Sharing my experience of the COVID19 pandemic

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While I was going through some other online portal, I stumbled upon this article by a random Indian doctor working in UK who suffered from Covid-19. While we have tons of articles on internet, in this one, the doc shares his own experiences which gives us a direct insight into how it is like. I found it worth sharing on this platform.

Sharing my experience of the COVID19 pandemic.

Just wanted to give a picture from a different perspective. I am a practicing Medicine doctor in the United Kingdom. I did my MBBS from India and then later in 2017, I came to UK to specialize in Internal Medicine which I’ve completed. I am currently working as a junior Oncology trainee, but have been pulled into Medicine since the pandemic has started. We’ve had staff shortage due to some of them self isolating due to underlying health diseases/pregnancy/elderly and various other reasons. Doctors and nurses from all various specialities have been pulled into a general rota which includes duties in Covid and Non-Covid zones in the hospital.

Initial few days were full of anxiety and stress of not having proper PPE, guidelines to work with and the fear of putting our lives on the line. You could sense the uneasiness while having a chat with your colleagues and nursing staff. Yes, we did take the oath to always put our patients first, but the thought of losing your own life or passing this disease to a loved one in the household can be immensely frightening and distressing. Fortunately, for me, I stay by myself here in the UK. My parents back home did urge me to come back to India by the first available flight and terminate my training as they thought my own well being is the most important. It took many days for me to convince them, that I can’t run away from it and that this virus is here to stay and we will all have to learn to live with it.

Its been about 5-6 weeks now since I’ve managed more than 100 positive cases and equal or double number of suspected cases. Our ICU bed support in the hospital was ramped up from 40 to 120 as we were expecting huge influx of patients. During the initial days, I still remember, every patient was going to be needing oxygen support, or mechanical ventilatory support and we did lose a few patients to COVID19 in the first week itself. But analysing the data, these were all patients in the age group of >80 years with significant underlying health conditions and repeated prolonged hospital admissions in the last 1-2 years. We did lose a young 23 year old boy who succumbed to the virus, but again had an underlying diagnosis of Cystic fibrosis which led him to have repeated chest infections in the recent past. This death had further created fear and anxiety amongst the hospital staff and it seemed like a losing battle in the initial few days with no silver lining in the end.

To make the matters worse, we started to have infection spread among the nurses and doctors in the hospital who were told to self isolate at home for 7-14 days without being tested as the test kits were in shortage. During the second week of April, the Medicine consultant I was working closely for last 3 weeks while we had started with the COVID duties, tested positive. My consultant – a 58 year old male, originally from Afghanistan, an absolute gem of a person, probably the nicest man you’ll ever come across. I was the medical registrar on-call for that night and we had an ambulance call that the same consultant was coming in shortly for admission as he has been feeling acutely short of breath. The news itself gave absolute jitters across my spine. When he finally arrived and I was the first physician to see him, looking at his vitals and clinical state, it was quite decided to intubate him and put him on ventilatory support. The next few days which followed after that, were possibly exhausting for me and I was more or less on the verge of an absolute physical and mental meltdown. The only thing which kept me going and motivated was having tremendous support from the friends and colleagues in the hospital. All of us, coming from different backgrounds, different cultures, different ethnicities. We all knew we are in it together and we will give it our best shot. Although social distancing had become the need of the hour, we started organizing dinners in the hospital cafeteria and kept everyone as motivated as possible. A psychologist was available 24-7 for any healthcare staff dealing with stress and anxiety and needed an outlet to think back straight again.

Slowly by the mid of April, most of our in-patients started turning a corner. Most of them were extubated, including that consultant of mine. Each passing day, seemed like we have started to win some small battles. We discharged our first COVID19 patient who had needed ICU support on 16th April and then it was when you could see some light at the end of the tunnel. However, there seemed to be an an exponential rise in the doctors testing positive for COVID19, specially the younger lot in their 20’s and 30’s. Fortunately, all of them have had a very mild disease with symptoms like sore throat, bodyaches, fever, loss of taste, loss of smell, headaches, etc.

It is day 3 for me testing positive for COVID19. I would like to share with you each day’s symptoms I’ve encountered till now , possibly to alleviate a few fears some of you might have regarding the disease.

Day 1 – May 04th – woke up absolutely well, went to work as usual. At around 1PM after finishing my morning ward rounds, started to feel a bit under the weather. The feeling persisted for the next couple of hours and I informed my colleagues and left for home at 4PM. Came back home, took a quick shower and headed straight to bed as I felt I had no energy to do anything. Woke up around 8PM with a bounding headache, sore throat and bad bodyaches ( I won’t say they were terrible, but yes they were something like I’ve never experienced in the past) specially in both the legs and my back. Had a light dinner, took 2 paracetamols and slept again.

Day 2 – May 05th – woke up at 7:30AM, feeling feverish with some mild chills. Checked temperature and it was 38.6. Telephoned the occupational health in the hospital to inform about sick leave and to arrange for a throat swab. Hospital staff were extremely efficient and helpful and they arranged for me to come at the drive-thru swabbing centre at the periphery of the Hospital at a time of my convenience. I took paracetamol again at 8am and slept and went to give my Swab at 4PM that day. By then the only symptoms I was having was low grade fever(likely masked by paracetamol I was taking) and a sore throat. It was literally a 2 minute job of getting the swab done and I was back home and was advised to self isolate at home till I get my swab results back. That night, I had some mild bodyaches again, followed with temperature of 38.2 Celcius. I started doing salt & hot water gargles as well to soothen the throat.

