'Walking dead': Boris going to hospital terrified me as I had coronavirus too
Coronavirus hit me the same day it did the Prime Minister. Unlike Boris Johnson though, it took me well over a week to get a diagnosis of Covid-19 infection – although still unconfirmed by a test – with a bonus case of pneumonia.
During the last 12 days of illness I have escaped into a sort of painful apathy, found out some unbearable facts from the frontline and learned that you don’t have to agree with someone’s policies to wish them a fast and full recovery from the bottom of your heart.
My initial symptoms were subtle: a very occasional dry cough, a dreadful headache, a pain in my chest and stomach that made me think I had indigestion – not something I usually suffer from.
I might have had a temperature, but if so, it was low enough for me to ignore. My voice went strangely hoarse. Coffee started tasting weird to me; that was probably the most distressing fact, coffee is my biggest vice.
All in all, for days I dismissed my feeling a bit rubbish as a seasonal cold. It may well have been. At first.
I continued teaching my online bootcamp sessions throughout these early days when after one class everything suddenly changed in a matter of minutes: a leaden tiredness descended on me and wouldn’t lift for the next 12 days.
My airways and deep into my chest felt as dry as though I had sat in the Sahara for a week. No amount of water seemed to even touch the bone-dry sides of my mouth and throat.
It was one of the weirdest things I have ever experienced and was what finally made me research Corona symptoms properly for the first time.
I found a timeline of common symptoms and was horrified to realise that with the exemption of the fever, I was ticking them all, one by one.
Later that day, the news of the Prime Minister’s infection broke, his diagnosis officially confirmed. I remember feeling a little dismayed that he should get tested so quickly.
I spent the next two days in bed but still in doubt: it seemed unlikely that I would be one of the first to pick this up. As a healthy fitness and nutrition teacher I didn’t think I was a likely candidate.
Despite my cough getting progressively worse, my chest feeling tighter and heavier and my breathing more laboured, I commented to friends that I’d had worse colds than this in the past.
I spoke too soon. By day 3, the cough had eased somewhat, but my chest felt as if it were on fire and breathing became ever more restricted.
The most distressing thing was the sheer tiredness. I could not leave my bed for days. The occasional wobble to the bathroom wore me out so much that I literally had to crawl back to bed.
Lying down flat was impossible, I felt like I was drowning. Every new Corona case being discussed in the news seemed to describe how I felt.
Every photo of people out and about socialising, or posts spreading ridiculous conspiracy theories incensed me to the point of exhaustion. I was by now 100% convinced I had the virus though I felt I could struggle through without having to burden the NHS.
I spent the rest of the week mainly in bed. I had no energy at all – literally, NO energy. I could feel that my body was using everything it had to fight this virus, and there was just nothing left for anything else.
It was a very strange sensation and I’ll admit that my head went to some dark places during that time. I couldn’t lie down at all as that made breathing impossible and my chest and back were in absolute agony, as though I’d been badly beaten up.
I spent all the time propped up in bed, simply ‘sitting’ – it was painful apathy. I was too weak to even sleep much – I was very much alive but I felt a million miles removed from life.
I was very aware that I needed to support my body where possible – it couldn’t fight on just paracetamol and water. I was isolated at home and too weak to cook but my amazing bootcamp friends and partner kept leaving me nutritious meals on my doorstep.
I didn’t ever feel hungry but once a day I would force myself to retrieve some food as I knew I needed it. Usually, just a healthy smoothie or some cold soup was all I could manage, but it helped.
Around 7 days after the initial downturn, I started feeling a bit more human again. Still weak, still tired, but I was breathing easier.
My two teenage sons – who had been staying with my very supportive ex-husband since before I got ill – were desperate to come home and I felt it safe enough for them to do so, albeit with strict rules about distancing, from me, and from anyone outside our little unit.
Boris reported himself as still having a temperature and thus staying in isolation. It confused me a little about the rules – was I allowed out then, as I was coughing but had no fever? I decided to avoid the risk of spreading it by staying indoors for a few more days – I still felt too ill to contemplate anything else anyway.
