Catching COVID-19 before the first lockdown

I became ill in March. I wrote about some lessons that I learned as a result of the illness but I deliberately didn’t talk about the symptoms. There was so much drama, noise and negativity around at the time, I didn’t want to add to it.

However, I’ve since changed my mind. I think that many of us are finding it really hard to continue living according to the guidelines and I’m hoping that me sharing my experiences will help us refocus, re-evaluate and refresh.

Catching some kind of virus in March 2020

It felt like it happened overnight. I was fine one day and the next, my entire body ached like it’s never ached before. I’ve been in a number of car accidents and have been injured as a result. I wanted to avoid becoming reliant on painkillers. Also, I didn’t like the idea of taking medication on a regular basis regardless of whether I became dependent on them or not. With my previous injuries, I could go without pain relief! However, I could not ignore these body aches and I resorted to taking painkillers for a few days. That surprised me.

The symptoms

I know this virus isn’t the flu but I’ve read that some of the symptoms can be mistaken for it. However, I’ve never had the flu, so I have no previous experience to compare this with. Either way, I can tell you that I’ve never experienced anything like it before!

The symptoms included:

  • the entire body ached for a few days
  • losing the sense of taste and smell
  • an infrequent dry cough
  • scratchy throat
  • fatigue
  • sore eyes
  • heavy head

What the GP said

I spoke to a family member who is a GP and he was pretty sure it was COVID-19. When I messaged him, I didn’t expect him to say that. COVID-19 was still new, we hadn’t gone into lockdown and I simply hadn’t considered that I had caught it. I thought it was something else.

I decided to speak the GP that I’m registered with, to get it on my medical records and get advice in a way that would serve me better i.e. via a scheduled appointment system that came with objective advice without any familial connections.

The GP said it sounded like COVID-19. He said “nobody will test you now“, and advised isolating for 14 days and calling back if anything changed or if I didn’t get better.

The duration

I don’t think I’ve ever slept so much, ever! I was probably sleeping 10 or 12 hours, waking up, managing a little, going back to bed again and then sleeping before midnight even though I’d slept so much already. This continued for a week or so. After that, I slept less but still way more than I usually do. This probably resolved after another week or so. However, after that, I was sleeping the usual amount but still felt fatigued and didn’t function well.

The loss of taste and smell continued for a couple of months and my appetite reduced too.

Fully recovered

I fully recovered in July. For a couple of months. I felt ‘normal’ again!

Post recovery

In the middle of September, we went to Devon. It was a trip that was full of walks and it was awesome! During the trip, we were walking about 4 hours a day and although I was using lots of energy, I wasn’t very hungry before, during or after the walks.

In the morning, I may or may not have had a slice of toast or two. During the walk, I’d have a banana and a couple of clementines. Our lunch would end up being between 2 and 4, at which point, I probably ate half of what everyone else was eating. Dinner was after 7, and again, I wasn’t hungry. I also don’t like eating late or sleeping too soon after eating and that may have played a part in me wanting to eat too much for dinner.

We did about 90,000 steps across a week. To eat so little, without feeling deprived of energy and hungry, is just strange!

Towards the end of the trip, we had made a roasted butternut squash salad for lunch. I was eating it and everything was fine until one piece tasted wrong! It made me want to spit it out. I ate it and thinking it was a one-off, I continued eating the salad. I got another couple of pieces and gave up. I couldn’t stomach it.

After we came home, I struggled to eat bananas. I haven’t come across anything that I can compare it to but there was a foul taste to it. Later, certain foods began to smell and taste foul! This addition of food smelling bad worked in my favour. It acted as a warning to avoid eating it.

I began to smell that same foul smell on my body. It was an area where I’d had a cyst removed, so I started thinking that it was connected to that. But then…the smell moved and it was coming from other areas as well! It wasn’t connected to sweat or anything else. It was unexplainable!

In addition to that, I noticed that it was taking me ages to fall asleep.

Lastly, I noticed a change in the way I dream. Usually, I wake up and I have no recollection of what I’ve dreamt about. If I do remember, there seems to be some sort of cut off in my mind that lets me remember it once and then I lose it. This is normal for me. However, I’m now having vivid dreams, I’ll wake up several times in the night, fall back into the dream and I’ll remember it for a day or more.

Long COVID

I messaged a couple of family members who are GPs and they told me that everything that I’ve described above sounded like long COVID. I hadn’t heard of that before, so again, I was a bit surprised by the reply, which again related to COVID-19! I thought I was done with it, or rather, it was done with me!

Back to the GP

I arranged to speak with the GP I’m registered with again and she said that it sounded like long COVID, although it was strange because I had fully recovered for a couple of months. The fatigue, loss of taste and smell, body aches etc had all gone!

As you know, we are still learning about this virus and this may be another thing that the experts don’t know about! A new type of long COVID, which can appear after the person seems to have fully recovered.

She clarified that the removal of the cyst wasn’t connected to what I was experiencing, especially now that the smells were coming from other places too, and that she would ask the Ear Nose and Throat department if they had a different opinion. She rang me back after speaking with them and guess what they said? Yep, they also put it down to long COVID.

For the problem-solver and doctor within you

I just wanted to clarify a few things in case your mind starts pinging from thought to thought about alternative causes.

  • it’s not hormonal
  • I’m not the only person who’s experiencing these things after recovery
  • unintentionally, I’ve actually had four GPs and ENT confirm that they suspect long covid
  • it’s not connected to specific batches of food

Does long covid make me infectious?

No.

Am I worried?

