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The waiting game

As a GP who's overcome coronavirus, here's what I want you to know

Dr Clare Gerada 

The only souvenir I thought I’d brought back from my recent trip to a conference in New York was a fridge magnet of the Statue of Liberty. Barely two days later, I realised I’d brought a lot more.

Tucked somewhere in my body was developing Covid-19, which began to show itself a few days after arriving back in the UK. The symptoms merged in with jet lag - tiredness, headache and feeling ‘out of it’.

The dry cough I put down to the long flight home and the effects of rebreathing cabin air. What I couldn’t dismiss, however, was the temperature – which was now above 102 degrees F. My coronavirus experience had started.

Over the next five days, I lived through this nasty illness, wishing it away but never feeling that it would finish me off. Soon after I started becoming unwell, I contacted 111 and went to a testing pod to have swabs taken. Then, I returned to bed, and that is where I stayed for days, rising only to use the bathroom.

The symptoms are as we have been told. Flu-like, with a temperature, dry cough and sore throat. I also had a vice-like headache, muscular chest pain from coughing, rigours and, when I did get out of bed, dizziness.

Five days into the illness, almost in the same order, the symptoms disappeared, leaving only an odd metallic taste in my mouth, nasal mucosal ulcers and intense fatigue. I didn’t need any heroic medicines or interventions.

Despite now being on the ‘other side’ of youth, I have no underlying health conditions and two paracetamol three times a day and lemonade was all I needed. I had God’s penicillin - chicken soup - which seemed to have a miraculous effect of bringing back my appetite.

I’m glad I’ve had it early, as I’m more than likely immune, and can now help my colleagues

My husband practised social distancing - we communicated via mobile phone and he wore the only protection he had – for his face that is - a Chelsea football scarf.

So, my experience. It was the worst illness I’ve ever had. Saying this, I have little to compare this with as other than childbirth (which isn’t an illness). I’m rarely unwell – have had the flu once, dental pain, and fractures over the years, but nothing more. It was painful, and frightening – the fear not because I thought I would die, but because being unwell is just that, frightening.

I’m glad I’ve had it early, as I’m more than likely immune, and can now help my colleagues.

What advice would I give, going forward?

Firstly, each family needs a plan as to what to do when we get sick. This should include calling each other regularly. Someone who is low risk might be a designated carer, to be with the sick person (even if covered by a mask and more than two metres away). This is better than being alone.

Secondly, remember that most people will be fine, even if infected. Our role as GPs is to help those who need more help to get it. We are good at this.

And finally, as GPs, we are crucial in calming the nervous brows of patients and communities.

I’m now out the other end, and very glad that very soon I’ll be back at work and helping my colleagues with the heavy lifting created by this crisis.

Dr Clare Gerada is the former chair of the RCGP, the co-chair of the NHS Assembly and a GP in Lambeth

Editor's note - Pulse approached Dr Gerada to write something on this, with us believing it would be something that will help GPs. Dr Gerada graciously did this for us.

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Readers' comments (57)

  • I'm glad you recovered.
    Sadly Pulse will not be featuring accounts from doctors who didn't.

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  • Sorry to see column inches being used again by Drs who avoid patients more than the rest of us.

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  • One can safely say that, with the exemption of a few disturbed minds, we all celebrate the recovery of a human being from a dreaded disease.
    But perhaps, there is an explanation for the whiff of resentment detected in some comments.
    The whole of the national and medical press, TV channels and radio stations have been collectively celebrating the story and some have gone even further by elevating the ex-sufferer into “a survivor” (a word one should use carefully).
    Moreover, a cursory google search reveals that the story has now gone, how can one put it, “viral”.
    Here is a small selection.
    Times of India: A 60-year-old woman who survived COVID-19 tells how she felt dealing with the disease.
    South African news24: …survivors tell their story… a 60-year-old GP from South London
    Flipboard: I beat coronavirus with paracetamol, chicken soup and lemonade, says survivor and veteran GP…
    Ireland’s RTE : 'It feels as if your body is on fire'

    None of the doctors and nurses deployed to the front-line trenches have yet acquired such a celeb status, but they are nevertheless happy to be known as the unsung heroes.

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  • Glad you are well Clare. These are challenging times. Thanks for sharing your experience. My view is we need better PPE and a lot more testing.
    When this is over I wish to start a campaign to abolish the CQC. Their effect on recruitment has cost thousands of lives.

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  • I'm curious how she got a test when front line GPs cannot, despite proven contact, cough, fever and repeat requests for a test?

    Also, when will she deploying to the front line, now that she has invaluable experience and immunity?

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  • Good article Claire and useful to know. Great you are on the mend as a Chelsea supporter i am getting my scalf out!. The point about the CQC someone raised is moot. it might be interesting to look in the future at the necessary from the unnecessary. Also to look at how people can be retained in the NHS. I have not had covid 19 YET and faintly anxious about the outcome when I do .

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  • does she see nhs patients?

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  • Great you are better. But why use Fahrenheit? What's wrong with Celsius? Asking for a friend.

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