Friday, 20 March 2020

Isolation

This week has been a long year.

It's Friday March 20th 2020, and if the world had been anywhere close to normal, I would have been hurtling down a white water rapid with old friends on a stag party today, before enjoying a night out on the town.  But like a hundred million other social engagements, that's all been brought to an earth-shattering halt by a global public health crisis.

Last Sunday I started to experience griping stomach pains, which I initially put down to some dodgy food the night before (I'd been foolishly left in charge of the cooking).  But by that evening, I was unable to get warm, sat shivering in a dressing gown on the sofa whilst the kids got prepped for the school week ahead.  A blue lump of clammy awfulness.  Fever raged all night, and I knew I had a problem the next morning - headaches, chills like ice, and moments of intense heat and dehydration.  I'd been expected in the office to examine 3rd-year physics projects Monday afternoon, and it has to be damned serious for me to let people down.  But that's what I had to do, sending a series of apologetic cancellation emails Monday morning (including to my fellow stag party members), before collapsing on the sofa that afternoon.

Monday evening, the UK brought in new guidance requiring all household members to self-isolate for 14 days, if even one person shows any symptoms of COVID-19, including high fever and a continuous new cough.  My kids were disappointed to be missing their school friends - my daughter especially so, as she'd been practising for the school production.  Soon enough though, that too was cancelled.  So from Tuesday, the four of us were in self-isolation for two weeks.

The fever lasted through Monday night and into Tuesday, probably around 36 hours in total.  When it finally broke, I tried to get some work done, but the griping stomach pains continued into the next day too, doubling me over in pain.  I spoke to the NHS 111 line (who essentially read me everything I'd already read online, but couldn't advise any further), who put me onto a GP for reassurance and recommended some over-the-counter medication, which some kind neighbours picked up for us and left at our door.  These helped, but by Wednesday afternoon the illness provided a second sting, as the fever returned with a vengeance - and once again I was in bed with high temperature and dehydration.  Now 72 hours in.

Thankfully the fever had broken by Thursday morning, and the stomach pains greatly diminished.  I'm left with a mild dry cough and a strange sensation of being an asthmatic, with slightly troubled breathing, particularly when climbing stairs.  All this for a reasonably healthy 38-year-old.

Now, all this sounds suspiciously like the symptoms of COVID-19 to me.  I rarely get colds, I don't remember the last time I ever had flu-like symptoms, and I find the chances of it happening during the same week as a global pandemic escalation all a little suspicious.  But clearly not impossible.  So, for overseas readers, you might be wondering why I don't just get tested?  That's because the lacklustre and (some might say) irresponsible responses of the UK government has been not to test the wider population, focussing only on hospitals.  Not only does this mean that the numbers of infections you've been reading about are nonsense, but also that it's going to be near-impossible to track the spread of this disease.  Plus, it means I can't know whether I'm now immune, nor whether my family are all self-isolating for no reason.  In short: the UK needs to step up its testing as a matter of urgency.

If it is COVID-19, where might I have caught this from?  Up until Tuesday 10th March I'd been working from the office, commuting to work every day by train, and interacting with the students.  I started home working on the Wednesday out of an abundance of caution, but I'm so glad I did, as it limited my contact during the potential 5 days of being asymptomatic, before my fever started on Sunday.  One superb reason why people should be taking the social distancing guidelines seriously.

A lot has changed in a week - schools all closed yesterday.  University of Leicester brought forward end of term to today.  I've had all future meetings cancelled or postponed.  Weddings put off to future, happier times.  My diary is empty.  They've ordered all the pubs closed.  My wife is a key worker, so I'm facing the prospect of home schooling for at least part of each week for months to come, meaning productivity will drop to somewhere near zero.  But all of these are nothing compared to what some are about to go through.  I've been touched by the kindness and generosity of our friends and family while we've been self-isolating - we'll all need so much more of this if we're to cope with the dark times ahead.

And finally, permit me to be blunt and angry for a moment:  to the cretins and morons who are selfishly stockpiling or flouting the guidelines on social distancing, stop.  Just stop.  Your stupidity could have catastrophic consequences for all of us, and particularly the most vulnerable in our society.  I hope your victims have the opportunity to forgive you.

Good luck everyone, stay healthy, and stay kind.




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