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Life as a singer after having COVID19

Please note that all of the information provided in this post is purely from my own personal experience of covid. As coronavirus is new to us all, worldwide - there is so much more studying to do regarding the long term effects of it. I cannot say that people will endure the same experience as I, but I like to think that my words will potentially provide a sense of hope in some way.

Day 1 of symptoms; Coughing and experiencing shortness of breath & chest tightness.

This was really tricky to identify that I had symptoms of covid, while I was enjoying painting and decorating my new studio. I planned to paint over the 4 week November lockdown and honestly, I thought I was having a bad reaction to the paint!

I genuinely felt that I was in good health - I just thought I was coughing because I had not ventilated the room properly where I was decorating. My cough also was not the typical 'dry' cough that the NHS and the government had warned us of. Admittedly, I was coughing up phlegm. So I didn't for one moment, suspect that I had the virus!

From this moment on day 1 - I had chosen to not sing. This is due to the tightness I was experiencing in my chest. My no.1 important tip to all of my students is to ALWAYS consider your vocal health. If you are starting to feel 'under the weather' you should be mindful on the vocal choices you make and if it ever hurts... STOP.

I had continued to decorate my studio for a further 2 days. In this time, I hadn't seen any students physically as they had gone online to Zoom for the 4 week lockdown - so thankfully, was essentially isolating anyway! However, I seemed to make a decline in my health - I became very tired and my body started to ache all over.

Again, I put this down to perhaps overexerting myself while painting.

It was 4 days in...

I had the following symptoms:

  • Coughing (with phlegm)

  • Shortness of breath and tightness in chest

  • Wheeziness in breathing (crackling sounds on every inhale and exhale)

  • Sore throat

  • Red rash on face

  • Lack of appetite and stomach aches

  • Extreme fatigue

  • All over body aches and pains (I couldn't even walk up and down the stairs anymore!)

  • This is when my temperature had kicked in... 38.5!!

Due to having a high temperature, I just knew that it could be something more than just overdoing the decorating, so I went and conducted a test at the walk-in centre from Wigston, Leicester. The service was good and everyone was very helpful. It was freezing outside at 7:30pm that night and the fact that I was walking around, sweating in a sleeveless vest, while others were wrapped in coats, scarves, hats and gloves... told me something was seriously not ok.

I waited just under 24 hours to receive my results. It was a positive test result. I was scared. Scared that I now knew I had corona, which in turn... made me scared of the unknown and what was to potentially come.

Of course, as I was not feeling well at all - I did not sing one bit. I wasn't up to the task, nor did I have the breath to give.

Everyday, simple tasks became huge challenges, for example; nearly fainting as I got in and out of the shower or bath, not being able use the stairs, standing up for short periods of time to make a simple cup of tea. Even turning over or moving in bed was agony.

It shocked me when 8 days in (no temperature any more), I was still taking a turn for the worst. I was struggling to catch my breath. The wheezing could be heard over the phone to 111 and they felt it necessary to send an ambulance out to me.

To cut a long story short, the paramedics were with me for around 2 hours before leaving and were satisfied that I would be ok if I was to remain the same and not worsen.

These are what they identified;

  • My heart was skipping a beat and I had strong palpatations.

  • Coughing was severe, causing breathlessness. The coughing itself is a vicious cycle, as it causes things to worsen.

  • No temperature, which was a good sign

  • 'Just' enough oxygen getting in. So, the levels were ok to leave me at home and not be admitted into hospital (thankfully!)

Day 10 came... End of quarantine?

'Am I really allowed out?' I asked NHS track and trace. They advised me that I was allowed to come out of quarantine if I had made improvements in my health and had not experienced a high temperature for 48hrs prior to the 10th day. As I had the ambulance out only 2 days before, I didn't leave the house until I started to feel better by day 15!

At a young age of 25, no underlying health conditions and a good pair of lungs as a singer and vocal coach, I was surprised that I had so many symptoms... these are the symptoms I experienced at some point while having covid19;

  • Shortness of breath and tightness in chest

  • Coughing (with phlegm in the first few days, then became dryer)

  • Wheeziness in breathing (crackling sounds on every inhale and exhale)

  • Sore throat

  • Red rash on face

  • Lack of appetite and stomach aches

  • Extreme fatigue

  • All over body aches and pains (I couldn't even walk up and down the stairs anymore!)

  • Temperature of 38.5

  • Loss of taste and smell around day 5 (this has still not returned!)

  • Sinus pain

  • Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) *Heart regularly skipping a beat

  • Palpitations

  • Brain fog/confusion

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness / feeling faint

  • Nausea

How am I now and have I returned to singing?!

Now to get to the point...As I sit here writing this blog, I am feeling pretty well. I have not had my sense of smell or taste return yet but I am hugely grateful that I am not breathless anymore or anything worse! It was a scary experience and had completely written me off for just over 2 weeks. I was unable to do most usual actives I would find quite effortless to do.

I have tried singing some steady songs here and there and have found it harder to control my voice.

I think it's important that I pace myself and work on rebuilding my stamina. I am finding myself fatigued quite quickly most days.

The thing is, if the respiratory system is compromised due to illness or injury, singing can become more challenge, resulting in many singers to use potentially injurious compensatory vocal strategies. Singers and teachers of singing are vocal athletes who depend on optimal respiration. So it's important to not try and force yourself through it - you would need time to heal and recover.

Of course, I am incredibly grateful that I did not experience coronavirus any worse than this... I want to mention that if an individual was to experience it even worse - it could be possible to have more long-term effects on the voice.

With coughing being a common symptom of coronavirus, it's important that we understand how this can affect us internally. When vocal cords become swollen and inflamed from coughing or other reasons, they become stiff and less flexible. This means that they are unable to vibrate freely, so the sound of the voice changes, often becoming rougher and deeper-pitched or possibly no more than a whisper. It can feel uncomfortable and hard work to speak when your vocal cords are in this state.

When I first tried to sing, I was unable use head voice. My voice cracked every single time I went up my range into my higher vocal register. I was unable to sing softly and in order to produce sound, I would have had to 'push' more. (Which is not the right thing to do). This has since returned after I continued vocal rest for another week or so.

I have since found that my tone seems to be slightly lower and warmer - This could be because of potential scarring left by the continuous coughing that I experienced. I will continue to be wise of my choices, like doing gentle vocal exercises - working on the foundations of singing and building my way back up.

Overtime, I will continue to use myself as a case study to help understand the long-term effects of covid19 on the voice, in hope that it may help to advise somebody else at some point.

Recovery methods are crucial to rebuild your voice, with or without covid - Please see other blog post that is all about keeping our voices healthy and tip top!

Thanks for reading,

Stay safe,

Purdey x

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