For some people, recovering from the initial effects of contracting COVID-19 does not mean the end of their health problems.
A number of people who contracted the virus go on to suffer from Long Covid – a term to describe the effects of COVID-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness.
A team of Metropolitan Police officers have set up the Covid Peer Support Group, which brings together and offers support to those affected by the virus.
Royalty and Specialist Protection Officer Barry Calder (pictured right), who is also a Federation Rep, recalls when he first got ill with the virus.
He said: “I was working, on a night shift in Scotland and I can remember sitting in the car thinking, ‘If I step out of this car I’m going to fall over, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to get back up’. I just felt like I’d been hit by a bus.”
Barry, who has been a Met officer for 29 years, explained that “thankfully there were plans in place and what to do if somebody came down and got ill”.
He added: “I was taken to an old cottage on the Balmoral Estate on my own, I was left there, anything and everything I needed was given to me and they arranged to call to make sure I was okay.
“That night I can remember just being in such a terrible state, I felt as though I couldn’t get warm so I was lying in a bed with two duvets and my full outdoor clothes, with all the thermals. I just couldn’t get comfortable and I was hacking coughing and panting for breath. The next day it was getting worse.
“I’ve been a firearms officer since 2003. I’ve been involved in all sorts of trauma, terrible incidents, but nothing has ever given me dark thoughts before, but at that moment in time I was absolutely convinced I was going to die.
“I couldn’t have proper conversations with my family on the phone due to the poor signal and because of the state I was in.”
Barry was in the cottage for two and a half weeks before he could leave, and emphasised “work was exceptionally good, anything I needed was dropped off at the door and left for me”.
Long Road To Recovery
When Barry left isolation, he got straight back to work and within a couple of weeks returned to London.
He recalled: “When I went back to work I knew something was not right with me, I’ve never experienced anything like the fatigue and the tiredness.
“I’ve never had mental health problems. I’ve never suffered from depression, anxiety or anything like that at all. However, it got to the stage that I would be driving to work and I’d be breaking down in tears, somebody could look at me the wrong way and I’d get upset.
“I was referred to the doctor, and after lots of tests they came up with the term ‘Long-Covid’ which was slowly coming into the media.
“The NHS describe anyone with ongoing symptoms after four weeks as having Long Covid. The list of symptoms is not exhaustive, and there are many.
“I still to this day have terrible fatigue and this is months after I’ve had Covid.”
Barry was put in touch with Fed Reps Danny Lawrence and Phil Govett, who both had similar experiences with Covid-19.
He said: “Between us we thought more people need to be aware of the consequences of Covid, if there’s people like us there’s going to be others, so I started pestering some of the bosses on our internal intranet.
“I then got put into contact with Ch Supt Claire Clarke who’s the Met’s operational Covid lead. Slowly, other people were getting in touch with me and we then set up the Covid Peer Support Group.
“We started that off beginning of January 2021. Initially we only had about 20-odd members, unfortunately we were up to 80 members in a month and a half.
“Every day I’m getting people emailing me, wanting support.
“The most common theme is officers speaking about their anxiety and depression as a consequence of Covid, these are mostly people who have never suffered any problems or issues. It’s like Covid is pushing people over the edge.
“Every two weeks we have an online Microsoft Teams ‘Coffee and Covid’ meeting.
“It’s a meeting with no agenda, the meeting is not recorded and it’s a safe place for everyone to come, and a place for people to ask for help and share their experiences.
“It’s all about peer support so we’re there to signpost people, sharing our own stories and bringing awareness when it comes to mental health and Covid.
“It’s for people that have been affected by Covid in any way, whether that be through bereavements or through loved ones who’ve been ill with it, or whether they’ve been ill themselves.
“You’re not on your own with this, that’s the important thing.”
Sgt Danny Lawrence helped to set up the Covid Peer Support Group with Barry, after he recovered from his own ordeal with the virus.
Danny, an emergency response team sergeant in the West Area Borough, spent five weeks in hospital from April 2020 – of which he spent six days in a coma.
He initially thought he had a cold but after self-isolating for 11 days called an ambulance when he began to have trouble breathing.
Danny said: “I remember waking up one morning in hospital with this really lovely woman saying, ‘Look, you’re quite unwell, you need to come with us.
“We’re going to pop you down to intensive care and we’re going to look after you. Is that okay?’”
He was put on a ventilator but had to be brought out of the coma sooner than planned as his heart began to struggle.
He added: “The things that happened were absolutely amazing; what they did to save my life was absolutely unbelievable.”
Danny ended up with double Covid pneumonia, poor kidney function, cardiac problems, increased blood pressure and type 1 diabetes. He was just 45 when he fell ill – having previously lived a healthy lifestyle.
Danny, who has a partner Amanda and a daughter and a son, said: “I was out walking my dalmatian 5km to 10km.
“I was a coach of my son’s football team. I’ve not smoked for 18 years. I don’t drink to excess. I enjoy my food – that is a vice I have.
“But I have never had a respiratory problem – the occasional chest infection once in a while. I’m not asthmatic. I have no pulmonary problems.
“And then for me to be attacked by that and then to come out with so many other things and dealing with the long side of things, it is amazingly challenging.”
Danny said he had been careful to avoid the virus. He sanitised, distanced himself from friends and a wore mask.
He added: “Even when I fell ill and was in hospital, I still thought, ‘I’ll get better. I’ll get better. I’ll be okay’. It wasn’t until I started to get really, really ill, and I thought, ‘this is going to kill me if I’m not careful’.
“It’s an impossible job to do all the time as safely as you can, despite how hard you try. There are just circumstances that just don’t allow it.
“But the guys and girls out there have got to make sure that they are safe because nobody knows how this is going to affect them.”
Though Danny’s health is now much improved, he was left traumatised from his time in hospital, and has since struggled with panic attacks, lung problems and poor memory.
He said: “I had a phenomenal memory before I went into hospital. I didn’t write stuff down, I knew where my meetings were, who I was meeting, what I was doing. I was a very happy team sergeant; I loved my Federation work and thought I was quite good at it as well.
“After a long, long time off work I finally went back to work a few weeks ago and I’m working restricted hours at home. I get these moments of this brain fog. But I’m still alive.”
Danny added that he is now feeling positive about the future and is grateful for all the support he has received.
He said: “The NHS have been outstanding. The Federation have been brilliant.
“For me personally, Occupational Health and the Met have been amazing. I was shocked when I got a Get Well Soon handwritten card from the Commissioner.”
Danny said he was frustrated that the Government had not decided to prioritise police officers for the Covid-19 vaccine, saying it would be cheaper to give an officer a jab than the £100,000+ hospital stay he endured.
He said: “The risk that everyday police officers face – you don’t know what that person you’re dealing with has.
“They can be the nicest person and have no overt symptoms, and you can end up in the position I’m in.
“All you’re doing is effectively doing the job you love to do, serving the members of the public – and you end up in a position like mine.
“For the Government to not consider the severity of what a police officer or any emergency service worker faces and the amount of people they deal with on a daily basis – it’s something that I think they seriously need to look at.”
Supporting Each Other
Speaking about the Covid Peer Support Group, Danny said it was important that everyone was looked after.
He explained: “It’s an open forum to put out there to people who have experienced Covid in various different degrees and experienced Long-Covid.
“We work closely with Occupational Health to ensure that everybody is looked after at these challenging times.”
If you are interested in joining the COVID-19 Peer Support Group, please email DSAMailbox-.CovidSupportNetwork@met.police.uk or Barry.Calder@met.police.uk