Coping with COVID

My first go at a blog & I hope you find it useful to read about my experiences of COVID infection. It's also a call to action as I want to hear about yours, especially around your experience of NHS Track & Trace support. Neil Walbran, Chief Officer

It’s finally Friday after another week of juggling priorities and trying to stay motivated. My mum’s in hospital with pneumonia so I’m stressed. My other half Andrew (he’s a teacher) comes home and I’ve made chilli burgers which are easy and filling. Completely out of character he says he has no appetite and needs to lie down. An hour or so later he says he’s going for a COVID test round the corner and I go with him. It’s dark and creepy outside and a bit Quatermass in the testing centre. Back home and I’ve already done the maths and reckon I’ve got a couple of days to get ready for the infection to show symptoms if he’s got it. I’ve probably caught it too.

Next day he gets a positive result so I have to download the NHS Test & Trace app (let’s call it TAT) and notify them I’m needing to isolate. Then the phone calls start. Incessant, pointless, belligerent phone calls from tat with people starting at 8am reading from a script at the other end of the call and filling out a form. I know this because I head up a Healthwatch and we do mystery shopper calls sometimes. They ask if he has a plan to keep himself occupied or if he has any hobbies. He’s in bed and can hardly see. Andrew says every time he tells them he’s not feeling well they says sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. It’s robotic. The only advice given is to phone 111 which we knew anyway. I’m keeping him dosed up with paracetamol and codeine.

I keep topping up his water I’ve never seen him drink so much water. His fever breaks in the late afternoon. It’s a relief until the phone and the coughing start. And the sickness. The coughing lasts but the sickness passes quickly.

I’m making roasted garlic soup as it’s good nourishment and gently brings out the toxins. The garlic cloves are burning my fingers as I squeeze them from out of the oven and my vision starts to blur. I have to use a rolling pin to squash out the garlic in case I burn my hands on the tray. He eats the soup which is a relief. Then he starts worrying about infecting me and I tell him it’s probably too late now and not to worry. We are where we are.

I make a fish stew for dinner to keep his protein up but my appetite has gone now I don’t eat mine. The tat people (let’s call them tatties) keep phoning so I turn his phone off and he gets to sleep. I get a bulletin about my mum she’s not doing well. If she’s infected with COVID in the hospital, it’s unlikely she’ll survive. I’m suddenly violently sick which lasts for a very long time and my stomach ulcer flares up. I recognize the pain from 25 years ago. It’s bad but I’m curious as to why it’s doing this now. Why would COVID make my ulcer hurt? Weird. Then my head starts to hurt it’s like a vice.

Andrew wants me to sleep in the spare room in case he infects me. He’s not making any sense I think he’s actually asleep. I can’t be bothered arguing so I do. The next day (Sunday) I feel terrible and go for a COVID test. I can’t see too well so crossing the main road is dicey. Hours later I get a positive result. So pissed off. All the mask-wearing, hand-sanitising, grocery cleaning and it comes down to that bloody school infecting my husband. My vision starts to get worse. I can barely see the phone display my eyes hurt so much, but there are a lot of wordy texts coming through.

The tatties phone:

How are you feeling?

Well pretty awful as I’ve got COVID

You’ve got COVID?

Yes, don’t you now? You sent a load of texts.

No we’re for people who are isolating that’s another system.

Well don’t you communicate?

No

Why not? How come you don’t know?

You should have received a 7-digit code in one of your texts can you read it out to me please?

No I can’t see my phone my eyes are killing me. Can’t you get it from your colleagues?

No

Why not?

We just can’t…………if we phone back later you can give us the code then.

If I still can’t see, I won’t be able to. I’m feeling very ill just now.

Oh so shall I just mark you down as refusing to co-operate?

I’m not refusing to co-operate I just can’t give you the code.

Ok thank you goodbye.

Hangs up.

Bloody nerve. Appalling way to treat people. I turn off my phone as the pain is considerable now. It appears to be attacking all the parts of my body where I’ve had an injury or a procedure. My shoulder hurts where I had keyhole surgery (it’s the same recognisable pain). The torn muscle in my hip from a childhood car crash flares up. Same pain. The prolapsed disc in my neck flares up. So it seems to attack anywhere you’re weak. At one point every knuckle in both hands is swollen and painful and I’m worried I’ll be left with arthritis (I’m 55). I get another bulletin saying my mum’s worse. I’m thinking this has to be one of the worst days of my life (so far). I sleep propped up and the dreams are crazy and a bit scary. At one point I wake up and can feel the herpes virus tracking along the nerve in my face it’s tingling and my face is going numb.

