Ann still struggles with Long Covid but says we must take positives from the pandemic

A year ago this week a fit and active Ann Hartley realised she had coronavirus.

Councillor Ann Hartley in her garden
Councillor Ann Hartley in her garden

Twelve months on she still wakes in the night unable to breathe and still struggles to walk more than a mile or so with her husband Ryan and their dog.

It is a world away from the long walks they used to enjoy every day around the lanes and footpaths of their home town, Ellesmere.

But, as Ann, chairman of Shropshire Council, says, we are living in a world far away from the one of early last year.

A keen member of St Mary's Parish Church in Ellesmere, she said: "When I look back 12 months we had just realised that there was no way that the parish church would be open for Easter 2020 but were eagerly planning the rest of the year. The church remained closed through Christmas and now for a second Easter."

"We were told that we could beat the virus with a 12-week lockdown. No-one at all could ever have predicted what would happen and what would still be happening a year on."

It has been a personal battle for Ann, one of hundreds of thousands of people with long Covid.

Councillor Ann Hartley with Mocha her chocolate labrador

"Last night I woke up and I couldn't breath - my chest was completely closed up. It is very frightening but mentally I know that I will be alright once I have the asthma medication that I am now on," she said.

"When I had the virus the medical experts still didn't know how to treat it and the advice was stay at home, rest and take paracetemol. Now they have the experience and there is better medication."

Ann is one of those with long Covid who is helping with research into the condition.

Meanwhile, she has a very gentle physio exercise plan to build up her muscles and help her breathing and is also using cryotherapy - which sees her body exposed to extremely low temperatures for a short time.

Better

"Cryozone in Shrewsbury is one of the few chambers of its kind in the country. You spend three or four minutes at a time in a temperature of -85.

"A family member uses it for his rheumatoid arthritis. I had got to the stage where I would try anything if it would help and I really do come out feeling so much better."

Despite the past year, Ann says there are positives that people must take from the pandemic.

"I try hard not to be pessimistic although I have real worries about the effect that the lockdowns are having, particularly on the elderly in our community. My mother will be 90 in June and was always so active and sociable, going out to play bridge and meeting her friends. Her life ground to a halt and older people were left very frightened.

"What hurts the most is not being about to see our families, not being able to hold our grandchildren.

"But I think this has taught us that we must never take things for granted, simple things like seeing your family. Life has been put into a better perspective and I hope that this has been a life-long lesson for generations to come. I think we will come out of this with better values of what it important."

How people will work and how organisations like Shropshire Council will go forward into the future has also changed she believes.

"As soon as lockdown began Shropshire Council switched 100 per cent to meetings on line, we adapted so quickly.

"People are seeing the benefits of being able to work from home and flexible working and how their work/life balance can improve without all the travelling."

Ann's role with Shropshire Council has led her to become a peer mentor within the Local Government Association.

"I am currently mentoring members of a council in another part of England which normally would have meant long journeys for face-to-face meetings," she says

"But I have been able to have so many more meetings via computers and even been able to drop into their online meetings - it has helped enormously."

"I also think we will come out of this with a new found respect for our key workers, from those in the NHS to our teachers. And we will also have more appreciation for this wonderful county that we live in.

"We can't be complacent, this thing isn't going to go away and we must learn to live with it. But we are so lucky to live in a county such as Shropshire were we can appreciated the beauty around us."

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