"A real dark night of the soul moment" - ministers open up about COVID-19 fight

Two Church of Scotland ministers have spoken candidly about their "terrifying" battle with the deadly Coronavirus.

Rev Julie Rennick, 60, and Rev Dan Harper, 38, said they had never felt so ill in their lives and admitted that there were times when they thought they would not survive.

Dan Harper Julie Rennick
Rev Dan Harper and Rev Julie Rennick. JR image - Tara Grey Photography.

Mrs Rennick of Larbert West Parish Church in Forth Valley said it was a terrifying experience and at one point she considered writing goodbye letters to her three adult sons

Mr Harper, minister at Bridge of Allan Parish Church in Stirlingshire, said he felt like he was “drowning in fresh air” and feared that he might never leave hospital alive.

The pair leaned heavily on each other for moral support and are eternally grateful to the “brilliant” medical professionals who assisted them and very thankful to everyone who offered heartfelt prayers for a speedy recovery.

The ministers laid bare their struggles with COVID-19 in an interview with Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

It is the first in a new series of in-conversation videos, which will be posted on the Kirk’s social media channels, called “It’s a Fair Question”.

Mrs Rennick said she and her husband Alastair both fell ill in early April but his condition was far less severe.

“I had a pain when I was breathing and both of us got really high temperatures which made us feel really unwell,” she said.

“I could see my colour changing and I looked like death warmed up.

“Overnight, I became very, very unwell with high fever and pain in every one of my joints, it was awful.”

Breathing through a wet sponge

Mrs Rennick sought medical advice and decided to self-isolate in separate rooms at home with her husband.

“I had proper flu about two years ago and it was maybe 20% of what this was – this was beyond anything that I had ever experienced,” she said.

“When your temperature goes up beyond 38C your whole body goes into rigor.

“It is horrible and quite extraordinarily painful.”

Mrs Rennick said her breathing became “really bad” after 10 days.

“It was as if there was a wet sponge in my nose that I had to breathe through,” she added.

“Every breath was just a horrible gasping.

“My thought was I had to write a letter to my sons because I did not know if I could ever speak to them again.

“That was terrifying, a real dark night of the soul moment.”

Drowning in fresh air

Mr Harper said he developed severe chest pain on the first Sunday of lockdown in March.

His GP advised him that it was “clearly the start” of COVID-19

“There were points when I felt I was drowning in fresh air, no matter what I could suck in there was nothing.

“The ability to breathe was really an issue for me,” he said.

“I dialled 111 and was assessed in hospital and one of the tests was take a breath and count out loud.

“At my worst I could not count to five and if I was to do it now, I could get to 30.”

Mr Harper described the medical advice and attention he received as wonderful but said the 33 days he spent ill at home were “grim”.

He revealed that both his wife Kirsty and four-year-old daughter, Zoe, fell ill but had very mild symptoms.

Steady recovery

Recalling the moment he went to hospital for tests, Mr Harper said: “I was gathering things to take, phone in my pocket, charger, made sure my keys were left at home and picked up a picture of my wife and daughter.

“We parked up and I was standing at the glass doors waiting to go in and said a muted and poignant ‘I love you’ to my wife and daughter as I got out of the car because I did not know whether I was coming back.

“My wife said that the moment when it hit her like a ton of bricks was when she realised that it wasn’t our daughter who had put the picture in my back pocket but it was me, not knowing if I was coming back out.”

Both Mrs Rennick and Mr Harper have made a good recovery but have not yet returned to full health.

They are working from home and serving their congregations as best they can under the current circumstances.