The View from My Sickbed

The NHS believes I have the coronavirus. The pleasant GP on the other end of the phone ran through my symptoms while I lay in bed. She told me that there is no testing at this point in time. The focus, she said, is on treatment, not testing. Just rest, take paracetamol, drink plenty of liquids, stay away from everyone else, and hope for the best. When the UK government says that things are under control, I don’t believe them: after all, how can you know if you’re not measuring? Would my diagnosis feature in the statistics that the government is compiling? Somehow, I doubt it.

I am on the 4th day of this illness. It is one of the most unpleasant sicknesses I’ve ever had. I’ve had consistent fevers, only ameliorated by paracetamol induced gaps of lesser temperatures. The fever dreams are particularly odd. Over the weekend, I had a dream that my cat Thomas and I had washed up on a distant shore, the waves lapping over us as we lay on the sand. The hot sun beat down on us both. Flotsam and jetsam, brought up from the deep, I woke up before the dream could unfold any further.

As this indicates, the nights are particularly terrible. There has been an occasional panic in my stomach that something is dreadfully wrong. I thought it might be something with my heart. My hands have become very cold: I have had to switch up my electric blanket to the highest setting. I have all the temperature regulating abilities of a lizard. All I can do is take another paracetamol and use the brief gap it grants to fall asleep.

The mornings are not much better. As I sit here and type this, a low, dull headache throbs behind my eyes. Nevertheless, I’ve had to be responsible, sit at the keyboard, and cancel appointments for the next two weeks. “Sorry,” I say, “I’ve been diagnosed as having the coronavirus.” The recipient may get my missive or they may not. Either way, I will push through, finish writing, and go back to bed. When the recipient picks up the message, no doubt they will say, “Oh of course”. No one wants to be around someone with this. Cancel the appointment? Absolutely.

Often, daylight hurts. The curtains are drawn in my bedroom. Fortunately, I can watch television. Reading is more difficult. I have an audio book, a biography of Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the Spanish Communists, which I’m dipping in and out of. The problem is keeping track of all the acronyms and the various committees: no wonder the Left lost the Spanish Civil War, the comrades were bogged down by bureaucratic infighting. They should have focused on keeping the fascists at bay. This is about as elevated as my thinking gets at the moment. I look through the narrow portal to the world that Twitter affords to see what outrages are being committed by nonsensical populist governments. I also listen to the BBC World Service. Last night, I was lying in bed when I heard Trump talk about how happy he was the Federal Reserve cut interest rates. Given his joy, you would think an interest rate cut was a cure for the coronavirus. In fairness to the World Service, they had on a professor after Trump’s statement who said what most people already know, that the President doesn’t understand monetary policy and it’s unlikely to be the cure-all he thinks it is. Maybe his ignorance has finally caught up with him.

The fever returns. I go back to sleep. The time comes for another paracetamol; I awake, take it, and drink some water. Any trek to the bathroom feels ponderous and long. A week ago I was running over 2 miles on a treadmill; now I can’t climb the stairs without needing a rest. Similarly, going to the lavatory is a matter of one foot in front of another. When the hour is late, midnight, one am, two am, it feels like I’m absolutely alone. I am not, however: I reach out and there is my cat Thomas sleeping at my feet. Nevertheless, I have to worry about him getting this too: a dog with a compromised immune system in Hong Kong apparently caught it from their human. If indeed Thomas gets it from me, what chance does he have? But he wouldn’t be anywhere but with me: I know if I shut the door, I’d hear his insistent paw clawing the door. Indeed, he has not left my side since I became ill.

The dawn comes again. I should be feeling better. The thermometer tells me that I’m still feverish. How much longer, I wonder. There is no help from the NHS: they have no medicines, they have no advice except what I’ve heard already. Nature will take its course. Theoretically, I’m developing an immunity, which is what the government thinks is going to serve us best in the long run. I’m not sure we should be so cavalier about such an unknown and novel virus. Evolution is a powerful force and it’s difficult to know how this virus will change and adapt. It could become more lethal. Already there are reports that some people have caught it more than once.

As I fight the fever and feel aches ripple through my body, I think that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I have no idea how long it will take for the illness to loosen its grip. The thermometer indicates it won’t be today. Tomorrow? Wednesday? Who knows.

I am lucky. I’m relatively healthy. As awful as this is, I will get through it. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be frail and have the weight of this sickness land on you. I will wake up one morning and it will be gone. But I will remember those who succumbed, and I will blame those who decided that it wasn’t important to measure what was going on.

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