I have been out for a while you may have noticed. It has been an overwhelming week and I could not get myself to sit down and write. My brain was non-stop about all the things it needed to get out there. From working from home and making that work on a long term basis. To home-schooling and the triple pressure on my already faint peaceful parenting. To the way the UK is treating its patients, like me. Yes, I fell ill. And yes, it was the famous COVID19. Given this last topic is the only one that is (I hope) nailed for me, I thought I would start by writing about this one.
The beginning – denial stage
I am sure Mr Johnson gives it another name. Well I have no other name. I go with my business school lessons. In the face of this disruption, the first reaction in the UK was denial.
It started with body pain. A lot of it. I had some hard days at work, so I assumed it was exhaustion. It was not the first time it happened to me, so I chose to rest it out. This was 1 week after half-term, where I had been skiing in France, flying back via Geneva. There was reason to be suspicious, but not sure more suspicious than riding on the London tube. For 3 days, I endured it and tried to rest and do a normal life.
At the third day the fever started. Denial was not a viable option even if the probability was low so I moved myself to isolation in the house. After 2 very rough days I noticed shortness of breath. That was unusual in a flu. I called 111 as per the indications at the time. 3 hours on hold and the call dropped. That evening, I tried again and the doctor confirmed the symptoms were related but I did not qualify for testing as I did not come from China or Italy. We were still denying COVID19 was in London already. And in every other European country.
It only lasted a day so 48 hours after no symptoms we removed the isolation and I resumed working from home.
The middle – dismissal
With no reason to believe I had anything but a flu, I still chose to stay away from the office and self-quarantine. By then, we were worried about our surroundings. Mid-week, London was convinced the schools would close. I was still able to buy food online (with delays and limited stock) and I also bought Little Girl C a laptop getting her ready for home-schooling. We postponed her birthday party by a month. I set myself up a new desk in the living room and got ready for the weeks to come. The schools did not close and the non-taken measures caught us off guard. I could barely believe it. This was beyond denial. Mr Johnson was dismissing what the world was showing so vividly to be an immediate problem with very limited solutions.
We debated for long whether to stay or to go. It is still unclear to me why we decided to stay, Some sort of odd gut feeling. But by the end of the week we took Baby S off school and started our self-quarantine, frustrated that she had to go back to school on Monday. As Baby S started to fall ill, we thought the flu had hit him too. We did not dismiss it though and, as he got worse and after much trying, I went back to calling 111. I got permission to go to the hospital. Again we debated. What if he doesn’t have COVID19 and he gets it there. He was our major concern given previous history. We delayed for a day and he got better. Out of the woods. Maybe just a flu.
The relapse – surprise!
With the news from Mr. Johnson to quarantine the families if anyone is ill, we managed to remove Little Girl C out of school. That was a small victory that lead to a whole other adventure – home-schooling. That was hard to manage without the school’s help, but we started with a relatively OK schedule and I thought of fun things to add. New things that would make this a memorable and not nasty experience. And then it was Tuesday night. I thought I made it through day 1 of home-schooling. And suddenly I start feeling ill again. I am completely congested – I assume I am having some sort of sinus flare. Bummer, not the right time. I had just recovered. Or so I thought.
As the next day rose it was not just sinus. Sore throat comes in and my body starts to ache. The fever is back. The next day, the cough starts. Now it is looking less pretty. I start looking for medical support and find out there is none. The doctors can’t see me, not even in the private sector, if I have any symptoms remotely similar to COVID19. A phone call is all I can have by Thursday morning. The day deteriorates as Hubby B is forced to wait an hour for a medication in one of the many pharmacies we tried, only to find out there is none. We are back to square 1 (or zero), but we try an inhaler I had from Baby S. It eases up the cough.
By night time, I admit it finally. I am scared. The pain in my chest is now permanent. I am not sure we can cure this at home anymore. Ventolin gets me through the night. There is little doubt about what is going on.
Medical help – at last
After 3 hours trying to call the 111 with no luck, the survey in NHS online tells me to call 999. I never called 999 before and feel uneasy about it. Am I worth it of 999 in a time like this? Eventually I get the guts and call. They put me on high priority. I guess I am worth it. However, an hour and a half later, there is no ambulance. I guess there is a higher high priority. I call again and explain I can just walk myself to the hospital as I am 2 blocks away. They admit it is probably not a bad idea.
Hubby B walks in ahead checking if I should go to an isolated place. The receptionists at the Chelsea and Westminster do not look worried and say I should just walk in. I walk into a Chelsea West that is emptier than I have ever seen, right in the middle of a Friday afternoon, as a global pandemic has unfolded. You would think nothing is going on. After I admit to cough they hand me a mask. None of them is using one. I give them a few days… As I get called to a separate triage nurse (Portuguese and reassuring), the isolation begins. Hubby B is to go home and I am to go in and be seen by a doctor.
In and out in 3 hours
I was impressed about the speed. And I wondered if indeed it is working and we don’t have that many people falling ill in the UK. I overhear a few consultations and start learning more.
- Apparently, this flare post day 8 is not unusual and that’s when it can deteriorate further into a bacterial infection.
- I also find out that some people never learn as a smoker almost hits the nurse with his crutches as she is not quick enough to let him out to smoke a cigarette. Note that he was not a regular patient like me. He had a bracelet and was already in admission. In the COVID19 area.
- I find out that some people are so scared about it that they rather go home with chest pain than having to wait in a waiting room with other infected people.
By the way, when you walk in, you are not protected from others. Only the doctors and nurses are protected from you – once in, it is assumed you have COVID19 If you don’t, you certainly will… I wonder how that will work out for the young man who walked in there with barely any symptoms that left the doctor perplexed. He may be back in a few days
Is it time for a test?
Given all the symptoms, I qualify to stay for more than a consultation. I get blood tests and an x ray. There seems to be a noise on my chest. After a reasonable not that long wait the good news arrive – no bacterial infection. I am surprised but pleased.
That is when I realise, the blood tests do not test for COVID19. The doctor explains he is not allowed – only if I was admitted to hospital. I guess Mr Johnson forgot to mention that when he said they would only test you in hospital. In fact, the doctor even said he is not allowed to test his own colleagues that fall ill. I gasp incredulous. He shrieks, shakes his head, what can he do really… I can only thing of all the fake numbers we are seeing out there about the UK. I will be a non-number in K&C.
After my initial surprise he says he can tell I have COVID19 because my blood tests are in line with the blood tests of those admitted. So he explains isolation to me. I laugh and say that it is too late and I am certain 3 out of the 4 remaining household members are done with COVID19 by now. We discuss Baby S and when I should come back. I thank him for his time and walk out. No medication. No prescription. And no anything. Just a new mask.
The last stage of COVID19 – Death
I fear writing about this last stage. But the evidence is clear. That is where it will lead. I got lucky. Today, I turned around. I did not feel ready to write until now, but now I feel like I have to put it out. And tomorrow, it will be out. I fear no judgement. What I fear is for others. My tipping point almost tipped, but I managed through. Probably thanks to the experiment with the ventolin. Not many have the benefit to have doctors on call on their whatsapp. Not many have the benefit of being able to walk to the hospital rather than waiting for an ambulance. Not many have the benefit to walk out of the hospital again. This is not a disease of the elderly only. I can attest to that. And I will never forget the pain on my chest.
I fear for what the UK is doing to its people. I don’t understand it, no matter how much I try. Most of all, I am relieved this is not where my parents and older relatives live. The schools will close now, lockdown needs to come soon. I hope the UK wakes up before it is too late. If it is not already.