4 March 2021

Coronavirus… the big unknown

Sana Bouamama from Chilworth caught coronavirus in late January 2021. As her health deteriorated and she was rushed to hospital, she had the feeling that she may never return home.

Originally from Italy, Sana is a trained psychologist, working as a Business Partner for Kingfisher PLC. She explains how a simple test changed her life:

“Everything started when my parents developed coronavirus in the middle of January, so I urgently wanted to travel to Tunisia to be with them. My dad is 80, mum is in her 70s, and my brother also contracted the virus, so I wanted to be there to help them.

On Saturday 23rd January 2021, I had to provide a lateral flow test four days before my flight due to the new regulations. I had the test and my results came back negative.

The same day, my husband Vinay developed a slight fever, so as a precaution he also booked a test. It turned out positive.

I cancelled my flight, and our household began to self isolate. Vinay stayed in the bedroom, and we even self isolated from each other!

On the Sunday, I did another lateral flow test and it came back negative. Then around 9pm that night I developed a fever of 40.3’C.

I took paracetamol and we monitored my temperature. It went down to 38.9’C but this was the only symptom I ever had, and at this time my breathing was still normal.

Then my hair started to turn grey. We had to look this up as we had never heard of it before, but if you have high fever and a viral infection, your body can stop producing the colour pigments in your hair, turning it grey. A sure sign that my body was fighting something!

Overnight my fever went up again past 40’C and so on the Monday we called my GP. They agreed that the ongoing fever was a sign that something was wrong, and on the Wednesday I finally tested positive. I had coronavirus.

My GP asked me to call him the day after with the results. I was immediately referred to the Southampton Primary Care in Portswood as I’d had a high fever for five days which is was risky.

They wanted to see me immediately, and I was there within 20 minutes. They were really efficient and did all the necessary checks on my vitals. My breathing was still normal, however the high temperature was a worry.

I was given antibiotics in the hope that this would improve things.

On the night of Saturday 30 January around midnight I started to feel a little bit too tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I checked my oxygen saturation levels and they had dropped to 92. I was told that if it went below 92 that I needed to call an ambulance.

At 2.00am, I woke up Vinay as my oxygen levels had dropped again. I’ve never been to a hospital in the UK before, so I was a bit scared, especially as I’d have to make the journey alone due to the pandemic. We monitored my oxygen levels for a while, and then at 5am we called the ambulance.

They arrived within six minutes, checked my vitals, and confirmed that my oxygen levels were too low. I packed a few essentials, and they took me to the waiting ambulance.

When I left the door to my house, I had the feeling that I may never come back. All because of coronavirus.
In the ambulance I was given oxygen, and I immediately felt better. In reality, the tiredness I had experienced overnight had been the lack of oxygen getting to my body.

When I arrived at the Emergency Department at University Hospital Southampton, I had an x-ray on my chest, and was diagnosed with Covid-pneumonia within an hour. Doctors said that I would have to stay in hospital for treatment for at least four days for antibiotics and steroids.

I was worried and emotional about the whole situation, but when I saw how they were looking after me, I knew I was in good hands. At a time of such uncertainty, I felt safe.

I was taken to ward F7, which was a Covid-positive ward, to a shared room with five other ladies. They were all talking, so in my head I thought, if they are speaking then they are ok, so I will be ok.

The care I received was amazing, and the nurses were just something else. The patience that they had, to listen to us, the requests for water, anything we needed.

I always have a shower first thing in the morning. Initially I had to take some oxygen with me, and the nurses would help me cover my cannula. They would knock and call out to check that I was ok. Nothing ever seemed like too much trouble.

And this is not just the nurses. When a patient leaves and they have to get the bed space ready for a new patient, and the cleaners literally clean everything.

They don’t just wipe down the bed and tables, they have to wipe down the walls too to protect us, the staff, and also any new patients coming in.

After four to five days in hospital, I had another x-ray, only this time it was a portable one which scanned my lungs at the bedside so they could check on my progress.

The problem with coronavirus is that everybody reacts differently. It is all still so unknown and new. While in hospital I was asked if I wanted to take part in a research programme to which I agreed. I had been on the other side of plenty of research studies before (during my PhD and Post doc), and I know how important the research is for future patients.

I didn’t really sleep for nine days as I was scared to close my eyes. By now I’d had two weeks of high fever, and after about five days in hospital, it starting going down. I was finally discharged after 12 days in hospital.

What people don’t realise are the after effects that this virus can cause, and how many areas of your body that this can affect.

My liver enzyme levels were very high, and only now is it starting to heal and the levels are going down but still not within the normal range. Due to the fever and dehydration, I also developed kidney stones which they think were related, although these have now gone.

In hospital although I had my book, I only had the attention span of about half an hour. I still get brain fog and some memory loss which is due to the continual fever which I had and lack of oxygen to my body. Even now if I want to watch a movie, I struggle to watch a whole film.

In addition to the psychological distress, I struggle with my coordination and have to do exercises to improve this. My breathing is still not what it was before, so I am undertaking yoga and rehabilitation to work on this.

One month on from contracting the virus, and I am still feeling the after effects. It will take me some time to get back to 100%.

As a survivor of coronavirus, I would like to address mental health needs and the psychological impact it had on me.

I have been lucky enough to have the love and support of my husband, family, neighbours, friends, managers and colleagues. In a time where I couldn’t fight and my body had to do it all, it was comforting to have daily encouragements and hope.

This made me also realise how difficult this could be for people who live alone or are socially isolated.

I continue to work hard on my physical and mental recovery.

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