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Doctor with long COVID who suffered violent shakes and hallucinations attacks Boris Johnson’s plan to ‘live with virus’ | UK News

A doctor who has suffered violent shakes and hallucinations during her ongoing 15-month battle with long COVID has criticised the government’s plan to “live with the virus”.

Dr Kelly Fearnley told Sky News she contemplated ending her own life due to the debilitating long-term effects of coronavirus, which she caught while working on a COVID ward in November 2020.

The 35-year-old from Leeds, who was previously fit and healthy, initially had flu-like symptoms before she suffered shortness of breath and painful rashes over her body, as well as swelling around her eye.

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Dr Fearnley suffered swelling on her eyelid after contracting COVID

More than a year later, she is still unable to return to work due to the effects of long COVID, which have included violent shakes lasting up to 14 hours at a time, hallucinations, night terrors, severe pins and needles in her arms and legs, and a resting heart rate of 140 beats per minute.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson set to unveil his “living with COVID” plan on Monday, Dr Fearnley branded it a “strategy of denial, driven by the need to cut costs” and she felt “angry and let down”.

Downing Street has announced that, by the end of next week, people in England will no longer have to self-isolate after testing positive. Reports also suggest free lateral flow tests will be scrapped and the £500 self-isolation payment for people on low incomes will come to an end.

The PM has previously announced plans to abolish all remaining COVID restrictions in England this month.

Dr Fearnley was working on a COVID ward when she contracted the virus
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Dr Fearnley was working on a COVID ward when she contracted the virus

Dr Fearnley told Sky News that scrapping the measures was “both dangerous and irresponsible” and it was evidence of the government’s “complete disregard for human life”.

She said: “The health of the economy takes precedence over the health of nation. And yet their strategy to ‘live with COVID’ not only fails to follow the science, but it also fails to follow the money.

“The human and economic burden of long COVID alone will dwarf the sums of money they expect to save through their strategy to ‘live with COVID’.”

She added: “It neither makes moral nor economic sense. The lunatics really are in charge of the asylum.

“I expect we will see the long-term health impacts of this virus for decades to come.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the ACF building at the Technopole, Bush Estate in Edinburgh
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Boris Johnson is set to unveil his ‘living With COVID’ plan on Monday

‘I deteriorated very quickly’

Dr Fearnley contracted COVID while working as a newly qualified doctor at Bradford Royal Infirmary during the UK’s second wave of the virus.

After initially suffering mild flu-like symptoms, diarrhoea and vomiting, she developed painful red rashes on her body and swelling around her eye, as well as suffering shortness of breath.

After a four-week absence from work, she returned to the hospital – but just hours into her first shift back, Dr Fearnley became dizzy and breathless and had to go home.

Dr Fearnley suffered painful skin rashes after contracting COVID
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Dr Fearnley suffered painful skin rashes after contracting COVID

It was then that she began developing the crippling effects of long COVID.

“I deteriorated very quickly,” she said. “I fell off the edge of a cliff – that’s how I would describe it.

“I had a resting heart rate of 140 beats per minute. When I stood up, it was increasing to 180 beats per minute.

“I began having cyclic attacks of pins and needles and violent shaking – as violent as a seizure.

“I would frequently shake for 14 hours through the night. It was exhausting – mental, physical and emotional exertion like no other.

“It affected my ability to sleep. I remember I didn’t sleep for three days.”

Hallucinations and ‘sense of impending doom’

Dr Fearnley said she began experiencing “auditory hallucinations” in her home which included a man shouting at her in the kitchen, a train station tannoy announcement, and a dog barking next to her.

She went to a hospital A&E department but doctors believed she was suffering from anxiety and she was sent home, where she was hit by further symptoms.

“I experienced neurological sleep apnea – that’s when you stop breathing at night,” she added.

“My body would wake me from sleep, or the edge of sleep, and I would realise I wasn’t breathing.

“I experienced a sense of impending doom at that time. I can only describe this as a physical, emotional sensation in the chest.

“People often experience a sense of impending doom before they’re about to die.

“I was very much on the ropes.”

Dr Fearnley struggled with pins and needles in her arms and legs
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Dr Fearnley struggled with pins and needles in her arms and legs

Vivid night terrors ‘revolved around death’

Dr Fearnley said her symptoms appeared to be easing by the middle of January 2021 and she believed she was “over the worse” but she was “absolutely wrong”.

Over the next three months, up to seven nights a week, she experienced more hallucinations, she said.

“I would hear a muffled TV, a radio, muffled news reports, music – I would hear bands playing, sometimes it was a heavy metal band. That was distressing,” Dr Fearnley said.

“I also experienced vivid night terrors… it was like watching a film and it always revolved around death.

“I remember watching these men being executed – they were all lined up and I watched them be executed.

“It was very upsetting.”

Long COVID battle left doctor suicidal

Dr Fearnley said the effect of COVID on her brain also disrupted her emotions as she went from being a “normally stoic person” to “emotionally labile”.

She said the devastating impact of long COVID left her suicidal and she considered ending her life around April 2021.

“That was a time when my brain felt infected. I was hallucinating every night,” she told Sky News.

“I contemplated how I might end my own life.

“You don’t have to depressed to be suicidal. One only has to be in a desperate place.

“At that point there was no support really.”

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Long COVID patients share ‘horrendous’ experience

Dr Fearnley, who shares a home with her father and brother, said she has since been diagnosed with limbic encephalitis, a disease caused by inflammation of the brain.

She remains housebound as she is left exhausted by any physical or mental activity and continues to suffer hallucinations intermittently.

“I do feel like it’s sustained a traumatic brain injury,” Dr Fearnley said.

“I was previously fit and well. I trained for a decade to be a doctor. I’ve worked alongside my studies to fund them for a number of years.

“It’s a complete fallacy that you have to have underlying health issues to have a bad outcome.”

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When will COVID-19 be an endemic?

‘We feel expendable’

Dr Fearnley, who has had the coronavirus vaccine since contracting COVID, said that while her employer has been supportive about her time off work, she is worried about the future.

She said she is aware of other doctors who have not been able to return to work due to long COVID.

“We caught COVID caring for COVID patients,” she said.

“It’s not just me – we feel expendable.

“We’re being clapped all the way to the benefits office.

“We stepped up when we needed to step up, and now I feel like we’re being abandoned in our hour of need.”

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Commenting on reports that free lateral flow tests will be scrapped, a government spokesperson previously said: “We’ve previously set out that we’ll keep the provision of free testing under review as the government’s response to COVID-19 changes.

“No decisions have been made on the provision of free testing. Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.

“Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day to day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.”

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Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.

https://news.sky.com/story/doctor-with-long-covid-who-suffered-violent-shakes-and-hallucinations-attacks-boris-johnsons-plan-to-end-all-coronavirus-rules-12543375