Written: 02/10/2021 | Updated: N/A
I’ve been away from the community for what feels like a long time. Of course, I say a long time but in reality its only really been a month. On Monday 23rd August I woke up as I usually do around 7am feeling completely out of sorts; and two days later having taking two lateral flow tests and spending most of the previous 48 hours in bed both of them confirmed what I was anticipating. I had contracted Covid-19. Since returning to work last week a few people have asked what my experience was like. By experience they mean what was it like to get a severe case of Covid-19 and be hospitalized by the disease? How bad was it? Because after all its been well documented that you can have Covid-19 and not experience any symptoms at all. On the other hand I am sure most of us are aware of the huge number of global deaths resulting from this disease since the pandemic began. John Hopkins shows it being well on it’s way to about 5 million people.
5 million. Let’s put that into context. 5 million people is about equivalent to the size of the populations of Ireland or New Zealand.
Before I start I really want to point out two things. The first is that this isn’t an argument for vaccination or anything else. This is simply an account which I hope can inform people who are still in the process of making a decision. In the United Kingdom where I live it’s not a legal requirement to have a vaccination for Covid-19 at the time I write this. And whilst businesses and industries are beginning to regulate on it it still largely falls upon the individual to make a decision whether that decision is based upon data, science, by occupational status or by ideological beliefs. Secondly, I will be limiting this to my own personal experience even though it impacted my whole family. Thank you for understanding.
So where to begin? Like most people I know I have been very cautious throughout the course of the pandemic. I’ve strictly observed lockdowns. I’ve been ultra conservative with going out even as rules have begun to relax here in the UK. When I did venture out – typically for groceries or to walk my dog – I would always wear a mask and when I visited public places such as petrol stations or supermarkets I’d also wear disposable surgical gloves. In other words I was far from being blasé considering I am old enough to remember SARS and MERS and having lived for a period in Africa where I contracted malaria which is, from first hand experience, awful. Now, in the week before I contracted Covid I took a week of annual leave. During this week, since lockdown was over and everything was opening up again I wanted to take my son to a few places where he could enjoy himself before starting school in September. All went very well. In fact, all went very well the weekend before I woke up on the 23rd. I didn’t have symptoms. I felt fine. In fact the last blog I wrote on this very site was on the evening of the 22nd – the evening before I was symptomatic. The only real issue up to that point was that I myself had put off being vaccinated. Why? I meant to. Me being me the summer was super busy what with work, community and everything else so I put it on the back burner. I remember thinking – I am 38 and at the back of the line to be vaccinated – what would a few more weeks matter? I went to bed on the 22nd feeling like I normally would any other Sunday night.
Then came Monday 23rd August. Day 1. I woke up 7am feeling off. Temperature. Nausea. I knew I had something but I wasn’t feeling completely awful so I did what I would normally do – get on and followed my routine just like any other morning. I took some paracetamol. By 9am I was getting back into bed as within a few hours I felt significantly worse and it had developed a full blown fever. It sounds bizarre now I am writing about it but I was still trying to work on and off between bouts of sleep yet the only thing I managed to achieve that day was pretty much eating things I didn’t have to make. Day 2 (24th) was the same except by this point I was also experiencing pretty intense fever dreams. Day 3 a package arrived on my doorstep which was a box of lateral flow tests I was going to use for Commsverse. After somehow managing to have a bath – since serious fatigue was setting in making it difficult to even climb out the tub I took two tests back to back both positive and both clearly showing two lines. I phoned my parents. I phoned my boss. At this point I guess I felt two things: on the one hand I felt relief because the tests confirmed what I had and it gives you some perspective. On the other hand, since the pandemic first began we’ve seen a continuous stream of horror stories about what this disease can do to people and where it can eventually lead. I began thinking a lot about where I could have got it from. Whilst I have some suspicions it could have been anywhere. Looking back, the worst thing is that there isn’t much which can be done when you have a positive Covid test. You can’t go out the house. You can’t have people round. The only thing which is advised to take whilst riding it out is paracetamol or ibuprofen. I had been on Paracetamol two days at that point.
