If you’ve followed this blog because you, too, have arthritis, you’ll know that there’s one question I’ve been trying to get an answer to throughout the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve been wanting to know what has happened to people who take immuno-suppressant drugs for their arthritis, as I do, who have behaved with considerable caution as a result of the shielding advice from the government, but who have still contracted Covid-19. I have heard encouraging, anecdotal evidence, but numbers weren’t sufficient to draw any reliable conclusions. Now I can add one more piece of information to the mix, because I tested positive over Christmas.
I wasn’t expecting to. Yes, I felt slightly under the weather on Tuesday December 22nd, but the symptoms – such as they were – didn’t seem to match those that have been so widely aired since March. I had a bad stomach – unsettled, uncomfortable – but there was no cough. And overnight I woke up feeling slightly sweaty and shivery, but that quickly passed and didn’t return at any point over the subsequent days. I spoke to my GP on the morning of Christmas Eve, and she said she doubted it was coronavirus but advised a precautionary test. I followed her advice, and found out on Boxing morning that I was positive. Happy Christmas.
I’m usually pretty level-headed, but for about half an hour my mind raced to places I’d rather it hadn’t. I was angry at what must have been carelessness on my part (although I struggled – and still do – to identify when or how I put a foot wrong), I was frustrated by what seemed a severe injustice given the lengths I’d gone to to avoid catching it, and I was scared. There are only so many letters you can read from Matt Hancock and Robert Jenrick before the more doom-laden elements of them hit home. If I was ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’, then I was expected to get a bad dose of this thing, so I lay in bed wondering what the next few days would bring. Yes, I did want an answer to the question I posed at the top of this blog, but I wasn’t quite so keen on providing the answer myself.
With each day that followed I dutifully filled in my symptoms on Professor Tim Spector’s ‘zoe’ app – https://covid.joinzoe.com/ – that’s the covid symptom study which has done such valuable work during the course of the pandemic. Yes, I had a runny nose and I was sneezing from time to time; and yes I had a bit of a cough, but at no point was it either dry or persistent. Perhaps I was just being awkward but my cough was determinedly loose and occasional. I was more tired than usual, but not debilitatingly so, and for about 24 hours my sense of taste was compromised. It didn’t disappear completely but one morning’s breakfast cereal bowl, into which I normally drop a few bits of fresh fruit, might as well have contained flakes of soap for all the difference they made.
As one day followed another I waited for something worse to happen, but – to my enormous relief – it didn’t. After about a week I allowed myself to contemplate the possibility that my symptoms would remain mild, even though everything I’d imagined since the spring – if I became ill – had pointed me in a very different direction. And now, here I am writing this on Saturday January 2nd, with symptoms on the wane and a chance to go outdoors for the first time in ten days. It was a chance I grabbed. Rarely has a winter’s day in west London looked more inviting.
I don’t write this to be smug – I know symptoms could return or change, even now – but I hope it helps in one of two ways. The first is simply to show how easy this new strain – and I’m assuming that’s what I’ve had – is to catch. Frankly if I could catch it, then anyone can. The other thing that I hope is helpful is the tiny bit of perspective it offers. When you’re lumped into a category marked ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ you naturally fear the consequences. I did. Mine is just one story, and I’m not blind to the fact that this virus has devastated countless lives, but if you take the same arthritis drugs as I do and you get a positive test in the next few weeks, you may just be OK. I really hope so.