As Boris Johnson announced the lockdown on Monday night, I was already on day five of self-isolation, watching the Netflix show Cheer for the second time and eating the fourth of five Wispa bars that my boyfriend, Alex, had Deliverooed over to encourage me through seven days of lonely quarantine.
I have been suffering from what is extremely likely to be coronavirus since last Thursday. What started as a sore throat evolved into three days of high fever, followed by a day of shooting pains and a day of coughing. I am now on my last day of isolation and feeling much better.
Luckily for me, I am an active 28-year-old with no underlying conditions and have suffered no medical complications. I can only imagine how worrying the experience must be for those who have it worse. But, while physically I was not in trouble, I quickly realised there is a lot to get your head around. This is what I wish I’d known beforehand:
1. The impact is immediate and serious
Much like the words, ‘I don’t love you anymore,’ the mere utterance that you have coronavirus symptoms means there’s no turning back. From the second you suspect that you could be infected there are immediate implications, and it’s vital that you behave responsibly.
For a start, you can’t leave the house from that moment on. As an active carrier of the virus, any public door handle you touch or contactless payment you make puts many more people at risk. Whatever supplies you have in are what you are stuck with, although I was soon to witness the kindness of friends and colleagues who offered to drop food at my door.
I made the decision to ask Alex, who is asthmatic, to leave our one bedroom flat when I had extremely mild symptoms. As my sore throat emerged on Thursday, I paced the living room wondering what to do. Was this really a symptom or had I become hypersensitive? The reality of asking him to leave his own home was very odd, especially when unsure if my symptoms were valid or not, but he obligingly packed up and left and the uncertainty rang in my head like a siren.
Read more: what it’s like to have mild coronavirus symptoms
2. Anyone you live with must isolate for fourteen days
While the first symptomatic person in a household must isolate for seven days, anyone else living in that house must isolate for fourteen days, symptoms or not. As well as sending Alex to his parents’ house (they are stuck on lockdown elsewhere), I requested he drive straight from door to door and spend two weeks in quarantine and out of work.
As happily as he got on with it, and as important as it is, asking all this despite the fact that he has no symptoms made me feel guilty. I called my gran to ask what she did in wartime and she said she used to run and play in the garden. I glanced out at the lonely public patch of grass below my flat, and then spent the day watching Tiger King on Netflix.
3. You can’t call NHS 111
It’s hard to know where to get good advice from – the kind where you can ask questions and someone answers. GPs are taking calls but trying to steer clear of dealing with the coronavirus; NHS111 requests you only get in contact if you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; and 999 is obviously only for emergencies. Hearsay, on the other hand is rife.
Luckily for me, my father is a cardiologist and was able to answer all of my questions, as well as call me everyday. To control the intense fever I was experiencing, he warned me to stick to paracetamol (it is suspected that anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen can cause complications), as well as advising me to keep a jug of water by my bedside to make remaining hydrated as low-effort as possible and, despite the chills I felt, not to wrap up and heat my body further.
There is also much information on gov.uk, which gives practical advice on everything from isolation to why you shouldn’t shake dirty laundry. Even if, like me, you are in a low risk category, I recommend asking one person to check in on the phone daily.
4. Waiting for the illness to unfold is nerve wracking
No matter how young, active and healthy you are (or not), contracting the illness that everyone is terrified of is unsettling. It has dominated the news for two months, inducing global fear and now it is in me. At the top of this very website is a death ticker that flicks up every day, and regardless of my statistical chances of mortality, there’s always a ‘what if’?
The virus develops differently in everyone, from cough to fever, but the main symptom that means you need medical assistance is severe breathlessness. This can come on very quickly, as late as seven days after your first symptoms, or not at all. It feels like a waiting game. “How do you know if it’s bad enough to go to hospital?” I ask my father. “Trust me, you will know,” he replies.
5. Staying hydrated is the best thing you can do
Drinking water is the number one thing that you can do to help you get better. If your symptoms are like mine, you won’t feel like eating or drinking anything at all, but you must force yourself to drink.
When you have a fever, the amount of water you lose through sweat shoots up and the urge to drink is suppressed. Failing to hydrate will raise your likelihood of ending up in hospital both dehydrated and infected.
6. You will receive grave messages
On Friday morning, when I became too unwell to work, I set an out of office explaining that I was sick. I intentionally negated the c-word but what followed was a four-day string of mourning.
“I am so, SO sorry,” said a number of return emails. “I’m praying for you,” said another. “It’s a bit risky, and scary,” said a Whatsapp message. “Let me know if you need me to make any arrangements,” said my landlord. Had she written me off that quickly?
Social sharing, too, in the time of a pandemic is panicked and urgent. With every refresh comes a flurry of new posts about how nobody is ‘safe’ and reminders of young people who have died horrible coronavirus deaths or suffered in ICUs.
To stop myself tracing the (once comfortable now horrifying) triptych of the Instagram, Whatsapp, Gmail app icons, I hauled myself out of bed to the living room door and flung my phone onto the sofa. Back under the covers, I switched on Friends – a lighthearted reminder of a different time – and fell asleep.
As shocked as I was by the unsettling undertone of some of the messages I received, I was amazed by the amount of family, friends and colleagues who texted and called offering their help with delivering groceries or paracetamol. Alex sent me Deliveroo care packages. I had no idea that all of these people had my back – a reminder that in difficult times, people band together.
7. Coping with illness while isolated is hard
It’s not the fact that you are alone, more that you must be alone that is difficult. With no one there to help wash the dishes or run a bath, or to just sit and chat in physical proximity, I have never felt more disconnected.
Truthfully, in the first three days, I was too sick and weak to notice it much. I had resolved to spend as much of that time asleep as possible to enhance my recovery, and every time I woke there were new messages of support. But on day four when I emerged from the worst of it I didn’t know what to do with myself. I can recommend Oyinkan Braithwaite’s newish book My Sister the Serial Killer for company, and spring cleaning.