Nine months later, life of opera singer still on hold

A LETTERKENNY man who is experiencing the effects of “ long Covid” says he can’t understand why people don’t wear masks.
Michael McLaughlin (39) from Westhill was diagnosed with the virus in late March and spent two weeks in Letterkenny University Hospital.
Nine months on, he has yet to return to work. Some days he doesn’t even have the energy to leave the house due to the lingering effects of the disease.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Mr McLaughlin explained that his life as a professional singer has been put on hold.
“Is it (Covid) worth dying for? I was at the business end of life in April and I really don’t think it’s worth that. In the beginning I didn’t pay too much attention to people who believe that Covid is a hoax or who refused to wear masks but as time has gone on I’ve become more and more angry.
“I have been left with serious lung damage and at this stage there’s no guarantee that I won’t get it again and I need everybody to be safe and sensible. I’ve no problem wearing my mask and I don’t see why anybody else would,” he said.
Long Covid refers to cases where people have persistent symptoms for weeks or months after being infected with coronavirus.
Michael was diagnosed just weeks into the pandemic, at a time when very few cases were being reported every day.
Living in London, where he works as director of Music at Notting Hill and Ealing Junior High School, he was already very conscious of the disease in March.
He started his musical career as a chorister at St Eunan’s Cathedral and has gone one to become a much sought after voice on the opera circuit in London. As well as singing, he conducts six choirs.
“Life was pretty busy but I decided to stop choir practice, stop singing and to leave London in March in a bid to avoid Covid. I drove home and the day after I arrived back in Letterkenny I started to show symptoms. That was March 21 and I was taken into hospital on April 2 with double Covid pneumonia. My lungs were in a pretty bad way. I had a collapsed lung too,” he recalled.
Because of the collapsed lung there was talk of moving him into the Intensive Care Unit.
“The first couple of days in hospital were pretty serious but I was lucky enough to come through it. I was isolated for those first ten days in Medical 2.
“I was still not very well when I got out after two weeks as I still had pneumonia. In fact, I still had pneumonia in July,” he said.
“It was not like a bad flu that you hear people talking about. A couple of months had gone by at that stage and here I was lying on a hospital bed, at home, as I could not lie flat and didn’t have the energy to make it up the stairs to my bedroom,” he added.
Slowly, things did improve and Michael took advantage of the good weather in July by going out for walks – eventually managing to walk up the Back Road to his home in Westhill.
However, further tests in early October showed that Michael had suffered damage to the walls of the bronchial tubes of the lungs.
“I now have permanent lung damage and I’m still very breathless. I’m fine if I’m sitting about not doing very much but it’s a big ask to try and go up stairs,” he said.
Fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, pains across the chest and conjunctivitis in the eyes are among the symptoms he now faces on a daily basis.
Singing helped
“I’ve problems with my heart too. My heart rate is quite fast. I’m waiting to go to Rehab in the hospital and then meet with the consultants again next month,” he said.
Michael found that opera singing initially helped his breathing after first contracting the disease but now he can only sing for twenty minutes at a time.
“It has not been an easy year – that’s for sure. I’ve had to put my career on hold.
“Only a couple of years ago I finished the Camino and I would have regularly walked 10 to 15 mile and thought nothing of it. Now all I want to do is sleep,” he said.
Michael is hoping that doctors will have some better news for him next month and he’ll be able to return to London in the New Year and resume his career.
“My message is quite simple: Take this seriously because it is serious. Nine months later my life is a mess and there’s no end in sight yet,” he said.
“I would like to thank all the staff in Letterkenny. It was the beginning of Covid and they were all busy being my medics, friends, visitors and everything else. They were incredible and I’m totally in awe of their work. They saved my life. If I hadn’t gone into hospital to be treated I wouldn’t be here now. If the vaccine was offered to me tomorrow I would take it without giving it as moment’s thought,” he added.

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