After 1085 days, Covid finally catches up with me

According to the website of the World Health Organisation, the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, just months after the virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China.

As I remember from the beginning, we all referred to it as the coronavirus until the WHO gave it the name Covid-19, which quickly passed into common usage.

What happened next is carved deep enough into our collective memories that it needs no repetition here. Like most others I hunkered down with my family, attempted to obey often fluid and confusing social distancing rules, and waited for my turn to become infected, as it seemed I inevitably would. I recall thinking that when I contracted the virus, I would write about it in this column as a means of helping to raise awareness of the effects.

I remember keenly that early anxiety over the spread of Covid, as it seemed to be inching geographically closer. First there were rumours that someone I knew had it, then a friend on WhatsApp was infected and recovering at home in bed, then several friends, kids at my son’s school, extended family and finally close family.

Covid arrived at our house in December 2021, just in time to wipe out all our plans for that Christmas. My son was infected first. I got the news of his positive test while I was in the car on the M1 driving to a job where I was to interview then First and deputy First Ministers Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill. My participation in the job was quickly abandoned as I had to drive straight home to begin isolation. A few days later my wife tested positive also.

But the strange thing was that the virus somehow refused to settle on me. The opportunities were clearly there. My son, while infected and bored at being unable to leave the house, was my constant companion. During those long days of social isolation, he hugged me, jumped on me, climbed on my head and often sneezed over me. Still, I avoided infection.

I lost count of the number of times I was tested by having swabs stuffed up my nose until they made my eyes water. The results always came back negative. There was the drive-through testing centre which we had to visit every time someone in my son’s class became infected. There was the large walk-in testing centre which was erected in a car park in Lisburn where I was on first name terms with some of the staff.

When I was travelling to the US with work, I needed a negative test on the morning I was due to fly before I was allowed to check-in. When I was holidaying on a cruise ship, I required a recent negative test result to be displayed on my phone before I was permitted to board the walkway which took me towards the giant liner.

As the pandemic progressed, I went through boxes and boxes of home testing kits, following the instructions carefully and putting four drops of solution into the little white plastic box. It was always negative – one line rather than two.

It got to the point where I think that almost everybody I knew had contracted Covid at some point over the last three years – except for me. It wasn’t clear whether this was caused by judicious caution on my part, sheer luck or simply the fact that I don’t have many friends. I had certainly been exposed to the virus, was there some hidden reason why I had not become infected?

I began to read about people who seemed to be naturally resistant. Scientists were seeking them out so they could study those who appeared to be genetically immune to Covid, in the belief that they may hold the secret to keeping the rest of the population safe from future pandemics.

I started to wonder if I fitted into this group and whether I should come forward and volunteer myself as a member of the resistance? Should I allow samples of my blood to be taken, stored and experimented on for the good of all mankind? It seemed a weighty responsibility.

Last week I was tired. This in itself was not remarkable, I am always tired. I have been tired for all of my adult life. It can be difficult to distinguish between an exhaustion which signifies something might be wrong and my general state of being. 

But this fatigue seemed to be particularly acute. My limbs were heavy and felt as if they had been stuffed with straw, like a scarecrow. When I awoke it seemed to be an almost insurmountable effort just to haul myself upright.

I told my wife. She immediately suggested that I test myself for Covid. This surprised me because, like most others, the virus, had now been put to the back of my mind. Moreover, the stock of free home testing kits given to us during the worst of the pandemic were gone. I hadn’t expected to need more.

My wife went to the chemist and bought a box of tests. I, once more, went through the process of sticking the little swab up my nose. Once more it was negative – one line rather than two. I shrugged my shoulders and went to bed to try to restore energy.

The next morning I felt worse, the hours of sleep succeeding only in deepening the wretched exhaustion. In addition, I could now feel the onset of unpleasant flu-like symptoms. My throat felt as if an intruder had two hands around it and was consistently applying more pressure. My wife exhorted me to do another test, I argued that there was no point as it was always negative. She persisted and I relented.

I did the test again. This time, very clearly there were two lines. Now it was my turn to insist upon another test. My schedule was busy, and I simply felt that I couldn’t afford to get the virus. The second test, and then a third, relayed positive results – two lines rather than one.

At my wife’s insistence I went back to bed. I looked up the date the pandemic was declared. Almost three year ago. After 1085 days, Covid-19 has finally caught up with me.

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