Heather McClean, 46, works as a Teacher at Carr Hill Primary School and lives in Birtley with her husband Stephen, daughter Niamh, 13, and son, Finn, 9. The Gateshead mum has gone fighting Covid in hospital to taking part in the 40th Great North Run.
Today, Heather is sharing her story to highlight the unseen impact of Covid. From the upheaval of her family - after being suddenly rushed to hospital - to the lingering side effects she lives with day-to-day. She hopes by talking about her family's experience it will encourage us all to remain vigilant, to protect and save lives.
“In the beginning of December 2020, Niamh’s class was asked to self-isolate. After her 10-days of self-isolation, I started to put up the Christmas decorations. Every year I swear by my scented pinecones but I couldn’t smell them. I just put it down to being congested with cold - as I could smell them two hours later.
After Niamh’s self-isolation Stephen woke up with a fever and we both tested positive for Covid. Thankfully, when I called in sick at work my class all tested negative which was a huge relief - as a teacher you feel a huge sense of responsibility.
For nine days, Stephen and I were bedridden. It was like no flu you’ve ever experienced. From mind-numbing migraines to coughing up, basically, what looked like lemon curd. The fever meant we blinked and hours had passed.
Stephen had excruciating backache, we had to call our GP and speak to emergency services. The paramedics called around a few times, worried it was his kidneys. They also checked his lungs but said they were okay. However, after not passing urine for days he was rushed into A&E.
I felt worse at night. I was given antibiotics as the doctor thought I had a secondary infection. Several nights after Stephen was taken into hospital, I felt like I was dying. I tried to call for help but nothing came out. It felt like an hour to move my arm to ring 999. I couldn’t say anything on the phone but the paramedics arrived.
When the paramedics visited Stephen there was a degree of banter but I remember vividly my paramedics were solemn. I knew it was serious. I’m so proud of Niamh. Aged 13, she rang family to pick up her and Finn while packing a bag for me.
Stephen and I were both treated at the Queen Elizabeth hospital where researchers were working alongside medical staff. I was asked to take part in a trial and for me, it worked.
The damage to our lungs wasn’t just because of Covid it was also because our immune system was attacking itself, it was on overdrive. We were both given dexamethasone which got it under control so our bodies could fight off Covid.
It sounds straightforward but it wasn’t. It took time and I was scared. I still have nightmares about when my oxygen tank ran out while in the toilet. We shared a room but Stephen couldn’t get out of bed to help. The nurses were always checking on us and helped me right away. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
While I responded well to treatment, Stephen was moved into critical care. I had to prepare myself for if he didn’t make it, but he did. The nurses and the research staff were phenomenal. We both made it home for Christmas. It was amazing to be back with the kids. Especially after we both thought we might not have made it.
The pandemic’s silver lining for us has been community. There’s a local What’s App group everyone uses to help each other while self-isolating. Neighbours I’ve only said ‘hello’ to walked our dog and dropped off food for the kids.
Our neighbours were lifesavers along with my sister who looked after the kids while we were in hospital. Without the support from others, we wouldn’t have made it through. Thank you.
It’s now been over nine months since the positive test result but Stephen and I are finally starting to feel ourselves again. I even took part in the Great North Run. I take part every year. This year I raised money for NSPCC with the aim of running half and walking half - it’s the run’s 40th anniversary so I couldn’t miss it. It meant so much to me when I crossed that finish line. Like I was, me, again.”