It WAS over, apparently, Covid. Trampled under the weight of the Russian war machine, as if each new threat to human existence neatly and conveniently cancels out the one before. As if we can’t possibly have compassion for a country being systematically reduced to rubble, its people zapped into oblivion like so many video avatars, and simultaneously — safe in our (currently) relatively cocooned lives — succumb to illness. How very dare we.
Well, I’m here to tell you it wasn’t over then. And it isn’t now. Not in this house anyway.
Ironic the number of hoops we had to jump through to get into Canada for our recent ski trip — not to mention the regulations once we were in (all of which we happily embraced) — only for both of us to return home to matching LFTs. Positive, of course. And no, I don’t think we picked it up on the flight. Or in the airport.
Two solid years of sticking to the rules. Wearing masks, keeping our distance, locking down, working from home (although, to be fair, I did this anyway), getting jabbed (not once, not twice, but three times), steering clear of busy places, stepping into the road to allow safe pedestrian passage for our fellow humans, further enriching the Chinese-American billionaire who founded Zoom, squirting our way through handy, pocket-sized bottle of gel after handy-sized bottle of gel…
Two years of keeping up with the ever changing ‘rules’, downloading apps, deleting apps, reinstating apps, pretending we know nothing about apps… checking in and checking out… standing outside shops in the pissin’ rain while the stipulated single ‘family’ [of clearly unrelated navvies in gaffer boots and high-vis vests] ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ about which sticky bun to have with their takeaway latte…
Two years of never really knowing whether this thing was real, to be honest…
And the minute all those rules and guidelines fly out the proverbial window — in the last few days of our three-week trip — what happens? Despite our valiantly continuing with our masks and socially distancing as much as is humanly possible in busy mountain pitstops (because we really didn’t want to be checking in to a transatlantic flight and having to admit that yes, actually, we did feel unwell and dealing with the consequences of that admission). Despite that. Everyone else around us immediately throwing caution to the wind.
What happens is that on the last day of skiing, I notice a sudden inability to breath efficiently, which seemed a little odd after three weeks’ snow-fuelled, cardiovascular activity at altitude. Forced to stop and gulp air after even the shortest of pitches, when the day before I’d been flying down the ‘groomers’ without a care in the world, it didn’t make sense. But I didn’t think for a moment it might be Covid…
Maybe I was just knackered after those three weeks flying down groomers and bouncing off snowy bumps? And — here’s the thing — when I wasn’t actually skiing, I was breathing perfectly well. Happy as Larry. Nothing to feel concerned about.
We’d moved rooms the night before, having upgraded to a suite for the first couple of nights in our final location, and both of us noticed a sort of allergic tickle in the throat. Like the air was somehow different in that room. That sort of dry feeling you get when the air conditioning kicks in. Except there wasn’t any air conditioning. But never thinking for a moment it might be Covid…
And then the flight. We were in Premium Economy but seated separately, each wedged in a centre seat between two other passengers, having somehow not managed to check ourselves in before all the solo travellers chose their single aisle seats. We were, of course, required to wear a mask throughout (which they were at great pains to tell us must be ‘over our nose, mouth and chin’ else we be tempted to sling the things like soiled nappies round our neck, as seems to be the fashion) — during our three-hour wait at the airport prior to boarding, during the nine hours plus in the air (save for the fifteen minutes it took to eat the one barely-heated meal of the entire flight — I’m not even counting the ice-cold, rock hard brick of a croissant Air Canada served up for ‘breakfast’), and during the time it took to get through customs, collect bags and grab a cab back to our car.
Just as with every mode of transport we’d encountered in Canada — buses, cable cars, chair lifts, taxis — we’d been entreated to reconsider our trip and report our symptoms should we exhibit the classically quoted ‘high temperature, loss of taste or smell and new continuous cough’ but the first two didn’t apply then or at any point during my own brush with Covid.
And the cough only appeared once I’d tested positive, at which point it erupted with a vengeance, paroxysms of pepper-throated choking fits — sometimes with synchronistic sneezing — that left me red-faced, lightheaded and gasping for breath. Still do sometimes. All the more frightening when they wake me from sleep.
We tested together the day after arriving home, not because either of us felt unwell, but because I had a physio appointment and he was headed off to spend the last few days of her life with his poorly mum. Never for one moment thinking those two little lines might appear. But they did.
He, bless him, didn’t experience a single symptom (the Covid gods clearly deciding I should carry the can for both of us). Five days later, he tested clear. He’d headed off to see his mum anyway, Covid for her by then being a moot point and she’d already tested positive in the hospital a few days earlier. But we thought it wiser for me to stay away which meant I could neither say goodbye to her, nor be there to support him when he most needed it.
