Experiencing COVID-19

I had managed to avoid COVID-19 until a couple of weeks ago, but what seems almost inevitable some 30 months after it arrived on our shores has now come to pass. I have tested positive for COVID – despite all the care I tried to take. Many people have been far iller than I am, but I have always said that COVID is often much worse than is often thought, and I now have the living experience to show it (despite being triple vaccinated and one of the few people who still regularly try to wear a mask in crowded public spaces and in transport, not least to protect others). In line with UK government messaging that most people will not be seriously ill if they catch COVID and WHO guidance that “Most people infected with the virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment”, it is commonly held that COVID is no longer something that we should particularly worry about. After all, many people have no symptoms at all, and others scarcely know they have had it. Well, anyone who has experienced “mild to moderate” COVID will know just what it’s like – although few seem to have shared their COVID experiences online so that others can understand just what an unpleasant infection it can be – even for those not ill enough to be in hospital. Imagine the worst flu you have ever had, and then multiply it! Prepare to be completely exhausted for several weeks and beyond.

So, this is my COVID diary:

  • Day 1. Began well, I had a negative Lateral Flow Test (LFT) since it was two days before I was due to fly overseas for a work commitment. As the day drew on, I developed a headache and tinnitus. I didn’t really think anything of it because all of us get headaches, don’t we?
  • Day 2. Tested negatve with a LFT again, but the headache hadn’t gone away, and I started to get a runny nose and a sore throat. Some glasses of wine in the evening would hopefullly help me relax and serve as a delicious and gentle anaesthetic! After all, I had tested negative, and had probably just got a cold…
  • Day 3. Woke frequently during the night with a painful sore throat, burning mouth, and tingling skin on my face. At one point, I could hardly swallow, so had plenty of water to drink, along with the paracetamol that I have taken regularly since (although not sure they make much difference!). At 6 a.m. I was suspicious, and took another LFT – after all, I wanted to fly in 8 hours’ time. I guess not unsurprisingly it rapidly showed up as being positive. Everyone who has experienced this will know the strange emotional feelings associated with a positive test. By now I was feeling really rather unwell: dizzy, the beginnings of a cough, brain a bit numb, unable to focus, tired… The clock was ticking though, and I somehow had to rearrange my flights, and let my colleagues know I would not be joining them. That took much of the morning, partly in bed and partly on the ‘phone. As the day progressed, I felt worse and worse: a pulsating headache, fatigue, and increasing pains throughout my body (especially where I had suffered sporting injuries in the past). After making a sandwich for lunch, it was back to bed and some sleep (facilitated by paracetamol). By the afternoon I felt a little better, and so crashed out on the sofa watching sport on TV. This was also an opportunity to order some food for delivery online the next day! But feeling slightly better was not to last! I somehow managed to make a simple meal, but as the evening progressed there was nothing for it but back to bed. My headache was much worse, sore throat increasingly painful, nose like a tap, and a cough starting along with pains across my chest. Lots of water by my bed to rehydrate. Blood pressure was very high…
  • Day 4. Another restless night without much sleep. At one point my throat was so painful that I made a mug of hot lemon, ginger and turmeric tea. It seemed to help me a little to swallow, but my heart was pounding away heavily. I guess it was trying to pump blood around my body to counter the infection. I felt lousy as I eventually got up, and scraped together some cereal for breakfast. Hot tea helped again with the throat, and I even managed to make my must-have morning cappuccinno. As the day progressed, COVID seemed to be attacking different parts of my body in turn, looking for vulnerabilities. So, my throat felt better but the cough and pains across my chest were wose. I was having to get rid of increasing amount of phlegm, and my nose was still running out of control. Somehow I managed to put away the food delivery that came at lunch time, and make a simple salad. In the afternoon, I was able to do a little bit of digital catchup, but I couldn’t really focus, and became so tired. By the evening, I started to feel sick (perhaps the coronavirus leaving my throat for my stomach!), and didn’t feel like making any food for dinner, but forced myself to eat something – washed down with plenty of water (wishing it was wine). Beginning to wonder if I will ever feel well again…
  • Day 5. I slept so badly – burning throat and frequent cough – not helped by noise of distant traffic (my hearing seems to be ultra-sensitive). Plenty of water, but even the lemon, ginger and turmeric tea that had helped the previous night didn’t seem to help at about 3 a.m.. My body, though, ached less, and I had energy to shower and shave when I got up later for the first time for several days. I tried to attend to some e-mails and join a Zoom call from bed with colleagues overseas at the symposium that I was meant to be attending. My brain couldn’t cope, and exhausted I crashed back to sleep. Small meal of pasta for lunch, but as the afternoon progressed I felt worse and worse again: headache, sore throat, really painful cough tearing at my chest/lungs (difficult to describe the horrible burning pain), difficult to breathe, very tired. I watched a film for nearly three hours, feeling ever worse. Paracetamol seems to make no difference. The rest of the day was a bit of a blurr – didn’t feel like eating any dinner, and just had lots and lots of water to drink. Decided to try hot honey, lemon and brandy before going to bed which seemed to help ease throat and coughing.
