I finally contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of the second week of January, just a few weeks ago. I had managed to avoid the virus for nearly two years despite being a frontline health and social care worker, working with a transient and mostly unvaccinated population of service users in close proximity. I wear my mask, I sanitise my hands and I follow the rules as best as I can, but this bug is vociferous and stubborn and, alas, I saw the dreaded double line on my antigen test that morning.
The first instinct was to panic. My husband lives with a number of health conditions and is clinically vulnerable. I began to get upset at the idea that I had exposed him, selfishly, to a potentially deadly virus and had brought it into the house with us. We slept in the same bed, shared the same bathroom, the same living area etc. How much of the virus had I spread all over the house? Was it on his clothes? Was it on the dogs? Had I given it to him that morning when I kissed him on the forehead?
I rushed to get a PCR test, phoned my husband and told him. I took another antigen test as soon as I got home and what had been a faint line on the first go was now shining bright red like a teacher’s marker pen crossing out a wrong answer. Which, in some regards, was exactly what the test result had given me – the wrong answer. I set about the house with my mask, and gloves on, with bleach spray, disinfectant, antibacterial wipes etc until the whole place smelled like the inside of an industrial chlorine tank. I cleared the spare bedroom, brought what clothes I could grab and locked myself in. That small space would be my entire world for the next wee while.
My husband tested negative, and thank God he continued to test negative until my isolation was up. I was double jabbed, boosted and had a relatively healthy immune system for a 33 year old, but I was incredibly naïve and arrogant to think that I would be in for a short stint off work and a walk in the park. When I tell you that I am convinced my vaccines saved my life, I’m not kidding.
At the end of the first day I was sent the dreaded confirmation email that my PCR test was positive, which I already knew, but I felt relatively fine, bar the stress and the anxiety. I couldn’t sleep that night, but the next morning I felt as though I had been thrown out of a fourth floor window. My head was on fire – a banging, unrelenting headache that consumed every second. My eyes were sensitive to the slight amount of light that was coming through the curtains, and every bone and joint in my body ached as though I had ran the length of the Lagan River.
I had no temperature, and no cough, but on day two I discovered that I wasn’t able to get a full breath when lying flat on my back. It was as though someone had put a ping pong ball in my windpipe and it wouldn’t budge. I could feel my lungs struggling to fully fill with air, and that’s around the point that I began to get scared. I didn’t think that I was going to die, but I wasn’t entirely convinced of my ability to get through it, either.
At the end of day three I felt like I was unable to get any heat into my body, and despite having a temperature of nearly 38 degrees, I was sleeping in a pair of joggers, socks, two t-shirts and a hoodie to keep myself warm through another sleepless night. Any sleep that I did manage to capture was dominated by horrible dreams of William getting sick, or of being suffocated.
It’s not like a cold, or a flu. Despite what some eejits say on their podcasts. I have never felt such intense and unforgiving headaches, or muscle pains in my entire life. By day four the boredom, and the mental health dip had started to fully come into effect. I was sick and tired of being unable to focus on anything. I had BBC News 24 on in the background but it was white noise. Books held no interest for me as I felt too ill to even pretend to skim the pages, and I was fed up of being unable to sleep because of the banging in my head and the ringing in my ears.
I missed my husband, and my dogs terribly. CDC and NHS advice was to remain separated from any pets lest I shed my COVID particles onto their fur. The thought of my dogs being the transmission vector between my husband and I was a disturbing one. I could hear them crying for me when I had to use the bathroom, or go to the kitchen to make food. But it didn’t matter because the dizziness, dehydration and headache made everything else feel like a fuzzy dream. I just wanted to hug my husband, I just wanted to go to work. I just wanted to feel better and have some human interaction.
Every time I used the toilet, or the shower I sprayed the entire place down with neat disinfectant, wiped all the surfaces down with antibacterial wipes and hoped to God that it would be enough. When I had to make food downstairs I was wearing two facemasks, a face shield, and disposable gloves. I felt like an astronaut in my own home with this hastily concocted biohazard suit.
I was very fortunate that I was able to facetime friends and family, as well as have friends drop round supplies like ice cream and painkillers (ice cream is on the WHO List of Essential Medicines). That got me through some pretty horrible days when I couldn’t do anything except lie on my bed and struggle to get up to even get washed and dressed.
On day five I started to feel my kidneys ache, which is an incredibly unsettling sensation. It was as though I had been mule kicked on both sides of my lower back. I was drinking around 4 litres of water every day, and then some. My husband was able to bring me meals that began to taste of nothing by the end of the first week, and my antigen tests were still lighting up like a Christmas tree. By day eight I had fully lost my taste and smell. I could have been eating blue fin Tuna prepared by Alain Ducasse and it would have tasted like uncooked mushrooms in my mouth. It was the one last little joy I had whilst being stuck in isolation, and it was gone too.
Cocodamol, vitamins, Berocca, paracetamol, copious amounts of water weren’t touching the sides. By day ten, my period of isolation was supposed to end, but I was still testing positive on my antigen tests and continued to do so until around day fourteen. I was out of the worst of it, but my body had been completely floored by the past fortnight. I still struggle to climb up a flight of stairs, or walk around a supermarket, without having to stop to catch my breath. The exhaustion is something else entirely. Ginseng, Vitamins C and B12 are helping somewhat, but my body is just completely drained. My skin is horrible, my kidneys still hurt, and that headache hasn’t fully gone away.
I am grateful and thankful that I live in a part of the world that affords its citizens free healthcare, and the ability to get vaccinated. It is a privilege to be under the care of the NHS, and the wonderful staff who work tirelessly to keep us going.
If there’s anything I have taken from this then its this: