“I’ve not gone out for over a year, since the first lockdown – other than doctor’s appointments, and my first vaccination, I’ve just been between these four walls,” says Lillian. Despite being so careful, both her and her husband caught COVID-19.
At the time of writing, over 376,000 people are thought to have been suffering for over a year with ‘long Covid’, a set of symptoms that linger with various degrees of severity long after the infection itself has gone. Symptoms vary from person to person, but can include joint pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and extreme fatigue – all of which Lillian is experiencing, and all of which are preventing her from getting out and about.
The onset of the illness came quickly. One night, early in 2021, Lillian noticed she had lost her appetite, and just two days later both she and her 86 year old husband were being rushed into hospital with coronavirus infections. “It was quite frightening, really,” she says. “We had to just leave everything and go into hospital with the clothes we had on – that’s all we had the whole ten days we were there. We were taken out of our home together, so we couldn’t even lock up. The paramedics had to do it.”
The experience of contracting COVID-19, as well as being physically demanding, was emotionally fraught too. “When I went into the ward I remember the consultant asking me what I wanted [in terms of end of life care],” Lillian says. “I realised then that I was on the brink.”
“I can hear her asking me that question now, and it will always stay with me.”
Though both survived, it has had an ongoing impact, particularly on Lillian (her husband had received his first vaccine before he contracted the illness, which doctors say mitigated its seriousness). Since they left hospital, the couple have struggled to keep on top of household tasks: together, the disease has left them with thrombosis, lung problems, insomnia, a lack of energy, and significantly decreased mobility. Cleaning their small flat, a task that previously would have taken about an hour, now takes all morning and requires several breaks.
While council-employed helpers came in after their discharge from hospital to make breakfast and get the couple showered and dressed, there were other tasks that needed doing – and for several weeks, GoodGym runners, referred by the hospital’s British Red Cross team, came to their home to do their shopping.
COVID-19, as well as affecting their health, had also had an impact on the couple’s support networks. The pair have neighbours, but were cautious about asking for help during the pandemic, particularly when it came to those who were also older or otherwise susceptible to contracting the virus; they have a son, but he lived too far away to help, and Lillian was anxious about him picking up COVID-19 too. The support that the GoodGym runners provided, therefore, was invaluable.
Aside from the obvious relief that a much-needed practical task was getting done, Lillian also notes how “friendly, nice, and very helpful” the runners were: small details like checking where she wanted them to shop, refusing to keep spare change, and carrying heavy bags were all appreciated. “They all asked me 'where do you want me to shop?', which I thought was really nice – if you need it that badly you're grateful for anything, aren't you?” The runners didn’t see Lillian and her husband as charity cases, she says, but as equals: individuals who were worth listening to.
One particular trip still sticks out in Lillian’s mind. Shortly after the couple’s discharge, a young runner came to collect their shopping list, on which was a request for tins of baked beans (“you probably wonder where I’m going with this!”). Rather than the couple’s usual brand, the runner picked something new – and Lillian and her husband still eat them now.
“It’s a really small thing. But every time I eat baked beans I always think about this lovely fellow and the help he gave us.”
Lillian and her husband are now set up with a tablet and are buying their shopping online: Lillian in particular is “extremely paranoid” about contracting the virus again, and about passing it on to those in shops or her building’s shared washing and drying facilities, so is still avoiding leaving the house unless necessary for appointments. And while the couple don’t feel they need support at the moment, they would be keen to ask for it from British Red Cross and GoodGym again should the need arise.
“I don’t know how we would have managed if it wasn’t for GoodGym and British Red Cross,” she says.
“I’ll always be grateful to them because they were volunteers, people putting themselves at risk by coming out to people like us who have had the virus. I really appreciated that. I think they’re marvellous.”