Day 4 was when it began to feel quite serious. I had a full blown fever, severe fatigue. It was at that point I lost my sense of taste. I lost my sense of smell. Worst of all, I completely lost my appetite where I did not want to eat. This was the first time in my life I had ever experienced the loss of these things. Many things tasted of cardboard. Or metal and the texture was like glue in my mouth. I got quite worried because the loss of appetite in particular made me wonder how I would keep my energy up in significant amounts to fight the disease. So I had to pretty much force feed myself from this point. A few recommendations here for anyone who may experience this: I found water was the best liquid to drink. I also thought yoghurts, soups and milk/milkshakes were effective as well as ice cream. Since I didn’t want to eat I tried to graze doing it little and often.
Days 5 – 10 (27th August – 1st September) were what I would call the zombie days. I would literally manage to get up, throw on a few clothes, sit in front the TV from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. I had fever. I had the loss of smell, taste and appetite. In addition to this, the fatigue had got to the point I couldn’t be bothered to get up from the sofa or make myself anything to eat. It was a mission to go to the toilet. At the same time I started getting mildly confused, forgetting things and I couldn’t concentrate. I started to develop a cough, very similar in my experience to bronchitis which I had twice being an ex-smoker. I continued taking 8 paracetamol a day and sometimes after very little to eat. Due to this and taking somewhere around 80 paracetamol the past ten days I was experiencing severe stomach cramps. In an attempt to try and understand a timeline for when Covid would subside I started reading a lot on the NHS website material and attempted to find out more about timelines: when would the cough go? When would the smell and taste return? What was the average time it took to make a recovery? Truth is, even though we’ve all lived with this disease for almost two years there is very little certainty about Covid, and no precise recovery date. Some literature says you’ll feel better after 10 days, others 14 days, and ‘Long Covid’ is a phenomena where the symptoms can last for months. I remember one of those days reading an article – I think it was in Science or Nature – that said having vaccinations on top of natural antibodies was now considered to be the gold standard in protection. Now I am not a scientist or even pretend to know anything about immunology, but it’s little things like this and focusing on that 10 – 14 days which helped a lot. Around Day 8 or 9 the fever had stopped. Around day 9 the cough started to get much worse and I started experiencing breathlessness.
Day 11 (2nd September) was the day I was taken into hospital. With a bit less fatigue I started trying to be a bit more active than I was previously. I am the kind of person where if I can, then I will and my brain was telling me it was now in the 10-14 day window so I should be getting better. It was around 8 o clock in the evening and I walked upstairs to go talk to my wife. Getting up the stairs – and they aren’t particularly steep was getting increasingly difficult throughout the course of the day and when I tried talking to her I just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. I just couldn’t get any air into my lungs. My wife recommended that I use an oximeter, which is a small device you put on the end of your finger to measure the amount of oxygen you have in the blood. Now, a normal person should have a reading in the high 90’s. A concerning level according to the NHS is when it drops below 95%. It is advised to phone emergency services when your oxygen level has fallen below 92%. Having a father with a terminal lung condition I know the danger is very real because as he explained once when oxygen in your body is low it can have an impact on your internal organs and cause things such as heart attacks and strokes. Having used the oximeter my oxygen level after walking up those stairs was hovering around 87/88% and that was when I was sitting down. So ringing the emergency services they came around, put an oxygen mask on me and got my oxygen level back up to 95%. After some checks they decided that I would have to be admitted to hospital due to Covid and crackling in my lungs.
