A hospital doctor, who contracted coronavirus earlier this year, said she experienced a six-month illness - not a two-week sickness.

Dr Jemima Nilan, 35, tested positive for Covid-19 in March. She said she thought that she would go back to normality after two to three weeks, but instead the experience was increasingly frustrating where she was tired all the time, with breathlessness.

Initial symptoms

Dr Nilan said that at first she felt a little under the weather - initially waking up with a sore throat. Then she realised she wasn't getting any better. She became more tired and had a fever. The following morning she tested positive for Covid-19.

Over the next week, she got more symptoms including a sore throat, headache, upset stomach, she lost her sense of taste and smell and had difficulty breathing. She also had an overwhelming fatigue that persisted.

Still battling Covid

After three weeks of self-isolation, she went back to work. But after she was back at work about four weeks, things got worse.

"After one night shift I suddenly became very short of breath. I wasn't able to talk'. She had to take an inhaler, that she had started using after getting Covid, but it wasn't giving her any relief. She said at that point she was assessed in the hospital as a patient and was still testing positive for Covid.

She said that that she was no longer infectious but was still battling with Covid. It took nearly a month before her breathing felt any way stable. She was using four inhalers and was put on antibiotics. It wasn't until early June that she got on top of the cough.

Overwhelming malaise

On her worst days, Dr Nilan said would sleep for up to 12 hours, have some breakfast and then get so tired even sitting down that she would have to lie down again. She would have to sleep again and then be unable to get out. On days where she experienced a relapse she had headaches, a sore throat, and an overwhelming malaise where, she said, the only thing she could do was take some paracetamol and go to bed.


Dr Nilan said that if she did anything one day - such as driving somewhere, or meet friends or go for a walk - she would get the "payback" the next day with overwhelming fatigue. She came up with a strategy of rest and sleep, primarily. She kept a diary so she could track how tired she became and building up her activities very gradually, or what's known as pacing, worked best for her.

But she said that she can have a relapse where she becomes overwhelmingly tired and will have to rest for a few days. But on the whole pacing has helped. She's also been treated with steroids, which has made her breathing situation much better.


Up to this year, Jemima Nilan was very fit and healthy. She has done rock climbing, biking, mountain climbing, including Kilamanjaro. She said she is surprised at the impact and toll that this has taken on her body. 

"Initially I thought I'd get sick for two weeks, I'd get over it, I'd get back to normality, maybe have a bit of immunity. But then it's running into six weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks, I'm getting increasingly frustrated. I want my life back, I don't recognise the body I'm in. I'm tired all the time. I can't do the things I want to do. I have a head that wants to do one thing and a body that just won't co-operate.'

She said she has concerns that they don't know how long immunity lasts, if it exists. She is still taking an inhaler a couple of times a day, which is not something she would have done before Covid and is concerned whether this is something that she is going to have to live with.

Six months of your life robbed

"I would say to people, you could take your chances and be one of the lucky ones".

But for her it is an ordeal that has lasted months and if she could prevent herself from getting Covid-19 she would. She advises people to think carefully about what they're doing. "You might not die from this but do you essentially want six months of your life robbed. Because that's how it feels - you might be unlucky".

From this week she has returned to work and is planning to go back on a phased basis, with a gradual reintroduction to work. The last time she tried to go back to work all her symptoms returned. She said the only way she'll know how she gets on is by trying to go back. But going back fully just won't be possible with her current energy levels.

Read more:
'I'm still fighting, but I know I'll get there' 
Fatigued: The long road to recovery from Covid-19
Survivor's Covid warning after six months out of work