On 29 January 2020, the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in England. Two Chinese nationals tested positive whilst visiting the city of York. I remember thinking when I watched the news that it felt close to home – only 48 miles away, in fact. The following day, the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency. Now, 513 days later, I too have caught the virus.
I don’t know how. I wear scrubs at work, wash my hands regularly, and wear PPE. I don’t go out often and when I do, I wear a mask. I’m also double vaccinated. I’ve suffered ill health over the past few years and so am extra cautious around infective patients. Nonetheless, I’ve caught it.
In many ways, it felt inevitable. At the risk of sounding defeatist, I always said that I would catch it eventually, and so was delighted to be vaccinated early in the pandemic in the hope that my immune system would be prepared for the fight. At that stage, I hadn’t thought much about the rise of variants and the possible failure of first-generation vaccines.
At first, I felt aches – generalised ones that seemed to originate from my bones. Then came sweats and a fever, followed by cramps of unusual muscle groups like my face, wrists and back. All the while, a burning acid-like sensation has been eating away at my nose, and I’m beginning to notice that my senses of smell and taste are dying. In the background, a sparse but sinister cough burns in my chest, with the occasional rattle reminiscent of emphysema. Fortunately, I’m not short of breath yet.
The cognitive clouding is eerily familiar. I had a stroke a few years ago and have suffered from brain fog ever since, which is especially acute when I’m tired. It’s like my brain runs out of data on a pay-as-you-go plan. It’s not a comforting familiarity and makes me nervous about how many insults my brain can endure before I’m no longer able to live my life in the way that I do.
I like to be busy and I’m easily bored. I’ve worked all the way through the pandemic and don’t feel inclined to give in now. I have an NHS-enabled laptop and a team that’s well-versed with technology and remote working.
Consequently, I can do a large part of my job remotely, and intend to do so. For me, it’s not about presenteeism, and I don’t care to be a hero. I want to continue to work for my own reasons. I know that the lack of routine and cognitive stimulation will lead to my mental deconditioning, and I feel at my best when I’m contributing to the success of my team. The part that I play in my work family is an important facet of my personality, which is linked to my happiness and wellbeing.
My team tell me that they’re fine and that I need to concentrate on getting myself better, which means spending less time worrying about them. However, a brief dip into social media tells me that my practice is providing a skeleton service due to staff illness and isolation. I don’t know what hurts more, the aches of Covid myalgia, or the guilt of letting my colleagues and patients down.
The hardest part of this for me is that I miss my children desperately. I live separate from their mother, and they have stayed away whilst I have been ill. I understand the pain of all of those families who have had to isolate from loved ones for prolonged periods of time, and especially for those who have been unable to be close during a final illness.
I’m on day seven of my infection, and read in the news this morning of a healthy young 42-year-old who died four weeks after contracting the disease. I’m not out of the woods yet and have considered what medium to long-term consequences Covid will have in store for me. I see little point in worrying about the what ifs when I can’t control them and instead focus on what positive things I can do right now.
The pandemic is far from over, and if you haven’t yet felt the burning breath of Covid lingering in your lungs, there’s still time for your turn. Should that day arise, I wish you comfort and a fair-weather journey with the ability to convalesce at home surrounded by those you love.
Dr Dean Eggitt is chief executive of Doncaster LMC and a GP partner in Doncaster