‘I last went to school in December’: a headteacher’s battle with long Covid

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Steve Bladon, who has been leading his Lincolnshire school tirelessly during the coronavirus crisis, thought the worst was over when he woke up feeling tired.

Last month, Steve Bladson, a father of four watched with some unease at the announcement by the Prime Minister that all Covid restrictions would be lifted in England. After two years of lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic, the legal requirements to isolate at home, social distancing, and mandatory masks, the message from government was: It may not be over, and we need to learn to live with it.

As the headteachers of a primary school in the small town of Bladon, 46 knows as much as anyone else about living with the virus He has been leading his team and school community through the pandemic by delivering remote education and food packages, reassuring anxious parents and calming colleagues.

It’s hard work but it’s worth it. He’s proud of his school for achieving so much. Now, however, his is one of as many as 13 million people in the UK who are learning to live with COVID-19.

“My life changed profoundly when I started taking CBD oil,” he wrote recently in a blog post. “Now I feel tired and exhausted most of the time.” My energy is low, like someone has taken away my batteries. On the worst days since the last few months, when I was sitting or lying down, I’ve been worried about not breathing. Breathing is life. “When you’re struggling for breath, everything else seems insignificant.”

“It‘s like being in someone else’s body.” He says. “I get up in the morning and instead of jumping up immediately and going running before work, I don’t get up until later.” When I get up in the morning, I feel tired. It’s not like you’re running out of energy, but rather that you don’ There isn’t anything there.

“I get up, I don’t feel good.” As a matter of principle, I think “I’ll hoove the front room, I’ll put the breakfast things away”. But if I do something I feel shattered. Nowadays, I have to think about every step before doing anything. “When you realize how much work means to yourself and how big a part it is of your life, you’ll be motivated to change.”

Bladon, who teaches children aged from five to 13 at his school, has been doing so for 23 years. He has been a head teacher for eleven years, the last four and half years at Horncastle Primary School in Lincolnshire. “Headship is always a challenging,” he says, “but the last couple of year have been so turbulent and uncertain, and difficult to navigate.” It has been like being entered into an “endurance event” without any end.

As the first wave hit Horncastle Primary School, just like every school in the UK, it shut down to all but the most at risk children and those of key staff. Everything was different. Guidance from government agencies started arriving at our offices day and night, weekends, and holidays. Remote teachers learned a whole new way to teach students online.

During the first 18 months of COVID-19, Bladon and her school saw relatively few cases. However, since September there have been several outbreaks. “In the worst week we’ve had over 20 staff off.” Parents have been concerned. Staff have been worried.”

On 9 December last year, Bladon became an independent company. He wrote in his blog: “I’ll remember that day for some years.” When I realized I had forgotten to take a pregnancy test at home, I took one in my office immediately.

“The double line was a surprise.” My cold was pretty bad, but I didn’t have any other symptoms. After gathering my things, I left school, in something close to a haze. December 9th was the last time I went back to school. “In fact, I’m rarely leaving the house.”

Bladon had been double vaccinated but was not yet eligible for the booster when the virus struck.

After the challenges and limitations of living with Covid during the holiday season, he was looking forward to all the usual Christmas festivities at school and at home with his family. He isolated at home with his 7 year old daughter who had tested positive for COVID-19 the day before. Though he felt extremely ill with an intense cold, fever, facial pain, fatigue and loss of smell, she was not admitted to hospital because his symptoms were mild.

After 10 days of being isolated from everyone else, he emerged and tried to resume his normal life. “We had a really busy day.” Feeling OK, but not 100% well. After thinking, “I’ve been through the worst of it,” I decided “But as the days went on I was really beginning to get quite tired.”

It was the onset post-Covid Syndrome, or long Covid and it has been a struggle ever since. “Going from being really busy, and fit to almost house bound – it’s taken a bit of getting use to,” says Bladon. “I now feel fatigued, and exhausted almost all of time,” he writes in his blog. ‘If I get up from the chair too quickly, just to go to the next room, my heart rate surges.” “If I go up stairs or do a simple task, like emptying a trash bin, I get out of breath.”

He is following doctor’s orders by taking things slowly and building up his strength and stamina, which is why he is not doing any exercise at the moment. Some days are good, some are worse. “I put my faith in medicines and doctors.” My health is being taken care of. My employer has been supportive of my mental health. If I feel better after a few days, I don’t Google anything.

“This is an unknown virus.” Some people take a long time to get rid of toxins. The doctors think that I am fit and healthy, but they recommend that I rest for a few days. “I’m having to admit that I may be stuck here for a while.” He can’t wait to go back to school, back into his regular routine. His deputy is acting as head teacher for now.

“I regret having been so sick, but it hasn’t put me off teaching.” Working at a school is fun. Children are my favorite thing. Making a difference is the point. “I think I can still do it, and that’ll be what I want to do. But goodness me, it‘s been very, very difficult.”

He tells me about his thoughts on the government’s recent decision to lift all Covi­d restrictions. “I don’t think it was the right thing to do.” Nothing has changed substantially since the last time we looked at this issue. People are still getting sick from Covid even though there’s no cure yet. “As I’ve found, some people get really sick.”

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