"My lungs got so congested I thought I was going to drown"


Junior Worlds 2020 in Nottingham… "It already feels like a lifetime ago"… Our British correspondent Taryn Davison is going to remember this competition for a very different reason!

I remember the short programmes on Friday being strange. There was a lovely speech made by Amanda Hembrow-Jones from British Ice Skating, which acknowledged the notable absences from Japan, France, Italy and USA due to the global pandemic. The crowd numbers were severely limited but the spectators made sure the skaters felt their support when they stepped on the ice. I never realised so few people could make so much noise. Even so, it felt very subdued for the world championships.

Then came Saturday. The shock departure of Spain was barely acknowledged and the stands were full. People were dancing and singing to every popular song, there was a party spirit in the air and everyone in the audience was up for having a good time. But I wasn’t in the mood. I was really tired and mostly stayed in my seat. Then came the most exciting final group I have ever watched with all the drama of the Russian and Finnish teams and all I could think about was that I couldn’t wait to go home. That’s not like me.

By the time I left the stadium, I was feeling really weird. My legs just didn’t seem to want to work for me and the short walk to the tram station left me breathless and a bit dizzy. I didn’t think too much of it. Two competitions in a row, work and travelling would make anyone tired, wouldn’t it?

Sunday was spent pretending I was just tired. I stayed in my pyjamas all day and chatted a bit with my flatmate on the sofa. I didn’t get up to make food. In reality, I had a temperature, a horrid cough and a sore throat that I was both ignoring and downplaying to myself.

Medals ceremony at the World Junior Championships in Nottingham two weeks ago. (Credits: Anna Negasheva - 2020)

After that, things are a lot more blurry. I remember ‘working from home’ on Monday although I’ve no idea what I actually managed to achieve. I remember being disappointed that I’d have to cancel my skating lesson. My temperature by this point made it difficult for me to move about the flat as I was too dizzy and I had periodic coughing fits. Nothing too major but I was too exhausted to make myself any food. If I’d had any paracetamol, I’d probably have been okay. But I didn’t. Instead, I took ibuprofen and phoned friends to make myself feel less isolated.

From then on, I don’t remember the days or the sequence of events. I have three days where I’m unsure of exactly what I did and when. The coughing fits got worse. It was okay when I was lying on my back but then I’d reach a point where my lungs got so congested I thought I was going to drown and I’d have to sit up. Once I sat up, I started coughing and couldn’t breathe until I threw up. Then I’d have short periods of rest-bite, both in and out of consciousness, before it started up again. After a particularly bad episode, I phoned 111 - the UK’s telephone line for medical advice and treatment.

It took 30 minutes to do the automated assessment and get through to the first person, who did another assessment. They then passed me onto the COVID-19 section. Here, whilst still having coughing fits, I waited on the phone for 2 hours until I got to speak to someone. I don’t know who she was - a doctor, a nurse, no idea - but she was amazing. She stopped me panicking and told me to sit up. She also told me NOT to take ibuprofen. Everything is blurry and difficult to remember but she was on the phone with me for quite some time. Once I realised I wasn’t dying and could breathe again, she let me go, and another member of the COVID-19 clinical team phoned me the next day. I think I slept the majority of the time.

At some point, my friend dropped round supplies for me so I had things to eat, water and - most importantly - paracetamol. Once that had got into my system, I remember things again.

That brings me to Friday. By Friday, I’d eaten a little and was beginning to feel a bit better. I was having fewer coughing fits and the breathing trouble had stopped - mostly. But with the clarity, came a sense of panic. I live in London, away from my family. My flatmates had already shown they weren’t willing to help me. I was too weak and tired to move about the house, let alone go out and get food, and to make matters worse, I had a horrible feeling that London was going to be put into lockdown. Like a true adult, I phoned my parents, but there was nothing they could do. I was still contagious and should be in isolation for another few days. 

By Monday, it was evident that the whole country was going to go into lockdown. There was a ministerial address scheduled for 8 pm that evening. So my parents drove the 420 mile round trip to pick me up, bundled me in the back seat, and took me back to their house. And that’s where I’ve been this week. I am slowly, slowly getting better. I still can’t walk up the stairs without feeling faint. And I can’t sit upright for very long. I have a cough which persists at night and my throat is still sore (but only at night). But the drowning feeling has gone. Today, I lay out in the sunshine and read a book and my appetite is beginning to surface again. I think it’s going to be a couple of weeks before I feel back to normal again.

The severity of this virus shocked me. I’m not in any of the ‘at risk’ groups and I’m still young. It’s absolutely knocked me off my feet. But what’s also astounded me are the number of people who have reached out to me - phoned me, sent me messages, sent me food. It’s so lovely when you’re feeling so ill and scared and alone to feel like people care about you - in whatever small way they can.

Taryn Davison, GBR

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