I finally feel qualified to write about my personal brushes with Covid-19. No opinions. Just my observations from the beginning of 2020 in which I offer no judgement.
It is now official. I have Covid-19. I’m a little better today but the last 7 days have been my weirdest and scariest experience since I was waiting to be trepanned to relieve a dual subdural haematoma in a French hospital 5 years ago.
Apart from our commitment to the wellbeing of our community, Shan and I had a few personal reasons to embrace any efforts that might ensure the virus could be brought under control as speedily as possible.
With this in mind we put ourselves forward as "guinea pigs" where it made sense and we were early adopters of physical barriers to the spread of Covid-19. We never thought we'd actually get the sickness but we hoped to mitigate the small risk for ourselves and the population of the UK at large. We downloaded the ZOE app and have been 2 of the more than 4M contributors reporting symptoms daily (well, almost; we do forget occasionally) for the duration of the epidemic.
When we were exhorted to download the latest Test and Trace app (unrelated to ZOE), I did so almost immediately. I am not a person who generally does this sort of thing without questioning it but it seemed a sensible measure to help contain the spread.
I am assuming the name, Test and Trace, describes what it sets out to do. It probably starts with the Trace component, in which businesses display a bar code to be scanned into the app, much like paying a bill with one's phone. From then on the resultant information can track positive cases and warn members of the public at large if they may have come into contact with Covid-19. I had been using it for more than 3 weeks before I tested positive. I was fairly diligent about checking in during those weeks. The last time I did it was 3 days before the symptoms started.
It was actual ZOE that invited me to go for a test but both systems end up sending you to the same GOV.UK site to book.
I was able to get a test almost immediately, although I was informed that tests were in high demand and I needed to get to my appointment on time to avoid missing out!
I live in Oxfordshire. There were more than 400 drive-in slots remaining at my closest test facility that day.
I arrived about half an hour early, expecting to sit in a queue. Instead, a succession of most pleasant people ushered me through to Lane 8. Lanes 1 to 7 were closed. There was not another car in sight. At the end of Lane 8 was a tent and I was told to keep my windows closed, pull up and wait for further instructions. I was wearing a mask, as requested.
A person emerged from a side tent, motioning for me to open the car window. She was friendly and sympathetic. I was given a tissue and instructed to blow my nose. She showed me the swab, which resembled an elongated earbud and explained that she needed to access the back of my throat.
"Please open wide and stick your tongue out," she said, "I need to see the dangly bit (my uvula).
"Nope, can't get there
"Can you put your finger on your tongue?"
I tried but there is a lot of saliva involved and the tongue doesn't behave that easily.
"Sorry, I can't get a sample," she concluded.
"But I've come all this way," I protested, trying to look appealing through the window.
She relented and went to ask another person. He went through the same process, equally unsuccessfully.
"We can't get a sample," he announced, "Sorry."
"What does that mean?" I inquired querulously.
"We can't do a test on you today."
That seemed to be it. The only alternative would have been to go home and try to get a test posted to me.
"This happens often," the two testers nodded.
"Is there no-one else here that could have one last go?" I pleaded. "If it hurts a bit, It hurts."
They called another person. They conferred and she relented. More commands to put my slimy finger on my slimy tongue. Eventually she pulled the swab out and eyed it doubtfully.
"I'll need to swab your nose for 10 seconds," she said. That was the easy bit. I managed to hold back the sneeze for 10.5 seconds.
"We'll send this sample to the testing centre," they agreed, "but it'll probably come back inconclusive.
"You'll be texted the result, whatever it is."
At this stage I noticed one more car in the facility.
I left feeling a bit woozy.
As I was driving out of the huge car park it occurred to me that at no time had they used a tongue depressor. I remembered the wooden sticks from my youth.
When I arrived home I related my experiences to Shan. She was feeling upset because her nephew, Andrew, had just tested positive. I asked her about the tongue depressors. It seems they are still in use and, indeed issued by some UK counties in the test packs.
I received my result after 2 and a half days.
I had tested positive for Covid-19.
By that stage it was almost a relief. I had begun to feel seriously peculiar. Apart from the persistent cough that had kicked the whole process into motion, I had been having every other symptom apart from the telltale loss of taste and smell. The temperature came and went. Muscles ached. I had serious hallucinations and was continually exhausted. Still feel tired but am fairly confident I'm on the mend.
In the mean time I've had two lengthy phone calls from NHS Test And Trace asking me for all the information that I had thought the app collected automatically. The individuals making the calls were charming and sympathetic and I didn't have the heart to challenge them personally, even when asked for details of my ethnicity, which GOV.UK seemed to define differently and more pointedly than the generally accepted definition of the words I had been used to: "state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition" and nothing to do with where you were born. We'd already covered race.
Yesterday I was surprised to see this tweet from my county council.
I promised no opinions but, if there is an irony to this, it has to be that while I was told to self-isolate for ten days from the first apparent symptoms, my wife Shan has to do so for 14 days.
I'm pretty sure she has it and only time will tell which of us will have suffered the most. We're both agreed on one thing though: there is very little point in her going for a test.
I'm not sure how many people would make the similar decision, nor whether the significant number of "false negatives" being talked about is real.
Coming soon: My "normal" flow of blogs has been interrupted through this period. Some of you may have felt relief but I will shortly be resuming Scottish Serendipity and Unreliable Tasting Notes.