5 Mar 2023
A teacher who suffered from Long Covid describes her experience with the condition in her workplace.
Cathy had been working as a primary school teacher for over 28 years, and had spent the last 20 years in a national school in the south-west of Ireland. She describes herself as someone who loved her job, was enthusiastic and dedicated to teaching a classroom of young learners.
One morning in January 2022, in the middle of teaching her class, she developed a “tremendous headache” and, not wanting to leave her class at short notice, she struggled through the rest of the day. The next day she still felt unwell, and decided to do an antigen test, which was positive. This was followed up by a PCR test, which also confirmed she was Covid-19 positive.
When she informed her school of her positive test result, she says she felt like she wasn’t believed. “I was seriously unwell, struggling to get out of bed, and to get to the toilet, and I was being contacted by the school to check my work emails”, she says.
Her symptoms continued, leaving her with extreme fatigue, headaches, cognitive problems and gastroenteritis. “I found it hard to focus, hard to remember things, and I felt under extreme pressure from my employer to get back to school”, she recalls.
Cathy attended Medmark, the occupational healthcare provider for teachers. She also attended her GP, in tandem with a specialist Long Covid clinic in the Munster area. “My GP was excellent, they were very supportive, as was the clinic, and Medmark”. Cathy remained on full Covid pay until June 2022, “when Long Covid leave could be counted as sick pay, but I had no option but to return after the summer holidays”, she says, even though she didn’t feel fully able to.
“I felt I had no choice but to return to my classroom five days a week”, says Cathy. “I was put back into a classroom full of young children with no support. There had previously been a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) in the class, and this was gone. My yard duty was increased to every morning before school for 10 minutes, as well as regular yard duty. I felt like I was being punished for being unwell,” she says. Due to her gastric symptoms, she also needed to regularly use the bathroom and she remembers feeling “watched every time I went to the bathroom”, she says.
She recalls how exhausted she felt during these days of trying to push through to get to the end of the teaching day, so she could collapse into bed the moment she arrived home. “I felt like a fraud and that I wasn’t believed”, she says. “I was put under extreme pressure by the principal at all times.” Cathy was again referred to Medmark, who – like her
GP – recommended a partial return to work as being preferable to a full-time return. “I was refused a partial return”, she says.
Cathy felt her principal had no understanding at all of what Long Covid was, and instead of providing support, was applying pressure, by making more demands from her. “I knew my health was deteriorating after the first month of returning full time. “I had to resign, there was no option left for me. After 28 years of dedicated service to a profession I have loved, it is heart-breaking to have this happen to me”.
Note: The name has been changed to protect the identity of the employee.