  • Day 6: A wonderful thunderstorm in the night, seeing the flashes of lightening, hearing the crashes of thunder, and the torrential rain falling on the roof – made the world seem very real. Managed to get some sleep, albeit intermittently. Cooked an omelette for breakfast. Could see signs that I was gradually beginning to feel a little better – but persistent cough and tired chest, bringing up large amounts of dark-coloured plegm. At least the burning pain of coughing previously has receded. Losing track of days and time. Tried to sleep and rest in the afternoon; drank lots of water. Managed to eat a little dinner, and then watched a women’s international football match in the evening, but very tired by the end of the day. Wobbly on feet, and minor falls on stairs; pains in new areas, with many glands starting to ache for the first time. Tried honey, lemon and brandy again to help ease throat and coughing.
  • Day 7: Am definitely recognising that I am feeling a bit better, but still very weak with a persistant cough, headache and runny nose. Still have no idea how long it will continue and how it wll progress. Had difficulty sleeping during the night, because of nose becoming regularly blocked which limited my abililty to breathe. Not easy to find a good position in which to sleep – changing sides regularly, and lying on tummy rather than back seemed to help breathing. Managed to attend an online team meeting for 30 minutes from bed – but any talking just elicited more coughing, and felt exhausted afterwards. Managed to check a few e-mails – feeling very grateful that I am not being sent many. By afternoon, became very tired again, and reverted to bed. Symptoms seem to be turning into bronchitis – so much coughing and phlegm, but grateful that the early vicious chest pains are no longer present. In evening even managed to cook a stirfry – so, must be feeling more together again. Advice from family and friends is consistent: take it easy for another week, and don’t try and do anything in the way of work because it will just prolong it. Tried ibuprofen for the cough, but no idea if it really worked.
  • Day 8: Took ages to get to sleep last night – was coughing and having spent so long in bed over recent days wasn’t feeling very tired. Woke early and read news on my ‘phone. For the first time in a week am actually feeling as though I could do things. Boiled an egg for breakfast, and had some yoghurt and fruit as well. Felt very tired having done that – dizzy and faint, with just no energy at all. Back to bed to try to catch up with all the incoming e-mails. At least I can feel some progress towards normality, but headache has returned to accompany the omnipresent cough. Exhausted already; back to bed… Paracetamol… Announcement that the Queen had died provided a surprisingly sad focus to the day; perhaps made more so by all the uncertainties as to the future of our country and people.
  • Day 9: the days are all blurring into each other. Woke coughing in the middle of the night, and had taken a long time to go back to sleep. Just about managed to contribute to a work Zoom call but very tired afterwards – too much coughing. COVID seems to have morphed into bronchitis – not as painful, but the coughing just seems to go on and on. It is so tiring. Little energy for anything. I had rearranged my flight overseas in case I was well enough to go this weekend, but there is no way I could possibly travel. Fortunately, I was able to cancel it for only a small charge and have it refunded back into our research grant. The news is full of the Queen’s death. Managed some soup for lunch, and then back to bed for some restful sleep. Walked up and down the garden a few times, and picked tomatoes, but that was about all I could do. Face and mouth tingling, but mainly just coughing and tired. Looked online to try to find more information about how long this will last – and apparently the expectation is two or three weeks, with there being nothing one can do other than paracetamol and drinking lots of water. Everyone has said, and I have said to others, make sure you don’t do too much too early; I can now really understand why.
  • Day 10: longing for an undisturbed night – eventually managed to get some sleep between about 4 and 8 in the morning. Changed sensations again today – tingling mouth and cheeks, tinnitus back along with headache, but coughing miraculously a bit less. Watched the accession ceremony and proclamations at St James’s Palace and the Royal Exchange on TV, then lunch and back to bed. Just feeling so week and exhausted. No enthusiasm to do anything. At least I did a new online order for food tomorrow!
  • Day 11: I did sleep quite well, apart from being woken from a deep deaming sleep at about 4 a.m.. Am gradually regaining my strength, but doing anything that requires thought or physical exercise make me really tired, brings on coughing, and leads to a headache. Am definitely better, but no inclination to do anything – wondering if the lethargy will ever go away. Went out to buy a commenorative newspaper (given I have tested negative, and was still wearing a mask this does not seem rash). Spent much of the day watching television: combining proclamations of Charles as the new King, while his mother’s coffin was driven from Balmoral to Edinburgh. I also managed to do some slides for a presentation in Nepal on Wednesday, and even had a go at cutting the grass (probably a big mistake). By the evening, my sore throat had returned, along with the familiar tingling in my mouth and face. Watched some TV to while the time away. Almost anything I do makes me tired, and I have no enthusiasm to get up and do anything.
