There’s an Elephant on my Chest and I Can’t Breathe

(Anne Powders)  Aug 2020

My story is like this…

I have been working as a clinical Dental Hygienist for the past 30+ years and in dentistry for even longer. I have a clear medical history, am a non-smoker and have no previous health problems. I enjoy fitness, swimming, salsa dancing and hiking; I even climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago! I used to joke that I had an “immunity of steel”.

But things changed on the 18th March, and I started to get chest tightness and restricted breathing. I had worked at four different dental practices the previous week, and Covid-19 protocols were already very stringently in place. I rapidly developed an acute respiratory condition which was described as “suspected Covid-19” as at that time testing wasn’t available. I cared for myself at home for a month with lots of inhaling, salbutamol, four sets of antibiotics and several over-the-phone GP consultations. The NHS 111 instructions were always the same, “stay at home unless you feel it’s life threatening”. At what point is it life threatening? It becomes hard to judge.

For a month the illness threatened to spiral out of control but I managed to hold it back. It turned from pneumonia, to pleurisy, and then pleurisy just repeats itself over and over. There have been visits to A&E in the night, there have been days of just lying down and resting, just trying to breathe .For me that was always the overwhelming symptom, the tight chest that I can only describe as an “elephant on my chest”. 

Four months later these symptoms are still here. A walk up one flight of stairs leaves me feeling as though I have just run a marathon! Test results at the hospital are always clear. All they can say is ”it just takes time, keep fit and get plenty of rest”. My daily walks and fitness routines have been my lifeline to positivity.

I still plan to resume my clinical career and my dental practices are patiently waiting. The biggest blocker to returning to work is wearing the masks and extra PPE.  

There is, however, a bright side to everything and this has been a tremendous time of professional growth for me. I signed up to most of the webinars and clocked hours of CPD, I took an online pharmacy assistant course, I learned all about skin and skin care, I set up my website and offered online dental health consultations. I even started daily blogging!

The effects of this pandemic have been far reaching but have certainly not brought my dental hygiene career to an end. Rather, they have propelled me to start a new chapter. 

Anne M Powders RDH 


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