Day 3 – May 06th – woke up late and felt a little better than yesterday. Temperature was 37.6. There were hardly any bodyaches, but i felt very lethargic. I literally had no energy to even get up and make Coffee for myself. Also, I had noticed my appetite had gone down a fair bit. Anyhow, pushed myself to eat and drink and took the paracetamol again. Had some green tea and made sure I kept having some hot drinks every 2-3 hours. By this time, I had informed my parents back home about the symptoms I was getting and that I had gotten my swab done. It seemed like the panic button was pressed and as all Indian parents are, they went absolutely berserk. It took a while to get them to make any sense and I told them I’m managing fairly well at this stage. Also, I have the support of some really close friends who have been doing groceries for me and have been cooking food and leaving it at my doorstep.

Day 4 – May 07th – Woke up at about 9AM. Felt much better in myself. The only things bothering me by now was the soreness in the throat and having absolutely no appetite. Again, forced myself to eat and keep myself well hydrated. Have been sleeping almost 12-14 hours a day for last 3 days.

Day 5 – May 08th – Again feeling better than yesterday. Felt like my appetite was more or less back and the bodyaches had completely disappeared by now. I was waking up fresh and had the energy to go about my day within the house. Soreness in the throat still remained and I was taking occasional strepsils lozenges to clear it. No further fevers.

Day 6 – May 09th – I was getting eager to know what my swab results were as it had already been almost 96 hours since I had given the swab. I was literally hoping that it has not been misplaced in transit. Got a call from Occupational Health at 12PM informing that the swab has indeed come back positive. I don’t know what it was, but hearing I tested positive , it gave me a sense of relief. In my head, I was thinking, glad that I’ve had it with minimal symptoms and hopefully I’m done with it now. There are articles floating around about re-infection in patients who tested negative after sometime. However, I’m trying to keep myself in the best of the spirits. The next step was to inform my family back home. I was sure this will stress out my parents to the next level and wanted to dampen the blow. So I initially called my elder sister and told her about the swab result and mentioned to her that i’m doing absolutely fine. Thereafter, got my parents on the conference video call and gave them the news. It came a bit of a shock for them, specially my father, who has been following the news channels in India rather religiously. They had all sorts of questions, ranging from what happens now? Are you being hospitalised? Should we come there to take care of you? Be honest, tell us if you have any symptoms. It took me more than a hour on the phone to clarify their doubts and clear their heads on this. Since then, no kidding, every family member including extended family(ours is a super huge one) has been on the phone with me, every 30-60 minutes to check on me for any new symptoms/changes or to just keep me busy & entertained.

Day 7 – May 10th – Woke up super late as I was watching Ozark on Netflix till late. Felt my throat is 50% better than it was yesterday. No other symptoms to mention. Started getting excited thinking the worse is over now. Did a small cardio home workout for about 20 minutes and quickly realized I should not have done it. Felt that I’ve drained all the energy I had been conserving for the last few days taking rest. Sat around most of the day in front of the laptop or TV without exerting myself after that. Fortunately, friends around have been super helpful. They have been picking up groceries, cooking some amazing food and doing even small errands for me.

Day 8 – May 11th (Today) – Woke up at 10AM. Felt better than yesterday. Improving each day. Sore throat is much better now. Still a tickle in the throat, but no where near how it was 5 days back. This whole time I’ve noticed, I never had a cough, never felt breathless, did not lose my sense of smell or taste. Energy levels are much better but will not try to exert myself for at least next 10 days or so. Hospital staff, admin, medical directorate in the hospital have been amazingly helpful throughout. I’m allowed to return to work when I’m feeling better which is likely going to be early/middle of next week, and not being rushed back to it.

These last few days have given me a chance to ponder about a few things. Life has a funny way of teaching us. It will create a deep sadness, so that we know how to truly understand happiness. It will create chaos in our lives, so that we appreciate the peaceful times and it will take those we love away from us, so that we will truly understand what their presence meant for us.

Firstly, I’m 29, quite fit I would say, although my eating habits are not the best. I have started working towards eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis(taking a break at the moment). In short, I’ve started to give more time to myself, which was never the case before. Secondly, being an Oncologist to be, I deal with death & breaking bad news on more or less a daily basis which might de-sensitize oneself from the grief and emotions attached to the whole experience. I know you can’t function if you start getting emotionally attached with every patient you manage, but this whole pandemic has made me appreciate life a little more than I used to earlier. Thirdly, the importance of having an amazing family support around, no matter how far or near they are. I would really love to spend some quality time with my parents and possibly travel the world with them. Although they like traveling by themselves in the past few years, i’m sure they won’t mind me third wheeling. Lastly, having friends who treat you as their own family in a place half way across the world from home, it’s an absolute blessing, and probably the only thing I’m proud to have earned.

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