Julie is a 48-year-old mother of two, and is married to Tom. She lives in Bedlington, Northumberland and is assistant headteacher and early years lead at a primary school in Newcastle. Julie first caught Covid in September 2021 and became critically ill. Following her recovery, she caught the virus for a second time, in January 2022.
Living with Multiple sclerosis (MS), Julie explains how her experience with Covid has affected her and continues to impact her life. Her story highlights why we need to keep doing the things that have now become second nature, and keep up-to-date with our Covid vaccines, to ensure we protect both ourselves and loved ones.
“During the pandemic-induced school closures, I remained at home due to my vulnerability from living with Multiple sclerosis (MS). I returned to school in the summer term of 2021. At this point I was double jabbed and I felt confident to return. I couldn’t wait to get back. I had missed the staff and children so much.
“Day-to-day, because of my MS I use two walking sticks to help me move around. If I'm a bit under the weather, my walking is the first sign that I'm not very well - and this is initially what happened when I caught Covid in September 2021. Over the course of two weeks, I became very ill. I really struggled with my breathing, I couldn’t eat anything and I could hardly move. It got to a point where I couldn't stand up at all and that’s when my family called an ambulance.
“I was initially admitted onto the respiratory ward at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital and given oxygen support. However, my condition deteriorated and after a few days I was transferred to intensive care.
“I felt absolutely terrified. Although I was conscious, I remember seeing a row of occupied bays with seriously ill people in what appeared to be a life-threatening state. I was petrified that this was going to happen to me.
“While in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I was given a drug to suppress the inflammation Covid was causing. I thank my lucky stars that this drug worked and, after five days, I was moved back to the respiratory ward. At that point I felt better than I had been and decided to FaceTime my husband. It was a shock to my family to see me as I had lost weight and my voice was significantly weaker.
“As I grew stronger, I was discharged in early October 2021 but my recovery has been a very long and slow process. At home, I was incredibly breathless from just walking from one room to the next and I needed to use a zimmer frame.
“I wasn’t able to drive and my general movement was very limited. I had visits from a community physiotherapist following my stay in hospital which has helped my road to recovery.
“Just before Christmas, I felt a bit more normal. I could walk with sticks again. I had learned to carefully pace myself to deal with any remaining fatigue. I couldn't wait to finally return to school in the new year.
“A day or so after my return to work in January 2022 I developed a heavy cold followed by continuous coughing. I took a lateral flow test and was shocked to see that it was positive. I was also absolutely petrified as visions of ICU came flooding back. It was difficult to stay calm.
“Luckily, my symptoms didn’t get worse and I strongly believe, in fact I have been told by doctors, consultants and nurses, that the reason why I survived the first time I caught Covid was because I was fully vaccinated. With my latest bout of Covid, I had also had a third vaccination and this, coupled with the antiviral infusion, ensured that my symptoms remained mild.
“Never in a million years did I think Covid could pose such a danger to my life. I have worked around viruses for most of my adult life but this completely floored me. I owe it to our incredible NHS for their tireless work in saving my life and many others.
“If I’m honest, I’m struggling to process it all. I really want to get back to normal life and do the job I love. If you take away anything from my story, I hope it’s a lesson about the role the vaccine plays in saving lives. If you haven’t been jabbed yet, or are currently putting off getting your booster, please don’t. If I hadn't been vaccinated, I wouldn't be here today. Please, whatever you do, don’t listen to misinformation about the vaccine on social media.
“If I had a book and it had a window into the ICU at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, I would show it to people who haven’t been vaccinated and explain that they’re genuinely dicing with death. Covid does not discriminate and we must do what we can to protect people. We all have a role to play in living with Covid so please do your bit.”