerosol generating procedure) of the CPAP machine that he was on constantly. I had gloves, a visor, and an apron, but none of these protect against aerosols at all. I would have been better off wearing jeans and a t-shirt with an FFP3 mask for my mouth and clear goggles for my eyes.

I wouldn’t put it past me to develop a normal cold in these circumstances, but it would be a horrible coincidence.

As I describe in 50, I developed Covid in April 2020 during the first wave, although I didn’t get a test to prove it because they weren’t available to most people back then. I kept a diary of my symptoms and discussed them at length in the book. I was so frightened! We hardly knew anything about the virus except terrifying things. But one of my early symptoms was a fiery sore throat which seemed to come and go, as it does now. It’s fine in the morning, almost gone, then by 5:00pm it’s come back strongly and my anxiety ramps up again. It’s the only symptom though, which is GOOD NEWS. I read on the ZOE Covid symptom app – a nationwide study I’m part of – that the more symptoms you have in the early stages, especially if you’re over 50, the more likely you are to need oxygen and hospital treatment. Fewer symptoms during the initial 5-6 days means a greater chance of a more mild illness.

I wish so hard, as we all do, that Covid hadn’t been invented in China, that they’d been more careful with their virus laboratory, or that they hadn’t been so cruel to their wildlife in their horrible wet markets. But what’s done in done, and we all have to live (and die) with it now.

Presently, my children are largely unaffected, although Jack has had a sore throat for the last two days but this has now gone. Amy hasn’t complained of anything other than an ulcer on her tongue and cheek, but she gets them regularly anyway so it’s hard to say whether the kids are any more ill than normal. Jack’s sore throat has come to nothing so far.

The most common time to begin displaying symptoms is 5-6 days since initial exposure, but some people start at only 2 days, and others at 14. So if I did catch it from Albert, I’m bang on the typical incubation period. I hope to know soon enough whether I actually have it or not because this morning I took a test. If everything goes to plan I should get an email or text message in a couple of days. I’ll let you know straight away of course.

If my test is negative I’ll then wait until I’m 9 days post exposure and do another test just in case I’m one of the late developers or did the first test poorly. I want to be really sure I don’t have it, especially since I have SYMPTOMS. I’m not very hopeful though.

SIGH.

UPDATE: I tested negative!! (So, so relieved)

Anxiety About Having It

Since being with Albert as he died, I’ve become more and more anxious thinking I might either have coronavirus or will get it soon. I didn’t know I was going to be sitting in a small room with a man dying of Covid before it actually happened. I’ve never done anything like that before in my life. It was a sudden event that happened without warning. I was given a blue paper mask, gloves, and an apron and told to go inside and sit with him quietly, maybe hold his hand, and keep him calm.

LUCKILY, so luckily, I’d had a conversation with my ex-husband, Paul, the day before, who’d asked about the PPE I would be wearing at hospital for my volunteering, and when I told him about the mask and gloves he said, “what about your eyes? You need protection for your eyes too.” I hadn’t thought of that, and it was a good point.

So just as I was about to go in and sit with Albert I said, “what about a visor, can I have one of those?” The nurse looked surprised and turned her head from side to side as if she’d no idea where any might be and why anyone would ask for such a thing, but I’d seen a small supply of them on a nearby trolley so was able to point them out. I strapped it on and went in.

Inside, Albert was moaning and lying in bed on a CPAP machine, which I subsequently discovered is an aerosol generating procedure (AGP), for which I should really have been wearing a FFP3 mask. But no-one was wearing that type, we were all using just the blue paper masks, even the nurse who hugged his body to her chest as we struggled to change the sheets on his bed.

I feel let down that I, as a volunteer, didn’t have it explained to me that I should be using a better mask than the normal paper ones, and that I wasn’t provided with one, or told to get one. I was just shoved in the room with my standard non-aerosol preventing paper mask. The same as everyone else.

I spent 50 minutes sitting a metre away from Albert, close enough to be able to hold his hand or stroke his leg. There was a window open behind the blinds so the room was aired, but you can’t see those tiny little aerosols – they’re so miniscule hundreds of them can fit on a human hair! And the gusts of storm Christophe were swirling in through the window, round the room, up into my nose and lungs, and back out through the window. I worry I breathed in many Covid aerosols through my paper mask that day. So now I’m just sitting here, hour after hour, waiting for symptoms to emerge.

My anxiety is getting the better of me. I’m imagining I have a sore throat or feeling breathless. I did this last year in April, and then the symptoms actually did turn out to be Covid. I don’t want that to happen again now, but there’s really nothing I can do about it. I was exposed to potentially huge amounts of aerosols of Covid-19 three days ago, and I can’t take that event back. All the nurses had no better protection and that is their daily job. Have they all been vaccinated and feel confident? Have they all had the virus and are now immune? Or are they just too busy, too caught up in their job rushing from one thing to another to worry about what kind of mask they’re wearing? Or are they not provided with any? I think this last is the most likely reason, and if so, that’s really not good enough.

My plan for me is to continue living my life, keep away from people, wear my mask, wash my hands, stay out of contact with everyone until next Friday, when I will take a Covid test. By then it will have been ten days since the exposure and if I’m going to get it, surely that will have been enough time for sufficient viral load to amass in the back of my nose and throat to show up in a test? I really don’t want a false negative test result.

If, when (yes, I must think when) I get a negative result back from that test I will give myself a reward, out of pure relief. Perhaps I should spend the next seven days deciding exactly what that should be.

In the meanwhile, just to comfort myself, I bought a pulse oximeter from Amazon (to arrive tomorrow) so I can monitor my blood oxygen levels. This evening Jack said he had a sore throat and I think I also have one. But lets hope it’s either a normal cold coming on or our imaginations.

