After over two years of caution and care, isolation and anxiety, the minute, truly the day I decided to drop my guard, not even entirely, just slightly… Covid got me!
I went to Sheffield to see art and a friend. I hugged my friend and we chatted excitedly in a café over lunch. Finally I gave her a lift home, only about ten minutes in the car, but unmasked. The rest of the time we both masked to go into indoor spaces, but the damage was done.
The following day I woke up with a mild sore throat, which only worried me once my friend told me she had tested Covid-positive that morning. She had had a mild sore throat the previous day but put it down to wild swimming and taking a chill. In my new relaxed approach, I chose to drop my heightened vigilance.
What’s remarkable is that I had no incubation period; it started the day after I contracted it on Wednesday. I didn’t bother to test on Thursday as I was pretty sure it wouldn’t show up yet. I tested on Friday and it was negative, so I remained at home and asked a neighbour to collect a prescription that was ready for me, just in case. However, the act of testing was horrendous. I guess I hadn’t worked out the best spot to swab my throat and ended up violently gagging several times.
The next few days were weird, as I had very mild symptoms – no worse than, and actually not even as bad as, how I feel when I get a cold. Did I have Covid? Well my friend did and seemed to be having more onerous symptoms than me. Did I just have a cold? What a bizarre coincidence that would be! The uncertainty along with the mild anxiety that it could become much more serious for someone like me was harder to bear than the symptoms themselves.
I had a sore throat on and off, a headache on and off, occasionally runny nose, my stomach/digestive system was gurgly and unsettled. No fever, no aches or pains, no cough or loss/change in taste, no sneezing to speak of.
It wasn’t until the Tuesday that I decided to test again. I was reluctant because of the experience on Friday. However, I must have found the sweet spot, as I barely gagged at all AND I got a positive result.
The next thing I experienced was a whoosh of joy. How bizarre is that?! I was dancing around the kitchen singing “I’ve got it. I’ve got Covid!” with a ridiculous grin all over my face. The only explanation I can find is a sudden release of the anxiety of not knowing, plus the anxiety of over two years of staying safe (read ‘ongoing semi-lockdown’), along with the extremely mild symptoms I was experiencing. I had caught it or it had caught me…? It seemed highly unlikely I would die or even get seriously ill from it. My consultant’s words returned to soothe me.
As a good citizen and an appreciator of medical sciences, I’ve been recording my daily wellness on the ZOE Covid Study app, so of course I recorded the result there. I also entered it onto the NHS website. Very promptly I received a message from the NHS telling me that as I am special (immune-compromised), I’m eligible for early intervention treatment within the first five days of symptoms and that someone would call me to arrange it. I was already on Day 6, so that raised a mild panic. Had I left it too late?
There are two types of early intervention: one is a five-day course of antivirals, which are taken in a similar way to antibiotics, i.e. you have to take them every 12 hours and take the whole course even if you begin to feel better before the end of it. The other is an infusion of antibodies, which I think can be given, with medical discretion, up to seven days after symptoms arise.
The promised phone call came later that day and they assured me it was not too late and that I would be able to receive an infusion of antibodies at City Hospital. Again bizarrely, this news delighted and excited me. This is maybe proof of how deathly dull and monotonous my life has/had become. A day trip to the hospital, not to mention that I could park on campus for free was so novel, it might as well have been a day trip to the seaside. I have a fondness for City Hospital; even though I wouldn’t be going to the Haematology department, it still has a sense of home and safety for me, but is that enough to make a person excited? Hmmmm…
I think it proved beyond doubt that I really am immune-compromised, so the past two plus years of semi-isolation have not been because of something in my imagination. Bearing in mind that while I sometimes struggle with it, I am very used to my post-transplant fatigue and other issues that are part of my life these days. They’ve been part of my life for ten years now, so it’s hard to recall how I was before, or to know how I might have been now if I hadn’t had myeloma.
Because most of the time I am reasonably well, fatigue, back pain and breathlessness aside, I have had moments of imposter syndrome doubts along the whole way., especially after seeing friends die and here I still am. No more so in these Covid times, and not helped by comments from some people about maybe needing to drop some precautions, even quoting relatives with ‘cancer’ making precaution-dropping choices, as though ‘cancer’ was just one thing.
This was/is married with varying degrees of unwanted resentment towards all those who seem to be free of the health concerns I had and were able, at least these last few months, to go to concerts, jump on airplanes and generally gad about in their own versions of ‘getting back to normal’. And then the peculiar deliberate(?) misunderstanding of the purpose of masking. But I’ll leave that one for now. Suffice to say that the cognitive gap between what I know to be true and what I’ve witnessed has been hard to balance.
Anyway, the following day a nurse from the least ever poetically named but exactly saying what it does on the tin ‘Covid Medicine Delivery Unit’ [CMDU] called me. Within a few hours, I was sat in a rather familiar big comfy chair, with a pillow under my arm and a nurse cannulating me.
In truth, there was absolutely nothing exciting about the experience. But equally, there was nothing awful either. It all took hours, even though the infusion itself only took around 30 minutes. There was the saline flush before and after; there was a fair bit of sitting and waiting – I’m not even sure for what or why; there was a lot of background noise caused by the ventilation system, and the few patients there were sat so far apart that conversation wasn’t possible. It seems the ventilation system worked very well, as the one nurse who had been at the unit for months had managed to avoid catching Covid, despite the job. It was the first day on the unit for the other one. Just the two of them, plus a doctor and only four patients during the time I was there.
A thought I had as I was driving to the hospital was why they weren’t offering these early intervention treatments to everyone. Without me asking, one of the nurses divulged that each shot costs £2,000. That’s why it’s not offered to just anyone. And that further proves that I’m special. So there!
That was Wednesday. By Friday I tested negative. And that was that!
I am stunned at how mild it has been for me. Really stunned, after all this time of caution and anxiety. It has only added to my sense of being an imposter, on a number of points. I am of course aware that the current variant is mostly very mild in its effects. I have also had five (yes, five!) doses of vaccination – again because I’m special! And I did receive the antibodies infusion, without which there was still a chance that despite its initial mildness, it could have gotten noticeably worse after Day 10. This I was told by the doctor who called me after my positive test result.
I also need to add that I have had several days of waking up with a sore throat and/or a headache since then (two weeks ago today). I was concerned enough that I did test myself again last week, but it was negative still/again, so I’ve stopped overtly worrying about it, but have a sneaking concern about Long Covid, knowing three people personally who are dealing with it, although their symptoms mostly focus around fatigue rather than sore throats or headaches.
I had intended to go away around the time that I caught Covid, so after some deliberation, not very much planning and a big dollop of forcing myself, I am now ‘away’ in Gloria. I’m writing this from a campsite near Strathblane, north of Glasgow, with a vague plan-not-plan to get up to Orkney if I can. I’ve had several wobbles since coming away, when the fatigue blanket swoops down upon me and I feel like I could sleep forever, or just turn around and go home. But today is a good day. No travel, keeping it very simple and low-key, I popped into two art galleries, only because I had to go into the nearby town to get some cash. Other than that I’ve been sitting around staring at the trees and the four sweet dogs they have here. A little poetry writing for an online course I’m taking. And writing this, of course.