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Covid-19 as I knew it

1 April, 2020

Author: Andrea Saumtally, MR radiographer, Royal Preston Hospital

Saturday

Morning: I wake following a 12.5 hour shift split between CT and MR, with my body letting me know I am 53 years old. My back ached, my pelvis ached and I just needed to move. It was then I realised I had spent eight hours in CT and had only drunk one glass of water. This was my punishment. I must remember to drink more.

Lunchtime: I took our 14-week-old puppy for a little exercise, which would take far too long for the short distance we would achieve! Even more annoying as I suddenly developed a runny nose just too far away from home. I must remember to carry clean tissues with the doggy bags and treats tub.

Mid-afternoon: Sat waiting in the car for 15 minutes while my husband picked up a late lunch. Now my hips are aching. I must remember to sit properly and protect my overworked spine.

Evening: Returned home early evening, so tired. My skin was sensitive and I had the dawning realisation that I had a high temperature. Slight headache, possibly aching joints. Fortunately, my husband had remembered new batteries for the thermometer.

My temperature was 38.4oC. I had had nine days sick leave in 30 years. Why did I have a raised temperature now, in the middle of a pandemic? I had a thick jumper on, I’d just been digging, it would go away. The runny nose had disappeared. No cough, no sore throat. I had a kidney infection, didn’t I?

I just happened to be contacted by a friend from work to whom I had described a half-hearted cold; nevertheless I was told I would have to inform management. I’ll do it tomorrow, if I remember.

Sunday

Morning: Temperature 37.7oC, headache still there, just. Flank pain still there, only just. I’d had no real symptoms but what if I had Covid-19? A slow, creeping feeling of dread came over me. I had worked in CT with six others, covered the evening in MR with another seven radiographers, including one on immunosuppression and vulnerable.

I couldn’t have Covid.

I just couldn’t.

Then I remembered that I had started the MR GA list with one consultant anaesthetist, more operating department practitioners (ODPs), and the ICU emergency in the late afternoon with another two consultant anaesthetists and more ODPs.

I’d singlehandedly wiped out half the hospital. All the fear and apprehension in the department and I could be the irresponsible one who had made it a reality.

But surely I was being stupid, I knew no-one with Covid-19, I’d dealt with no patients.

Get a grip!

Contacted management, yes, my temperature meant I need to self-isolate for seven days, my husband possibly 14. No one I had come into contact with needed to self-isolate. Unlikely I would be tested as I was probably not classed as frontline staff, and it is a 72-hour turnaround. I would be back at work anyway.

Monday

Should be at work. It is a beautiful day in the garden, headaches still lurking but I can’t stop thinking that I am imagining everything. It keeps going round and round and the anger starts to build. No call to be tested, I am not important.

I’m important at 3am when the patient just can’t wait until 7. I’m needed then.

Throat starts to feel strange. Is that a tickle? Just try to suppress it. Ignore it. By the evening, I’ve worked up a cough, nothing major, I just need to clear my throat. I am starting to lose my mind.

Same work friend rings to check on me. She has downloaded lots of information and listens to my selfish rants, squeezed between coughs. Am I just doing that for effect, like the patient who limps into the department but who you see running for the bus later?

Boris Johnson now announces a national lockdown. Too late to organise a Covid party, if I have it.

Tuesday

I am fine. Left all my work friends to face the fight alone. On-call needs covering as someone else now has to self-isolate. I could have helped had I been tested. Feel a fraud, embarrassed, helpless.

Wednesday

Husband has developed a headache. Too much screentime because he’s working from home? He may also have a tight chest but he can’t be sure. There are two of us at it now, breeding off each other with our imaginary Covid-19. I am tired, just no real energy.
Professor Sharon Peacock announces that 3.5 million test kits have been bought so doctors and nurses can return to work.

Seemingly radiographers do not count and the bitterness rises again. No call to be tested. Well, not for me, but Prince Charles tests positive.

Thursday

What could I be doing if they would just test me? Extra hours in CT, more MR on-call. Same friend calls in the evening to share a funny work story that starts me coughing; I haven’t coughed all day.

Go outside for the Clap for Carers and the cool night air makes more cough more. Funny how quickly the neighbours went back in!

Well, at least they think I’m positive, got some respect.

Friday

Now I just want to know. I need to know. Am I losing my mind?

Lunchtime: An unknown number appears on my phone. Public Health England: would I be free to go and be swabbed? Where do I live? Actually just around the corner from the lady who has phoned! Surreal conversation but then nothing is real anymore.

I will agree to anything; I have never been more happy to be called for a test. I drive to the hospital almost euphoric. I will know in three days. I am needed after all.

Saturday

Self-isolation ends. It has been over 48 hours since I had symptoms, so at last I can go for essential supplies. An hour in the supermarket and I am exhausted.

Sunday

Another day before I know my results but the stress is gone; tomorrow, I will finally know.

10.30am and an unexpected call. Public Health England. Sorry to call with bad news on a Sunday morning...

Oh no, I must be negative; it was all in my head!

You have tested positive for Covid-19. Ridiculous, but I am over the moon.

Monday

Back to work. Would I do tonight’s on-call please?

That has been Covid-19 as I knew it.

PS: Massive thanks to my work friend, Bev, who kept me up to date and sane!

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