Why one woman rewrote her will after getting Covid

After dodging Covid-19 for the past two years, seeing the second line come through on a rapid antigen test left Sydney woman Sarah Castle in tears.

While a positive diagnosis isn’t welcomed by most, for the immunocompromised 25-year-old it was a potentially life-threatening condition that came the day she was set to receive crucial surgery to help correct a chronic condition which has caused cysts to grow in her sinuses.

It was also an operation she’s been working towards since 2019, with specialist cancellations and the pandemic delaying the process.

Despite forgoing social events, she believes she may have contracted the virus during a rare visit to an indoor venue.

“I just cried and panicked,” she told news.com.au. “The pre-op process involves surgeons putting a camera up my nose and the surgeon said they’re so close to not being able to fit the camera in at all, so if we wait too long they might have to do a more invasive procedure, which was really scary.”

Given her chronic condition, she also wasn’t sure how her body and respiratory system would cope with the virus. This has been a fear Castle has lived with since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I have a history of going to hospital with colds, flus and chest infections,” she said. “I’ve had pneumonia before and I breathe pretty poorly to begin with, so it was pretty scary when I found out [Covid] was a respiratory thing.”

Castle remembers one instance in 2020 that landed her in hospital after she developed a severe cold that stemmed from complications after surgery on her fingers.

“I nearly had a heart attack and my blood pressure dropped to 26 which is very low,” she said. (An optimal blood pressure for someone her age is between 80 and 120).

“It’s little things like that when you already have a problem [it can get] really severe. You don’t know how it’s going to hit you.”

Now battling Covid in combination with her existing health struggles, Castle says she’s faring better than expected, though she admits the diagnosis has led her to redo her will.

She is also having trouble distinguishing whether her symptoms are a result of her chronic illness or Covid – and is confronted with the lingering disappointment her surgery was supposed to greatly reduce these symptoms.

“I had some symptoms but nothing they were concerned about as my normal problems from my nose, respiratory system and vestibular migraines are the same as many Covid symptoms so it’s really hard to tell what’s chronic and what’s viral,” she said.

“Since then, I’ve had a sore throat, pain and blockage in my ears, loss of taste (no loss of smell – I never have smell), no appetite, brain fog and confusion, major body and joint aches, fever, dizziness where I struggle to even stand.

“I’ve had a terrible cough, rapid heartbeat, sharp chest pain, a secondary chest pain that feels like being crushed, and am gasping for air.”

Her second night of suffering from Covid also saw Castle spend three hours in the bathroom struggling to breathe and coughing up blood.

“If this wasn’t a pandemic I’d be calling an ambulance but I don’t want to go because the system’s so flooded,” she said.

‘Non-urgent doesn’t mean not life-threatening ‘

With her surgery currently rescheduled for February, Castle hopes further pauses won’t be placed on elective surgery. This comes as NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet implemented a pause on non-urgent elective surgery until mid-February, a set of restrictions he announced along with a ban on singing and dancing in pubs and clubs.

Previously speaking to news.com.au, Professor Bruce Thompson, dean of the School of Health Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology, said waiting times have “blown out” as a result of Covid, with fears delays will only get longer.

“The only reason why hospitals can handle increased Covid cases is because they stopped doing elective surgery, which refers to operations where you won’t die within the next 48 hours,” Thompson said.

“You might be pretty safe having your condition managed by tablets but it’s in no way a long-term solution if you need an operation in the next month.

“I think the name elective surgery is the wrong name, it’s sort of non-urgent surgery. It doesn’t mean it’s not life-threatening.”

It’s a concern Castle has as well.

“I understood that people were upset when clubs shut because they couldn’t party but it’s not the same thing as a surgery,” she said.

“You think elective are operations that people choose to do, like cosmetic surgeries, but elective surgery is almost every surgery that’s not booked in and coming through an emergency department. It’s a really big thing.”

Her fears are made all the more frustrating with the added rhetoric that seemingly suggests it’s only people with ‘pre-existing conditions’ who catch severe Covid or die from the virus.

“If I died, people will say: ‘Oh, it’s okay. She had pre-existing conditions,’ but pre-existing conditions aren’t what is killing people, it’s Covid,” she said.

“If they didn’t have Covid, they wouldn’t be dying.”

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