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From hypervigilance and fear to normality (almost)

After a recent Covid diagnosis, I am grateful to have escaped with just a bad cold and some deconditioning

Hands up who wants to hear another Covid story? Absolutely nobody, I would imagine. That horse is well and truly flogged, regardless of whether it is actually dead or not. But I am going to tell you how I went from a state of permanent hypervigilance and gnawing fear back to my usual premorbid low-level anxiety – back to almost, dare I say, ‘normal’. I got Covid.

I was Pfizered in January, one of the first lucky wave of healthcare professionals to get the precious fluid into my arm. For 18 months I have worked my way through litres of hand sanitiser. I alcohol-wiped the keyboard, phone, pens, door handles, seat backs, taps. I wore plasticky aprons in the July heatwave, dark sweat stains spreading on my new, but already well-worn scrubs. I wore the mask fastidiously; no chin nappies for me. I was diligent about infection control to the point of near-obsession.

But I had lunch one August Friday in our coffee room, with two colleagues, for about 20 minutes or so. It was nice to chat and laugh and share stories about non-Covidy stuff. Two days later I woke with a sore throat and a few hours after that my nose started to run. I shooshed the children out the door of my bedroom shrieking “Stay Awayyy!!!” (I was never one to shy away from a bit of melodrama). I drove to the test centre and had my pituitary gland prodded, but I could have just handed them the already-full bag of balled-up tissues, which had been harvesting my virulent snot.

My meals were delivered to the door of my bedroom, as well as various essentials to get me through to the ‘big reveal’ of the test result. Charging cables, notebooks, wet wipes, chocolate, three different brands of tissue (my nose having already been sandpapered to ribbons by the cheap ones) and a large vat of hand sanitiser.
I waited patiently for 18 hours or so, then flipped to the ‘I’m-an-important-frontline-worker-I-need-my-result-NOW’ Verruca Salt version of myself.

And there it was.

**DETECTED**.

I stared at the screen for a while, shaking. I knew I had to tell a lot of people. My lovely little children and husband, henceforth to be renamed my ‘household contacts’. My work colleagues, and possibly the patients I had seen on Friday? My brain scrambled to remember the new rules about contact tracing, for vaccinated/unvaccinated/15 minutes/insideoutside. I trawled through WhatsApp messages to find the ‘special number’ for public health. It was answered swiftly and helpfully and compassionately, and I was very grateful for that. I had compiled my contact list already – it comprised of one person outside of my family and workplace.

I praised myself for this, until I realised how it indicated how small my life had become. The kind doctor assured me that my Friday patients were safe from me and talked me through he testing processes for my ‘unvaccinated household contacts’ (formerly known as my lovely children).

Over the next few days a teeny tiny thought would occasionally enter my head about my previously-irradiated lungs, and what this might mean in terms of underlying conditions. I had two choices – acknowledge these thoughts and have a full-blown panic attack on my own in a small room with no escape, or tell myself to STFU. I chose the latter.

My meals arrived at my door three times a day, sometimes with a little crayon-written note. My previous stinginess in not forking out for an en-suite bathroom came back to bite me, so now I had to text the whole house to hide in their rooms every time I needed to pee. Thankfully years of hospital hard labour has trained my bladder to be easily ignored.

I waited until everyone had gone to bed every night to sneak downstairs with my dirty dishes and laundry, switching the machines to their highest setting to boil out my filthy germs. I Domestos-ed every surface I touched.

The 10 days passed with ups and downs of boredom and wallowing and a failure to complete the long list of movies/books/jobs that I had compiled.

Afterwards, I felt bullet-proof and could stroll around supermarkets without leaping away when a stranger got within six feet of me. I feel liberated now, grateful to have escaped with just a bad cold and some deconditioning. I am acutely conscious of those who have fared less well, but hopefully we are getting some way closer to Covid becoming simply background noise in our lives.

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