“Please have a test Dad, this could be coronavirus.”
Carla’s dad, aged 77 and living with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), caught coronavirus in October, but thankfully is recovering well.
Seven years ago, my dad was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), aged 70. He’s been on watch and wait since then and hasn’t needed any treatment. But in the past few years, he’s had severe chest infections and catches every cold my mum has. So his immune system isn’t strong.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, I was terrified for him and my mum and begged them to just stay inside. My dad still needs to work to pay the rent and unfortunately, if he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid. So he was desperate to carry on. I had numerous arguments about this with both my parents.
Please don't go out, please don't go to restaurants, please reduce the number of people you see – don't hug the kids (my niece and nephew).
I haven’t hugged my parents since March 2020 for fear of passing coronavirus on to them. I was especially worried about my dad, who I knew was at an increased risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.
In late October 2020, as coronavirus cases were rising again, the worst happened. My dad phoned me on Tuesday 20 October and said, “I have a slight cough. I think I’ve just caught Mum's cold.” My anxious response was, “Please have a test Dad, this could be coronavirus.”
He was convinced this couldn't be the case, but unfortunately on Friday 23 October, he received the devastating news that the test was positive. He was distraught and so was I.
I feared the worst, as everything I googled said coronavirus and CLL was not a good combination, even on watch and wait. On top of that, my mum had it and passed it on to my brother, sister-in-law and niece and nephew – thankfully, they’re all doing well.
A few scary days
I’m not medically qualified, but I did some research online. The first thing I did was buy a digital thermometer and pulse oximeter – which measures the level of oxygen in your blood – and drop them at his door.
Every day, I phoned him four or five times to ask him to take his temperature and see what his blood oxygen levels were. I also made sure his consultant knew he had coronavirus. His blood oxygen was consistently at 93 percent, which is slightly below the normal range of 95–100 percent.
His hospital team said this was OK, but if it dropped, we were to call NHS direct or 999. The pulse oximeter was to check that he didn't have silent hypoxia (that his blood oxygen didn't drop to a dangerous level), as this could happen without visible breathing problems. Luckily this didn't happen, though we did have a few scary days.
In the two weeks since we first suspected coronavirus, he’d developed a range of symptoms.
He had a bad cough, was achy, tired, completely lost his appetite and had a high temperature.
When his temperature went up to 39.2°C, his GP prescribed him some antibiotics in case he had a bacterial infection as well. Now, a few weeks later, he has pretty much recovered, apart from a slight residual cough. Interestingly, his blood oxygen levels have gone up to 97 percent.
On the day Dad got the positive result from the coronavirus test, I contacted the Blood Cancer UK Support Line. It was really helpful to talk to someone who understood how worried I was. I also wrote on the online community forum and got lots of lovely supportive messages, which were hugely appreciated at a very stressful and anxious time.
I would say out of the range of “mild, moderate, severe and very severe,” my dad had moderate coronavirus symptoms. In my family, we all know how lucky we are, as it could have been so much worse. I have a friend who has coronavirus and type 1 diabetes and is now in hospital with breathing problems at the age of 47.
Please do as much as you can to minimise your contact with people. Wear masks and keep your distance.
I know that, like my mum and dad, not everyone can shield because of personal circumstances. But until we have a clear way out of this, please do whatever you can, whether it’s you or a loved one who’s at risk.
If you have blood cancer and have symptoms which could be coronavirus, contact your healthcare team immediately. Contact your chemo hot line, your haematology or treating team, or whatever number you were given for urgent advice. If you are feeling seriously unwell, ring 999.
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