The wait outside the hospital in the ambulance took a long time. Because of backups in Accident and Emergency and a number of Covid admissions that evening I was sat in the ambulance for about 3 hours before going in. I still had the oxygen mask which was keeping my level around 95%. Once in there was no beds. I was put up on one in the A&E itself where everyone was working. This was about 1 in the morning on Friday 3rd September. I remember having the full PCR Test for Covid which came back positive, maybe about 4 or 5 blood tests one straight into an artery, a shunt into the arm and then I was rigged up to a saline drip. I received lots of tablets which I don’t know what they were for – probably more paracetamol – and again the oxygen mask along with an oximeter. So at this point I was all wired up and having called my wife passed out on the bed right there. In the morning I saw the consultant pretty early. He said I had Covid. He said it was a real risk and that there was a chance I wouldn’t make it out the hospital even at my age. I should have had the jabs earlier. I agreed. My lungs also had some kind of bacterial infection so they were putting me on a course of antibacterial tablets alongside a course of strong steroids. I would be admitted to an isolation ward for at least 5 days.
At this point – Day 12 (Friday 2nd September) I was pretty exhausted and didn’t know what to think apart from thinking about my family. I was moved into an isolation room on the top floor of the hospital with three guys who were over 80 years old and all of which made me feel, even then when I was all hooked up to the machines, healthy. The first night? That was the hardest because the guy opposite me who I can only describe as being in a very bad way was rolled out of the room at 2 in the morning into complete isolation where we were told he had died later that night over breakfast. I couldn’t sleep the following evening simply because I couldn’t stop thinking about that guy dying on his own. Dying without any family around him in some room far away from his home. In terms of the other guys, being the age that they were they slept most of the day and only seemed to wake up to eat. The guy that replaced the one who had died was brought in and we soon discovered he had advanced dementia to the point he was walking across the room messing himself right there on the floor. He would wake us up in the early hours by laughing, screaming, trying to move his bed and all sorts. These sort of things can be very difficult to have to witness. One of the other guys and I took turns to keep an eye on him throughout the day as to be honest, in an isolation room you don’t see anyone apart from the nurses when they come to feed you, monitor your stats or change your sheets.
Over the next few days – Days 13 – 15 (Saturday 3rd September to Monday 5th September) things got incrementally better. I was receiving shots directly into my stomach because the strength of the steroids I was taking could have resulted in blood clots in my lungs. I was receiving two bags of saline daily and a stupid number of different pills including the steroids which made me feel I was 80. Each day my oxygen levels got a bit better. The nurses would adjust my oxygen mask and lower the level of oxygen and see if it held at 95%. By the Sunday I was off the mask and onto the pipe which threads around your ears with the two points which go up your nostrils. Yet the – I don’t know what I would call it – inflection point where I felt things were starting to actually get better was when my taste and smell and appetite suddenly came back on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd or Day 13. Now according to the literature on Covid it can be months before these all return, and I wasn’t particularly optimistic that mine would given that I never saw anything which really contradicted that. Yet when the nurse was delivering lunch – just some plain old ham sandwiches the kind you get on a plane when I opened that packet the smell which hit my nostrils was like the best smell I ever had in my life. From that point until I left I ate. A lot. Like cereal and four pieces of toast every morning. I also ate a lot because despite declaring that I occasionally vape when I was admitted, a habit which I am slowing winding down as the years go by, the hospital neglected to provide any nicotine replacement therapy. Going cold turkey is hard at the best of times.
Tuesday 6th September – Day 16 – was the day I was discharged from hospital. I had absolutely no idea I was going until I had finished up breakfast and then was told I had an hour to leave. Only the day before I was told I would potentially be held in for two weeks. It didn’t matter. I was getting out. I hadn’t left that room for 5 days. I hadn’t had one nights sleep without disruption for 5 days. The only window in the room overlooked an internal courtyard with windows upon windows of beds and people in them. No horizon. No real motion apart from the nurses. I remember sitting down with my nurse before I left who gave me a brief synopsis on what had happened although to be fair I didn’t catch all of it because I was too focused on getting home to my family. So what had happened – why I was hospitalized in the first place – was because my body looked like it had had an extremely aggressive response to Covid. This was something the hospital had seen in a few patients from previous admissions. Because of such an aggressive reaction it caused things such as the drop in oxygen level in my body, lung inflammation, liver readings which were completely out of kilter and several other things including the lung infection because apparently my immune system was too busy fighting Covid it couldn’t cope with anything else. It all made sense. Of the guys who were in the room with me, the one with dementia wasn’t allowed to go even though in his mind they had already said yes and his son was coming to pick him up. Very sad. The second guy – a really upstanding man who used to be in the merchant navy let’s call him John – John had already been in that isolation room for two months with Covid and was looking forward to going home to be with his daughter and grandchildren. Unfortunately his oxygen level slipped below 90% that morning and he was getting worse. I don’t know the outcome. I can only wish he was ok. The third guy, who I never got to know his name because he slept most of the time; he was allowed to go home. Yet I was right there when the nurse was talking to him she asked ‘Do you have any family who will look after you at home?’ He said no. This was an 84 year old man leaving an isolation room to go back home and be on his own. I wondered whether he had any friends.
