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12 days with COVID-19 in London: Chills, anxiety and extreme fatigue.

I have been sick with COVID-19, and recovered. It was a distressing experience, but I overcame it and was able to fight the cloud of fear that settled over me.

As an Australian living in London, I knew early on that I was at a higher risk because I couldn’t work from home and therefore I had to catch the tube into the city. I took the social distancing protocols seriously, and I found myself getting very angry on my journey as so many people were ignoring the government’s advice.

A good example is when I witnessed 5 staff members at Waterloo Station huddled in what looked like a rugby scrum, listening to Boris Johnson’s speech about social distancing. The next day I read that the tube staff were dropping like flies.

Before I caught the virus, I occasionally thought I was getting a fever and to my relief I remembered it was a hot flush from my menopause.

I have had a lingering mild cough since November last year, so I tried to ignore it. A few days before I contracted the virus I had some headaches and felt tired. On Wednesday 25th March, my cough started to become more persistent as the day went on. I took my dog for a walk with my 12-year-old daughter. On the drive back I started feeling hot with some slight chills, and I realised this was not a hot flush. When I got home I took my temperature. It read 37.9 – a fever. I don’t tend to get fevers even when I have normal viruses.

It was in that moment that I knew I had it. I cried and told my partner quite dramatically that I was fairly certain I had COVID-19. He looked at me in a state of fear, and sent me to the loft room upstairs and told me not to come out until I was better.  He promised to deliver meals to my door.

Watch: Waleed Aly on why Australia is the lucky country right now. Post continues after video.

Video by Channel 10

My daughter was scared and upset for me. I wasn’t brave enough to be the good parent who acts like it will all be OK. I was rubbish and dramatic.

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I made the mistake of video calling my family. My sister and mother answered and as soon as I opened my mouth to tell them, I went into a coughing fit. Eventually I got it out that I might have COVID-19. They went into a state of panic and told me to go to the hospital straight away. You could die if you don’t go now, get to the hospital now, they said. I started to shake and had trouble breathing. I realised this was anxiety so stopped the call and texted them to say I was fine, and that I was just having a coughing fit.

I tried to ring 111 (the UK’s National Health Service number) to get my diagnosis via the phone, but I was on hold for an hour or so with the most depressing music in the world on a loop. I am not exaggerating – my daughter didn’t realise I had 111 on hold and asked if developing bad taste in music was a symptom.

My fatigue was so severe that I fell asleep to this dreadful music and missed my opportunity to speak to a doctor.

The next day after a long sleep in, I called ‘downstairs’ (my partner and daughter’s new collective name) and asked if I could have some breakfast. I think they forgot about me. Breakfast was delivered to my door and I dragged myself out of bed and struggled to eat it. I felt slightly nauseous and to top it off, I had diarrhoea.

I just wanted to sleep so I had to ask the downstairs people to call 111 and listen to the depressing hold music. I fell back to sleep again, and three hours later, I woke to the sounds of the door opening, and the little downstairs person quickly putting the phone on the floor and running away.

I spoke to a doctor. Well, I didn’t really speak. I coughed down the phone with a few occasional words coming out. He went through my symptoms and told me that it was likely I had COVID-19. He advised me to drink lots of water, get lots of rest and take paracetamol when needed. He said I needed to self isolate for 7 days and the downstairs people for 14 days. He told me that I should be OK, but went on to warn me to look out for day 5, because that’s the day I could start having breathing difficulties. If it gets worse, he said, your family need to drive you to the hospital immediately. He advised me not to call 999 (the UK’s emergency number) – as I could be on hold for two hours.

Listen to Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky: I have COVID-19 symptoms, why won’t they test me? Post continues after audio.

For the first three days I couldn’t eat much. I slept most of the day between coughs and was too tired to watch trashy TV. I only had the fever for the first day so I knew this was a good sign, but the cloud of fear didn’t see this.

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During the night of the fourth day I woke up with breathing difficulties. I panicked, and had some terrifying thoughts.

What if I can’t breathe?

What if I don’t get to the doctor’s on time?

What if they don’t have a bed?

In the morning I looked up Eckhart Tolle – the author of ‘The Power of Now’. I had read his book about eight months ago and it resonated with me. I watched a video of him talking about COVID-19, and he said everything I needed to hear. I did a meditation guided by him about feeling more present in your body. It put me at ease and the dark fear cloud that was over me dissipated. I still had the symptoms, but they were suddenly a lot lighter.

Meditation helped me to calm when my mind went into dark places. Then, by day 12, I was ready to head back into the world of social distancing.

The fear around this virus is immense. It’s real and it’s valid and as someone who has had the virus, it’s severe and debilitating. We need to take the precautions seriously to help our medical systems in this crucial time. But we also need to take each day as it comes and live in the moment. Projecting fear about something that hasn’t happened is damaging. We can’t control the virus, but we can control our own fear. A lot of us will get it, so if possible, my advice is to take each day as it comes and find a way to keep yourself in the moment. I know it is not as easy as it sounds, but relaxation techniques and mindfulness help.

Three people I work with contracted the disease at the same time as me. We all had different experiences and one of my friends ended up in hospital – luckily she has recovered now. Stories like mine can be scary, but I want to remind people that there’s no point worrying about things you have no control over.

Just focus on what you can control – be safe, be distant (not emotionally, just physically), and if you get sick, isolate.

Finally, take care of each other. We all need it right now.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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