The reprieve was short. On the second night of feeling better my temperature suddenly spiked (at last?!) at around 39 degrees, I felt weak, short of breath and very panicky. This was now nine days after I’d first experienced symptoms.
The next day, I continued my downhill spiral, until I eventually logged my symptoms on the NHS 111 website. A doctor called me within minutes. After thoroughly checking all my symptoms, past and present, he confirmed that I was not wasting NHS time (my main worry) and had almost without doubt contracted Covid-19.
He explained that some Covid patients were known to dip badly in the second week because the virus keeps spreading around the weakened body.
The symptoms I was experiencing now, however, were more akin with a secondary chest infection, which they were seeing in around a third of all Corona patients due to the sheer exhaustion of the airways. He referred me to a local doctor for further diagnosis and treatment discussion.
Again, this second doctor called within minutes, asked specific questions about previous (‘definitely Corona’) and current symptoms, and after listening to my breathing over the phone and making me take my own pulse and temperature, diagnosed bacterial pneumonia as brought on by Covid-19.
At this point, he said, there would be two different ways to progress: he could either admit me to hospital or I could try to treat myself at home with antibiotics.
With my children still in the house and my being very conscious of the strain on the health service, I opted for the latter. The doctor readily agreed; he would have suggested the same.
Although I was clearly very unwell, he didn’t think I needed to go to hospital at that moment. He warned me though to call back immediately should my symptoms get worse. It made me giggle, in that nervous disbelieving kind of way – just how much worse could this get?
This extremely lovely doctor, who couldn’t have given me more time and reassurance, then proceeded to describe what patients would normally experience for them to be admitted: unable to stand up even for a second due to the extreme tiredness, unable to talk in full sentences, severely struggling to breathe even while resting.
My pathetic bathroom crawl seemed to count as a major win on this scale, and while I was catching my breath a lot, I was still talking and, yes, still breathing.
His words shocked me to the core: for the previous ten days I had felt the worst I ever have in my entire life.
To compare that to what this doctor was describing meant that by the time you were admitted to hospital, you would resemble the walking dead. Only you would most definitely not be walking.
It was a horrific and sobering thought. All through this illness, when panic or tears threatened to take over, I’d had to divert my mind as a blocked nose would have further impacted my breathing.
At that very moment, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I cried for every single person already or yet to be sent to hospital, because feeling absolutely beyond dreadful as I did myself, I could not even imagine the pain they had to be in and the terrible panic they would be experiencing with every single breath they tried to force.
My heart broke for every one of them, for the worried families they’d leave behind and the frontline staff who would act like heroic go-betweens in a horrific reality show. When it was announced that the Prime Minister had been admitted to hospital, I cried for him, too. I would not wish this on anyone.
At that point, I started feeling really panicked. I was feeling worse again and discovering Boris had been admitted to hospital was frightening. We had got ill at the same time and I desperately wanted to believe I was over the worst.
I spent 12 days in agony, exhaustion and on the verge of a constant panic attack. And yet, I am improving, as indeed the majority of patients will. Now at 14 days, I am starting to feel like a human being again. Tired, weak, still in a lot of pain – but very much alive.
I was unlucky that I experienced somewhat worse than ‘mild symptoms’ – although the official definition of ‘mild symptoms’, meaning not requiring a hospital visit, does include pneumonia.
I count myself very much one of the lucky ones who did not need to go into hospital.
Please: look after your immune system, it is your best friend through all of this. Listen to official advice and stay home wherever possible.
And spare a thought for everyone in hospital today – patients or staff. Send them a silent wish – and then act accordingly.
You have the power to make a real difference going forward – step wisely.
Kirsten Whitehouse is a St Albans-based fitness coach and has published tips on how small changes to your nutrition and lifestyle can boost your immune system on BestYouNow.co.uk
If you have a story about your experience with coronavirus email [email protected]
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