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Long Covid at College

By Bella Macdonald

Hey lovelies! I’m Bella and I’m recovering(!) from long covid which I have had for the past 21 months.

At the time of infection (Nov ‘21) I was in year 13, starting to prepare for exams in the summer. I had never really had to think about studying before. I’d always really enjoyed it, particularly my A-Levels, and was lucky in that it came quite naturally to me (which is probably why I enjoyed it!).

That all changed however, when I went back to college the January after infection. I’d been achieving mostly A’s and A*’s so you can imagine what a shock it was when I got an E in my first test back. It wasn’t really up until that point that I realised how badly my brain had been affected.

From my initial infection until that point, I had gained unbelievable fatigue, nightmare headaches, migraines, muscle aches and suddenly a chest liked I’d smoked 60 a day for the past 80 years. But the disastrous cognitive impact covid had on me didn’t show itself (at least quantitatively) until that point.

I remember sitting there trying to write this essay about a topic I’d enjoyed and done lots of, and literally not being able to write. I couldn’t get the information out of my head, or even organise it enough to start to even comprehend how to answer the question.

Thankfully my college were absolutely amazing and immediately suggested that I take the rest of the year off and then restart in September which I did. During the time I had off, I managed to slowly start to reintroduce studying and revision but it was still really tough as I was yet to fully gain a handle on the fatigue. Even in the April of that year I could still only just manage to spend about 15 mins making a mindmap whilst using my notes!

By September I had thankfully improved enough to be able to manage college. Although I will be honest and say I never really saw any other option than me finishing my A-Levels..

But then came the consecutive chest infections.

I had 7 lots of antibiotics in 8 months, my chest & immune system now so weak that anything remotely resembling a sniffle turned into a full blown chest infection that debilitated me for weeks. While my grades were slowly improving, it was now the seemingly never ending chest problems that were holding me back. Even to the point that in April this year, we still weren’t sure if I’d even be able to sit my exams.

Thankfully, my mum discovered nasal rinsing which literally cleared the chest issues up almost immediately. So I was then able to throw myself into revision, trying to get my brain to remember as much as possible.

It was really really tough. We now *think* that Covid caused inflammation throughout my body but particularly on my brain, leaving me with executive dysfunction & problems with recall (aka what exams ask you to do!) but unfortunately due to the lack of research and support at the time we’ll never know 100%.

Once again college were amazing at supporting me through the exams and I managed to complete them all! I genuinely had no idea how I’d done in them because I felt I couldn’t really trust what I’d written.

The worst part was definitely having multiple exams in a day as that just completely drained me. I typically ended up having two days of two exams, both of them exactly the same with English in the morning and psychology in the afternoon. It’s actually so interesting now looking at my results because on those days there is a marked difference between the the other exams of around 20 to 40 marks lower! Just really shows how fatigue impacts you.

It all turned out absolutely great though because I got AAA!!!!! I’m now off to uni in September to study psychology and slowly but surely on my way to recovery 🫶🏻


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