8am the phone rings. I’m worried in case it’s bad news about my mum so I stagger into the living room. It’s the tatties. I’m not asked for my 7-digit code and I’m assuming I’ve been passed on to the ‘infected’ group. Same pointless questions as they fill out their form. I’m so used to the litany by this point it just tumbles out of my mouth. Anything to shut them up. Perhaps for isolated people it’s good to hear another human voice but I just wanted a lie in and sleep myself better. Andrew is better than he was but we’re both still ill. He has no sense of taste whatsoever. Everything smells like Milton 2 sterilising fluid to me.  Pain keeps crashing in to my skull. It’s random and sometimes I think will unseat my reason it’s so bad. I wish I could be anaesthetised for the next few days.

Andrew tells me the school colleague who caught the virus at the same time he did has been taken into hospital with a suspected stroke. Just for a second I hate all the kids who refuse to wear a mask and the parents who indulge them.

We eat lots of soft food as both our mouths tongues and throats are swollen. So thirsty. This is not the flu. This is not like any virus I’ve had. It’s totally unpredictable like a bag of symptoms with someone pulling them out randomly. I’m continually shocked at the lack of guidance from the tatties  on what to expect. They just tell me to ring 111. I know I’ve got meetings and stuff I need to give apologies for but I can’t see my laptop screen. The good news is that mum’s out of the woods but they won’t discharge her yet.

I can just see now (Wednesday) but there’s no easy guide I can find online to help us navigate through this. I send belated apologies for meetings etc. but I can barely remember if I’ve sent them afterwards so I decide to leave well alone. I have to accept that my brain isn’t working right. I hope my staff are ok. Apparently I sound like Count Arthur Strong.

The next symptom is loss of balance which would be funny except for the accompanying stabbing head pains. It seems the worse is over though. I keep getting really tired all of a sudden and close my eyes but only nod off for a few seconds then I’m ok. I’m worried about chronic fatigue syndrome so I decide to try some light exercise walking from room to room. This is a mistake and is followed by a dash for the sofa. Mustn’t try to do stuff. Wish that was written down somewhere in big letters.

Thursday and I’m standing in the balcony doors to get some fresh air. The cold air feels like acid in my lungs but at least it’s fresh air. I keep thinking about last Friday’s personal training session and the fact I was deadlifting and so on and it feels weird that I’m so weak now. I keep thinking about how it attacked my weak points and why someone with a weak vascular system would be in real danger. I’m thankful for all the times my PT beasted me till I could barely breathe. It paid off.

Friday and I do something stupid by going on a zoom call when I can’t think clearly. It immediately gets too complicated. Afterwards I can’t remember anything about it. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Back to bed.

The next few days are promising with a slow return to normality (for any given value of normal). By Tuesday I’m declared non-infectious and the first reaction is to go back to work. I wish there was guidance about this as well because I still wasn’t ready. On the news there’s a hoo-ha about people refusing the vaccine. I can’t for the life of me think why anyone would risk going through what we just did. I wonder if they were symptomatic for a five minute stretch if they’d change their minds. Kinda nice to know we’re immune (for now). Apparently teachers aren’t even in the top ten list of priorities for vaccination.

The weekend arrives and we risk doing mundane stuff like supermarket shopping, washing the car and going for a short walk in the park on Sunday. During the walk we both start to feel bad again and by the time Monday arrives Andrew has left work feeling ill and I’m the same. The symptoms come identically to before but in rapid succession over a couple of days. Very weak afterwards. It’s time to post something on social media and ask some friends if they know what the deal is as I still can’t find any guidance on relapses/after effects/whatever this is. It’s frightening to think we may be going through this nightmare again. The response is reassuring with a number of friends saying the same thing happened to them and not to worry. I ask about the tatties and their phone calls. ‘Crap’ and ‘useless’ are the two most common adjectives.

Since then it’s been a gradual return to health. Swimming helped. I was breathless for the first few lengths of the pool, and then realised that I wasn’t - so for me some of this is a state of mind to overcome. The sore throat flares up again but different this time. Turns out I had a secondary candida infection. Again, no guidance provided I had to look it up.

I hope this narrative helps you if you get infected or nurse someone who is. As the leader of a Healthwatch it’s given me personal insight into the shortcomings of the support system people have to rely on – or lack of same. Going forward:

  • Talk to your friends and gain reassurance from someone who’s been through COVID.
  • Track and trace – your bedside manner is appalling and you need to apply some intelligence to your activity. I’ll be asking questions.
  • Healthwatch  - let’s create some guidance ourselves on coping with infection symptoms and secondary infection.
  • For goodness sake vaccinate the teachers they’re frontline too.

Neil

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