My Covid Journey – Kelvin Blackburn

Since November last year, my life has been flipped upside down, which was all due to catching the dreaded Covid 19 virus.  It began with a positive test prior to mobilisation offshore, with very little symptoms other than a loss of sense of smell and taste.  In truth, I would never had known I had the virus until the longer term symptoms materialised.  Unfortunately, it manifested itself into a severely debilitating illness which the medical world is blanket calling ‘Long Covid’.

Coming from a background, working away from home for long periods of time, initially in the Royal Navy Submarine Service, then subsequently in the Offshore Oil and Gas industry, I have become accustomed to ‘flicking the switch’ between personal and professional.  I have always found solace in selecting the mindset prior to mobilising away from home, by thrusting myself into my professional duties when in this work mode.  It always allowed me to become more productive during my time away from home, either on a patrol at sea on a Submarine, or on an offshore Oil or Gas installation. There was always a clear separation between ‘work’ and ‘play’.  This working routine was something I was totally unfamiliar with, as I could never flick a switch and throw myself into either mode of thinking.

Having to work from home was initially quite refreshing as I got to spend time with my two boys and wife and set up a home office whilst carrying out duties remotely.  However after approximately 4 to 6 weeks I began to suffer from severe tiredness, I was so tired I would fall asleep where I sat and even did so during an online meeting (thankfully no one noticed).  Next up was the shortness of breath, occasional chest pains, swollen toes (covid toes) and finally brain fog.

The advice from the medical World was to wait and it would it get better.  They were still trying to understand this post Covid illness and the effects it has on people.

Coming from a military background and a keen sports person, who visits the gym four times per week at home and most mornings when working away, it frightened me to realise that regardless of my personal fitness levels and healthy lifestyle, I was far from healthy and unaffected by the aftereffects of this devastating disease.

I continued to try and work from home as best I could and was very grateful for the support I received from my employer.  I was lucky enough to be in possession of health insurance and attended specialist consultants’ appointments.  These included multiple tests and scans to check for potential organ, heart and lung damage.  Fortunately, there was nothing obvious or evident, however the fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog persisted for several months afterwards.

Being stuck at home, constantly tired, unable to partake in any fitness activities due to my shortness of breath, unable to interact with colleagues and friends due to lockdowns and fearing that the career I had worked so hard to build was slipping away from me, my mental health took a bit of a nosedive.

The feeling of helplessness, in being able to be the master of my own destiny and forge my own path through hard work, study, reflection and living a healthy lifestyle really got to me. Attempting to do some work duties remotely from home, with interruptions from the kids or sitting in the sunroom on the back of the house where it was freezing cold during the winter, everything seemed to negatively affect me. 

It was my mindset of negativity, not remembering what life was all about and forgetting the important things.  It is the lowest I have ever felt and began to impact on my relationship with my family.  Short tempered, disillusioned often sitting with a vacant look on my face, I could feel I was dragging the atmosphere down within the household.  I spent a long time thinking about a friend who took his own life last year, the pain and suffering he must have been enduring within his own head and the devastation caused by his sudden departure.  I thought of one of my neighbours, a lovely fit and healthy man who had retired from a successful career who lived with his wife.  Always talking away and exchanging pleasantries and he took a real interest in my oldest son, often giving him chocolate over the fence and asking him about his dinosaurs, he was always chatting away, however I never knew him that well.  After speaking with his wife recently I learned that he lost his son at a young age, a thought towards the suffering he endured breaks my heart and is unimaginable for me.  I also thought about the terrible stories my wife was telling me each and every day she came home from a gruelling shift dealing with this Covid, throwing her arms around me, tears in eyes and the helplessness she felt witnessing terrible loss and suffering multiple times each day on the hospital ward frontline.

I realised in an almost epiphany moment, that I was one of the lucky ones.

The Long Covid symptoms have resulted in me having to resign from my previous position, which was something which I thought would have brought stress and hardship to my life.  The opposite is in fact true.  I will however miss the friends I made and the laughs we had.

Being ill with Long Covid, has reset my expectations and allowed me to remember the important things in life, the things that I so often preach about to others: ‘don’t cut corners and get home safely to your loved ones’ or ‘work to live, don’t live to work’, ‘remember why we sacrifice being away from home and working on a bomb in the middle of the North Sea!’ as some examples.

The help offered from friends and colleagues, including constant messages of support and providing me an ear to bend has aided in my recovery from the black pit I was residing in.  The messages since I left, from people I worked with, proclaiming their thanks and appreciation for everything I done, to try and protect their health and safety whilst working away their loved ones.

My health is now starting to get a little better.  Far from where I was, however the brain fog seems to have cleared and the feeling of the vice like grip around my lungs has eased when I go for a walk or try exercise.  Small steps each day in a forward direction get results!  That is what I tell myself everyday.

Its time for a new chapter in my professional career and I plan on spending more time working on the things that are important.  The things that really make a difference such as my relationships with my family and friends, living for the now instead of careering down the runway, missing everything which is important, whilst I try and achieve something which I think makes me happy or successful professionally.  Life is too short and can be gone in the blink of an eye.  Remember to look after yourself and speak out when you are down.  We are human after all and prone to making mistakes when we are under stress or pressure from every facet of our lives.

Thank you so much Kelvin for sharing your story. 

Kelvin’s new role is Training and Quality Director for 2020 Safety Training LTD.