You know, these all seemed like good men in the twilight years of their lives. I felt like they didn’t deserve this. Any of it.
Getting back home after everything was hard. Not seeing my son and wife even for 5 days was hard. Over the next few weeks I tried to take it easy – do a bit in the house but rest when I got tired. Since then I have slept well. I have eaten well. I have tried to look after myself to a level which I haven’t done in a very long time. More importantly I have spent a lot of time with my family. After a few days of being home everything was relatively back to normal. The fever had long gone. My taste, smell and appetite remained. The fatigue I was experiencing felt pretty normal: more like weariness having had a long day. The cough had subsided. What I did have for a while afterwards was pain when I tried to take deep breaths – right where the diaphragm is and also a bit of breathlessness if I went up and down the stairs too much. Funnily enough one thing I have noticed recently is that since I have had Covid is that my singing voice has changed. I can’t hit any high notes anymore it’s bizarre. Maybe it’ll return in time. Over the next few months I’ll be having blood tests to make sure my liver readings have returned to normal and, of course, I will be getting the vaccine in the next few weeks. I didn’t know after having Covid you can’t actually have the vaccine for about a period of a month.
So I hope I have given you a good account of my own experience. I feel very lucky in that whilst I have had the disease and whilst I was in a bad place on one or two moments I didn’t die. Almost 5 million people have. That is an unfathomable number many I imagine who would be here today were it not for this disease. I feel very lucky too that I don’t appear to have what medical professionals call ‘Long Covid’ where symptoms can last many months. You know, the news reports on those who have died from Covid. It doesn’t report how many whose health it has ruined or whose livelihoods it has destroyed.
As I finish up thoughts on what happened last month I want to share a few last things. First, Covid is tough mentally and emotionally as well as physically. It makes you feel terribly isolated. You can’t leave your house. You can’t see your friends or your family. It’s not like a cold people can’t be with you and then suffer it stoically after the fact. You are isolated from pretty much everyone. And as the symptoms get worse – which they do especially over the course of the first six or seven days you just realise how much you’d love to see your mum or your dad, or a friend. What it would be to hold them. Be with them. I think about the news articles I have read on the BBC and elsewhere of those who have died with Covid particularly at the start of the pandemic who never got to see their husband, or their wife, or their father, or mother, or sister, or brother or their newborn child. It’s awful. It’s just a horrible horrible disease one of those thing we all wish we had the ability to just disinvent or eradicate. So don’t lose touch with people. If you can message or call them do that every day you can even if you are very tired. Tell them how much you love them and what they mean to you. Secondly, even if you don’t get Covid I can’t recommend enough getting an oximeter for your home to measure blood oxygen because they aren’t expensive and this was the single thing which alerted me to seek medical assistance. If I didn’t, I don’t know how things would have turned out. Third and last do what you have to. I mean here even if you don’t feel like eating, eat. Even if you can’t taste anything, eat. Even if you have mad fever dreams, try to get as much sleep tomorrow and even if it takes you two hours to wash, wash. Take each day at a time and make sure you keep yourself going as best you can.
Thank you to Craig Gordon and Vuzion for giving me exceptional support during this time. To friends such as Vesku Nopanen and Adam Deltinger who stayed in touch every day. Finally to my family who gave me the strength to persevere through it all.
Looking forward to seeing you all again soon