  • Day 12: Not much to report on; still gradually beginning to feel better, but whenever I try to do anything I start coughing and feel very tired. It’s a slow process. Cut my head open (not seriously, but it really hurt when I did it) as I fell into the edge of a window after breakfast; far from steady on my feet. Although all the NHS COVID guidance notes online say that you can expect to have a cough for several weeks and shouldn’t contact your GP unless seriously ill, I decided to make a telephone appointment with my GP – not least because I have mild underlying asthma, and was wondering how I should try to get rid of the cough. I was very impressed about what happened next: was offered an appointment at a GP Acute Illness Clinic at the local hospital in the late afternoon! Arriving by car just before the appointment, I phoned the number I was given and was invited straight in to be seen by a GP. He was very pleasant but clearly tired – it turned out that he had had COVID five times, but he was kind enough to say that none were as bad as I clearly still am. It’s very difficult to tell whether COVID-related bronchitis is viral or bacterial, but to be on the safe side he gave me a prescription for antibiotics (Clarithomycyn) and steroids (Prednisolone) over the next 5-7 days. Let’s see if they help, or if their side effects turn out equally badly!
  • Day 13: Woke several times in the night – but fortunately managed to get back to sleep quite swiftly. Began the day trying to get the medicines I had been described, but local chemists did not have them in stock so I had to go further afield. Very tired on returning home, and so crashed out yet again. For someone usually so energetic, I am finding it very strange that I can just lie down and rest – no energy for anything else. If I try to read for more than a few minutes, I just lose interest and cannot concentrate. But by the afternoon, my coughing has indeed reduced significantly, though still have pains in my lungs and a tingling sensation on my face and chest. Increasing stomach pains might be a result of the antibios… Managed to cook an evening meal and then spent the rest of the evening stuck in front of the TV. Early to bed; very tired.
  • Day 14: Two weeks in to COVID and for the first time can begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps the antbiotics and steroids are indeed working. Glad that I don’t seem to have any unpleasant side-effects. I slept really well, but woke soon after 5 to prepare for my online contribution to our ongoing work in Nepal – so envious of my colleagues working there, and sad at many levels for not being able to travel and be with them. It was great to see everyone in the workshop online, but the more I talked the more I coughed. I do hope that they felt my contribution was of value. I went back to bed shortly after 7, and fell blissfully fast asleep until nearly 9.30! The best sleep I have had for the last fortnight. Another online meeting between 10 and 11 finished me off – incredibly tired and lethargic. After a lazy day, I managed to stay awake to watch the most enjoyable England v Wales women’s rugby international. Overall, a day of definite improvements
  • Day 15: Another good night’s sleep, and feeling well enough for my elder daughter and grandson to visit. Quite a lazy day, and was taken to a nearby children’s play area in Windsor Great Park in the afternoon which was most enjoyable! This was the first time I’ve been out in the sunshine for any length of time. However, it is crazy how tired I am feeling, with lots of symptoms (headache, sore throat, coughing, painful chest and lungs) having returned. Crashed out exhausted at the end of the day.
  • Days 16-18: continuing slow improvement. Managed to do a bit of gardening, but still very tired. It was good, though, to be in the fresh air. No longer coughing very much, but permanent dull headache, and feeling faint and dizzy if I try to do anything. Wishing I had my usual energy. Last day of medication – very much hoping that I can eventually throw this off. Spent the morning of Day 18 watching the Queen’s funeral – uplifting, impressive and very moving… So many memories…
  • Day 18-34: it is depressing to experience how slow the “improvement” is. I haven’t been able to do any real exercise (bike, walking, fitness routines) for the last fortnight. Even just walking up the stairs still makes me breathless. It is very frustrating. I’ve found this RCOT report on How to manage post-viral fatigue after COVID-19 quite helpful – in particular it emphasises the importamce of trying to have fun. Memo to myself: plan to do some fun things!

2 Comments

Filed under Health

2 responses to “Experiencing COVID-19

  1. David Green

    Thanks for sharing your Covid diary, Tim. So glad you’re recovering and hoping the longer-term effects recede. When I got infected in March I was lucky to get on an Oxford University antivirals pilot. You needed to be only 24-36 hours testing positive to get on to the course of treatment. Although I tested positive for 17 days, I was spared the majority of the nasty symptoms that you describe, and am convinced the medication really helped. I had to do a daily questionnaire and at various times since. My last questionnaire will come in March 2023. My wife was a lot worse than I was as she was outside the window for getting on the pilot. I wonder how much the antiviral treatments have been rolled out both in the UK and elsewhere?

    • Tim Unwin

      Thanks so much David – yes, definitely worth thinking about how much impact the anitvirals may have helped – guess we cannot afford them for the whole country! Just hoping I don’t get it again – Pam and I had been so careful! But the real purpose for posting was just as a reminder for all those who think that COVID is nothing that for many of us it was really unpleasant and so debilitating!!! I still get out of breath easily, and can only do the lightest exercise. Very much hope you are keeping well.

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