It was twelve whole days — twelve! — before I tested negative, by which time I was thoroughly sick of sticking that bloody dibber up my nose. I can only thank the Covid gods — like the victim of abuse now thanking her abusers for their supreme benevolence — for removing the necessity to swab the back of the throat at the same time.
It’s everywhere, man…
Over the last three weeks, friends and acquaintances — and apparently thousands of others in the UK (603,597 in the seven days up to 23 March) — have similarly fallen by the wayside, some for the third time of asking. As far as I know, all of those friends and acquaintances are triple jabbed. All have been conscientious and careful in their ‘Covid awareness’ and behaviour. And not a single one with the same set of symptoms.
They’ve ranged from asymptomatic, through slightly stuffy noses, scratchy tonsils and swollen glands to aching limbs and bone weariness. Some experienced loss of taste and smell, for others it was business as usual on the olfactory front. Some couldn’t get to sleep at all, others barely lifted an eyelid for days. Add to these the headaches, nausea, dizziness, ‘Covid eye’, tinnitus, chilblains-like lesions and, for all I know, the ability to levitate, listed on the various ‘official’ websites and you may as well be reading from a Dummy’s Guide to Hypochondria.
Perhaps the most frightening symptom of all for me wasn’t even the barking cough or the shortness of breath, but the phlegmy rattle deep down in my lungs because, as someone kindly pointed out, that’s only one step away from bacterial infection, pneumonia and certain death.
And, three weeks on, it is proving doggedly resistant to any amount of steam inhalation, postural drainage and breathing techniques. Not to mention the usual over-the-counter cough remedies and prescribed medications. I am essentially ‘huffing’ and chuffing my way through every single day in the hope that Covid will eventually spit me out the other side, fit to ski another.
One equally cheerful friend told of another friend who had ‘developed rheumatoid arthritis’ since having Covid although data reported in the BMJ suggests that ‘RA after Covid-19 may be coincidence rather than connected’ and I prefer to believe their conclusions — albeit constantly under review — than fear-mongering, third-hand hearsay.
This same cheerful soul told of yet another friend who ‘developed shingles after Covid’ but, other than the possibility that an already compromised immune system may trigger a reactivation of the herpes zoster virus, there seems little statistical evidence to support claims of a direct link between shingles and Covid-19 or its various vaccines. They are completely separate and very different viruses. There’s an interesting article about that here .
Comfort-washed teddies and Febrifuge…
Anyway, amidst all this misery-loves-company fear-stoking and hanging my head over bowls of steaming water, a number of things became clear to me.
1. You are only ever expected to be ill for a week. Tops. After that even the most solicitous friend will assume that you must by now be feeling better. Me too. And I’ve done the same to others. A couple of minutes on the receiving end of my coughing, wheezing and spluttering invariably, however, sends the wheel of expectation spinning in the opposite direction. Thankfully, thus far, to completely misquote Mark Twain, fears for my imminent death have been greatly exaggerated… and long may that be the case.
2. Covid-19 is an evil, shape-shifting menace of a virus and not a single one of us know how it will affect us, or for how long. Or even whether we might die from it. It’s so damned easy to feel invincible when you feel well. But it’s not unlike that game they played in The Deer Hunter (you know, the roulette game we’re probably not supposed to name by its alleged country of origin now, lest our naming it thus offends someone somewhere). It’s only when we lose our health, however fleetingly, do we truly see how fragile we all are.
3. It is categorically not ‘just a cold’ or ‘just flu’, also known as ‘just flu, yer wuss, get over it’ in some quarters. One brave Twitter warrior — who I can only imagine still has mummy tuck him up in bed a-night with his Comfort-washed teddy and a spoonful of Febrifuge — declared he’d happily spend a weekend a month in bed with this particular ‘cold’ until it became endemic*, rather than be required to wear a mask or get stuck with a vaccine for the mutual protection of himself and others. To which I say, ‘Crack on mate, at least you’ll be off the streets for a while.’
Have these brave warriors ever actually HAD flu? Real flu that is, not the fevered imaginings of the worried well. Never found themselves struggling to breathe through a stubbornly defiant chest infection and wondered when they’ll ever feel well again?
Have they never watched helplessly as someone they love seeps slowly away from them with each rasping breath of a chronic respiratory disease? Or worse, not been afforded the opportunity to be there in those final moments?
(And if you’re wondering, yes I have).
And 4. It most definitely is not over.
*An interesting article here by Aris Katzourakis, a professor who studies viral evolution and genomics at the University of Oxford, about the way we tend to misuse the term ‘endemic’ in our understanding of viruses. Essentially, he says, ‘endemic’ certainly does not mean that evolution has somehow tamed a pathogen so that life simply returns to [what we consider to be] ‘normal’.