Maria, Romania, 31: “Only TB remains and that I can handle – This is what I tell myself.”

I hope that by telling you about my journey with TB during the last chaotic year. One can understand how difficult it is to deal with not only the disease itself, but how difficult it is to even find out what it is that’s making you feel tired and sick all the time. It took a whole year to find out I have drug resistant TB, during which time I took countless types of medication. Hopefully this will not happen to others.

March 2020. I was in Norway and that’s when I first started feeling sick. A pressure on my chest which slowly progressed into difficulty breathing. I dismissed it, thinking it was only a cold. After one week I heard wheezing sounds when inhaling, so I immediately set up a call with a doctor at a private clinic.

Visits to the doctor with my kind of symptoms were forbidden due to Covid, so since it wasn’t an emergency my only option was telemedicine. I had at least 5 appointments with different doctors, and they all told me I shouldn’t be worried, because it would go away on its own. Meanwhile my symptoms were getting worse.

On March 23rd I had a plane ticket to Romania, but the flight got cancelled due to Covid. There was still an airline that flew from Norway to Romania, but the airport for that plane was outside of Oslo and I had to take a bus for two hours to get there. I couldn’t risk a 2-hour drive and a couple more hours by plane with people not wearing masks still.

In May, I could finally see a doctor. He was certain I had asthma and prescribed me some light medicine, but my symptoms remained the same. 

In the middle of June, I got an X-ray done, after finishing treatment with doxycycline and prednisolone.  When the doctor saw the X-ray, he told me it looked fine, but I need to get a CT scan just to be sure. So, he scheduled me for a CT scan. I received a message with a confirmation for my CT appointment in October.

At this point I wanted to go back to Romania, but decided to stay since I had an appointment with the Police regarding obtaining an ID-number. Because of Covid, almost all appointments at the Police were cancelled, but not mine. I checked my email often to be sure I didn’t receive a cancellation e-mail. When the day finally came, I was in front of the building at the established hour, told my name to the person with the list, he found me immediately but right when he told me to pass, someone came and told me my appointment was cancelled. Due to Covid.  

On July 21st I got back home in Romania, after taking a plane straight from Oslo.

On July 22nd, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia – possibly bronchiectasis and was given 2 weeks of 2 different antibiotics. I started feeling better, but I was still coughing. I had several treatments (including more antibiotics, inhalers and nebulizer) until the 13th of October when I had been diagnosed with active TB.

I was told I needed to be hospitalized but due to Covid there were no available beds in Bucharest and so I decided to go to Constanta, since my parents live nearby.

On the 14th October I was hospitalized and stayed there for almost 2 weeks before I was told to go home, because they would bring Covid patients. 

At home I finished the 2-month intensive treatment medication and since everything was improving, I was put on the consolidation treatment. 

During all this time I stayed at home, with my parents as well. I couldn’t even see my grandmother or my friends. I was too scared, I would catch Covid on top of TB. 

In December, a couple of days before Christmas, a doctor from the hospital in Constanta called me because it turned out I am resistant to isoniazid and rifampicin. On the same day, we reached the doctors’ office and was told we should wait for the results from Bucharest.

On January 4th the results came and I was only isoniazid resistant. I moved back to Bucharest and continued treatment there. On the 4th of February 2021 I received a third result which confirmed the one from Constanta. On February 5th I was hospitalized and started treatment for drug resistant TB. 

On 21st March I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 

I am currently looking forward to receiving my 2nd dose of the vaccine so I can finally be able to heal properly. TB attacked my health and Covid attacked my mental health, so I do not only need to heal my body, but my mind as well.

I know I am still lucky. I was able to see so many doctors and to find out the cause of what was making me sick, others don’t have this luxury. But a faster way should be available and in some places it is. It’s already difficult to deal with this very long treatment plan, but it’s even more difficult to start this battle, I am already tired. I had already taken 4 months of TB medication and now I have to take it for another 18 months. I am scared to even think about how many people have caught TB from me. I am still scared of this disease, of it always coming back, of the side effects and what happens after I finally heal, but after 25th April, at least I won’t be scared of Covid anymore.

Comment from Louise Cliff, Project Officer, TB Europe Coalition:

“In Norway there are only 5.1 cases of TB per 100,000 population, meaning not only is it very rare but harder to diagnose when cases do arise because most doctors are not familiar with seeing cases of TB in incoming patients. On the other hand, Romania is a high burden TB country with an average of 72 cases of TB per 100,000. Norway does have a routine TB screening programme for asylum seekers and migrants, however this does not apply for EU citizens. We can clearly see in Maria’s case how COVID-19 has disrupted national healthcare systems and prevented people from accessing routine health procedures which further jeopardizes the health of many people in vulnerable situations. Norway went into lockdown on March 12th 2020, after it had reported nearly 1000 cases and over 600 deaths.”

Illustrations by Alexander Nosov