Please God!

Update on Albert

This morning I went back to the hospital to volunteer, and to enquire about Albert. I didn’t sleep well last night and my whole body ached. Staying with him during his last hour or two of life had affected me more than I thought it would. I found out that he died not long after I left the room.

That’s one man. One man in one room on one ward in one hospital in one town in one county in England. And this tragedy is being repeated throughout the world. It’s devastating and unbearable if you allow yourself to properly think about it.

Goodbye, Albert. Though I’d never met you before, and we only spent 45 minutes together, I loved you and I’ll never for get you. Those moments were intimate, desperate, and anguished, but you’re in a better place now. Your suffering is over.

Our vulnerable and frail elderly don’t deserve to die like that. Nobody does of course. Euthanasia would have brought his suffering to an end a lot sooner. It’s a great shame that he wasn’t allowed to “die with dignity” and avoid the days of terrible pain he endured without hope of recovery.

What I don’t understand is that if I, a complete stranger, was able to sit and be with Albert in his final moments, why couldn’t it have been one of his relatives? That might have been a lot nicer for him.

These Covid times, the whole of 2020 and into 2021, are wretched indeed.

Witnessing The Struggle

This post is for ALBERT.

Albert is an elderly, frail black man with dementia, lying in a hospital room by himself, struggling for every breath, coughing up thick phlegm, unable to communicate, suffering so much and dying of Covid. He is in his last few hours or days (if he’s unlucky). He can’t speak. He’s half out of his mind and quite terrified.

He is there now, still in that dreary room with all the blinds closed, with nothing to see or do except fight the internal fight caused by his lungs being almost totally filled up with gunge and his organs slowly failing.

I sit here and type at my desk, writing this blog as a catharsis, as a way to get Albert some witness to his suffering.

This was my first shift as a Covid volunteer. I have no medical training but when I found out that my local hospital was close to being overwhelmed and was extremely short-staffed, I thought I should offer my services. I myself wouldn’t want to go into hospital and there be no staff to look after me. At least a volunteer is better than no-one. At least, if nothing else, I can sit and give comfort.

I think I did that today. As Albert grunted and coughed and wheezed, I held his hand and stroked his leg and talked from time to time about ordinary every-day things. I told him there was a storm coming and the wind was strong and we’d had rain over night. I described the view outside the window that he couldn’t see. I told him what people were doing right now – preparing lunch, boiling rice, cooking sauce, washing up, walking to the corner shop to get the newspaper, taking their dogs for walks. But about half the time we sat in silence too. I didn’t want to continuously chatter. He continuously groaned though.

Once I held his hand, but he gently pulled it away out of my grasp. He didn’t want that. Another time he held out his other arm towards me, moaning a bit. He didn’t form any words so I wasn’t sure if he was trying to tell me anything specific. I noticed that a bit of the sticky tape on the back of his hand where the cannula was had come unstuck, but I didn’t know whether that was something to mention to a nurse or not. Although if I had wanted to mention it there was no-one within reach. Outside this little room everyone was busy. Nursing staff were gathered from all over the hospital and not in their usual stations. People didn’t know where gauze was, or where the visors were kept.

Albert felt cold to my touch, very cold. I told him this, and searched around the room for an extra blanket and heaped it on top of him.

After 45 minutes a phlebotomist came in to take some bloods and noticed the cannula wasn’t in the back of Albert’s hand, and that, in fact, the IV fluids had been discharging onto the bed and he was lying in a pool of cold, wet sheets. How hadn’t I noticed?! I was horrified! Was that what he had been trying to communicate when he was reaching out his hand a couple of times? I have no idea. I put my head outside the door and asked for a nurse to come and help. She was busy typing on a mobile phone and said she couldn’t do two things at once, but she would come soon. I understood.

I felt so sorry for Albert, who was now lying without covers in the freezing cold. The window was open of course. Ventilation is extremely important, I was grateful for that. But it is winter, and if you’re lying in water in a thin hospital gown it must have felt bitterly cold.

It wasn’t long before the nurse and I were rolling Albert over, yanking the wet sheets out from under him, and tucking a dry one in place. A fresh sheet and blanket were put back over him, but privately I didn’t think that would be anywhere near enough to keep him warm. He was skeletally thin and could have done with a duvet, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Not long after that, with Albert all the time moaning and struggling for breath, I doffed my PPE (visor, mask, gloves, and thin plastic apron) into the appropriate bin, and washed my hands in the sink up to my elbows. Outside, nurses were hurrying to and fro, busy, so busy, tasks piled high. I walked round the corner and stood in the corridor against the wall watching the commotion, thinking of Albert, now completely alone, fighting his last fight, probably still freezing cold.

No-one paid me any attention. No-one had any time. I didn’t know where the task force leader was, or who was the most senior nurse to ask what I should do next; but honestly, I didn’t want to do anything else next. It was a baptism of fire and I felt a little overwhelmed. Soon I went to the staff room, collected my things, and headed off to the redeployment hub to tell them I was going home. We had a quick debrief, which I found helpful. They were very sympathetic – for everything, for the whole situation, for me, for Albert.

I went home, had a shower, and made up my mind to hug my children closer than usual this evening. Covid is cruel to the elderly. I hated seeing this man’s suffering. Apparently he has great grandchildren. But he has to lie and die alone. Relatives aren’t allowed in the ward. It’s heartbreaking..

I’ll think of Albert for a long time. My next shift is tomorrow, and if I get sent back into the Covid black ward I’ll ask after him, see if I can sit with him again. I’ll let you know.

People: Wear your masks. Keep your distance. Help prevent people like Albert from suffering and dying.