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Covid from the inside

A personal reflection.

LAST week I was in quarantine for a week.

Last week I had COVID.

I thought I would share my experience of it.

Because, frankly, I wouldn’t put my hand up for it again….

The background.

Like everyone else, the temptation to attend a social event after so long in hibernation was huge. A time to dust off and wear the party clothes. A time to socialise with friends again. The anticipation was huge.

Yes, there was a small voice warning me prior to the occasion that this could be a potential covid-risky event, but that voice was swamped by thinking I would be careful.

I’d wear a mask and not get too close to people and try to be outside a lot of the time and etc.

And I am triple vaxed (AZ,AZ,Pfizer), although my booster was over 90 days ago…

And it was a great event, no doubt about that.

Three days later I started to feel crap and a PCR test confirmed that I had COVID.

And I went downhill pretty quickly.

My throat was red raw; all I could eat was watermelon!

Not that I could taste it…I completely lost my taste and smell and even now it is not completely back. (Routine testing never distinguishes between delta and omicron but this symptom is more common with delta apparently). A friend -and thank-goodness for friends in quarantine!- cooked me a meal and added a whole chilli. I ate it entire, seeds and all, and tasted nothing. All it did was burn the back of my throat and lead to another coughing fit.

Speaking of which, the cough was close to the worse symptom.

I couldn’t speak a sentence without a coughing fit that was a total body experience and which I think the neighbours heard!

Face ache, stuffy nose, headache, lethargy, clouded thinking and no sleep except sitting up…these rounded off the symptoms I got.

Bad for a few days, not fit enough after a week to get back to ftf consulting, and in summary the worst ‘illness’ I have had for decades.

When people heard I had COVID they thought I had got it at work, and sympathised.

Nope, like all our evidence shows, it is the social events where the transmission occurs, not the workplace, and that’s where I got it. At work I am in N95, wear eye-protection, hand-sanitise, and ensure that we don’t have too many people together in the tea-room.

At work we have purchased air purifiers, open windows and are constantly ‘thinking COVID’. At the social event, caught up in the fun of it all, and not wanting to be the only person in a mask (it remained in its packaging in my jacket I am sorry to report….), all these precautions were relaxed. And COVID got a free kick to spread.

Which it did. I am not sure how many party-goers got infected but certainly I wasn’t the only one. 10? 20? Who knows. It did seem pretty random who got it and who didn’t. And some who got it had much less of an illness than I did. All will have different stories to tell.

What helped?

I got benefit out of nurofen/paracetamol/cough lozenges/throat spray/nasal sprays/watermelon….and a dog! Hamsters are apparently out but the canine has not been implicated in transmission and he made quarantine a whole lot easier!

The Gippsland Public Health Unit followed me up via a text message daily where I was asked to fill in a brief symptom questionnaire. This became twice daily for the 2 days when I was at the low point so there seemed to be an automatic escalation which was appreciated at the time and added a degree of reassurance.

Omicron may be causing a less severe disease than some of the previous variants.

But there is still so much we do not know about it and there are disturbing facts coming from overseas experiences. Paediatric ICUs in America are full of kids with Omicron…yes, in most kids it causes a mild disease but because it is so contagious, a small percentage of a large population of kids that get really ill translates into big numbers overall.

Autopsies on patients who have died from Omicron/with Omicron/after recovering from Omicron have shown the virus in not only the lungs but also multiple organs including the heart and brain. What could that mean?

We just do not know enough about it to jump on the anti-science bandwagon of “we are all going to get it” (from an epidemiologic view point that is just not true) and “what’s the worry…it’s no worse than the flu”.  (Wrong. It is. Big flu seasons don’t overwhelm the hospital system or cause this many deaths nationally a day).

And then there is ‘long COVID’.

Which has always scared me more than the acute illness.

Because I always knew, even when I was feeling crap, that I was ‘medically OK’ and would get better…because I had been vaccinated.

Thankfully for those of us who have stepped up and been vaccinated, we are in a completely different COVID environment now, with vaccination rates above 95%, than we were a year ago. Vaccination doesn’t stop transmission or getting COVID (as my case illustrates) but it does very well at keeping people out of hospital or worse.

There is still much to learn about long COVID and what we can do to predict and prevent it. Again, being vaccinated lowers that risk.

A slow return to full activities seems sensible and has some early support in the literature. I am not rushing back.

So this is my story of having COVID.

I make no apologies for saying that you just don’t want it.

I wish I hadn’t.

But especially if you are in a high-risk category of patient.

And even more especially if you are in that small minority that have not been vaccinated.

And most especially now, when the hospital system is over-run… and the overall management of the pandemic arguably at an all-time low.

Dr Phil Worboys


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