Not any more! The GP said she isn’t overly worried and told me to monitor it. After having this discussion with her, I felt I could park it.

The warped taste and smell evolves!

When my sense of taste began to change, it was exclusive to taste. It started with me eating the butternut squash and not being able to tolerate it. This expanded and began to include other foods, such as, raw celery, cooked peppers, peanut butter and so on.

Then, as mentioned above, the body decided to do me a favour. These foods began to smell foul, which gave me a heads up before I ate it.

You might call this a blessing…I don’t approach food with the memory of how foul it tastes, which means that I’ll try it with an open mind. This is a good thing because the articles that talk about a change in taste, suggest that we keep trying the foods that we suddenly dislike because this change isn’t expected to last forever.

A few days after our trip to Devon, when I ate the banana and didn’t like it, I didn’t hold on to that experience and had it again! This time, it was in the form of a banana smoothie and it was fine when I was drinking it but I experienced that same foul taste afterwards!

Outside of food smelling or tasting foul, some things taste bitter or lack sweetness but this isn’t the case with all foods. As I mentioned before, this is affecting a range of things, including raw food, cooked food and processed items, such as, readymade peanut butter etc.

Currently, the warning has gone, so foods no longer smell foul. Therefore, I have to eat them before realising that I can’t stomach them!

It started off with butternut squash. Then I struggled with bananas. Then I discovered peanut butter was out! Finally, peppers were added to the list. This was constant for a while.

Later, I struggled to eat a dish that I love! Vagaareli Khichdi. It was the cumin.

The things that I can’t stand the taste of now include cooked peanuts, leeks and onions in any form and rocket. This is in addition to the above. Although peanut butter tastes less foul now, it’s still not pleasant to eat.

An antibodies test

The GP suggested getting an antibodies test but she explained that if it was negative, it wouldn’t mean that I’ve not had COVID-19. It would simply mean that I no longer have the antibodies. Articles report that these antibodies can disappear within 3 weeks of catching the virus, so what chance did I have, 7 months later? On the other hand, if it was positive, it would confirm that I did have it back in March and it would reassure me about these new symptoms.

So I did the test and it came back with a positive result. Thus confirming that I had COVID-19 back in March.

Is having antibodies a good thing?

Antibody testing determines whether you had COVID-19 in the past and now have antibodies against the virus. It may mean that you have some immunity but it doesn’t mean you’re immune to being reinfected with the virus.

Inconvenience vs disruption

All of the above has been inconvenient but manageable. However, about a week ago, the vivid dreams have resulted in me clenching my teeth and the inside of my cheek is all cut up and sore! The dreams were so disturbing, I barely slept, I had to cancel the plans I had on the following day and since then, I’ve been struggling to eat, speak and laugh!

Summary and new symtpoms

This section was added on February 13th 2021

  • it took from March until July to recover from the fatigue and loss of taste/smell etc.
  • Since the 3rd week of September, I’m experiencing a warped sense of taste and smell, which I now know is called parosmia 
    • Things I eat frequently taste bitter or lack sweetness, or make me gag
  • I’m having vivid dreams, struggling to fall asleep and only managing to sleep lightly, so I’m not well-rested in the morning
  • I’m also waking up during the night because my shoulders ache. This is not like the pain I’ve endured from previous whiplash injuries. It’s different.
  • For the last few weeks, I’ve had dry skin on my face, red bumps at times and the skin even became leathery
    • My skin is dry but I’ve never experienced this
    • I’m treating that with an emollient and it seems to be working
  • Now my scalp is itchy and when I’ve scratched it, it’s bled and my back is itchy too
    • I used to have psoriasis on my scalp when I was a kid but haven’t had that for over 20 years
  • I’ve just spoken to my GP who said COVID resets your immune system and that can make things like this happen
  • It feels like the gift that keeps on giving!
  • Lastly, a couple of days ago, I wasn’t doing much, I sat down to meditate and was struggling to breathe. My breath was noisy, no wheezing but it felt like I had to work hard/breathe deep to get, what didn’t feel like, enough of a breath. It lasted for about an hour!
    • Prior to that, between May and Sept, I’ve experienced wheezing for short periods of time but didn’t feel discomfort and it would pass.
    • It could be when I was standing, lying down, sitting etc and wasn’t related to exertion.

So for those people who think COVID has two forms:

  1. it’s mild, which is defined by the fact that one isn’t hospitalised
  2. it’s severe, one ends up in a hospital and may die

I believe that to be too simple. There’s a large group of us who are experiencing a range of symptoms eleven months on, some of us never fully recovered and others did, but then began to notice things change.

It’s complex and not understood.

What was the point in sharing all of the above?

I guess there’s a few things…

  • the experience of COVID-19 is different for different people
  • the symptoms are different
  • the duration is varied
  • the intensity of the effects aren’t the same (we were told that ours was a mild version of it)
  • some have long COVID-19 in that they don’t fully recover
  • I fully recovered but then I experienced the things I’ve described above ie warped sense of taste and smell, not being able to sleep quickly, vivid dreams etc

I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through this. My great uncle passed away from COVID-19 and I know others who have been really ill with it.

Please be careful.

Many of us depend on human connection, we may need it because our situation at home isn’t great or we may have mental health issues and seeing others may help us navigate around that. There are many reasons why following the government’s guidance has been mega hard for many and it may be beginning to take its toll. Please be strong.

Related content

NHS: Taste and Smell
GOV.UK: Face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own
CDC: How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask
NHS: Antibody test to check if you’ve had coronavirus (COVID-19)
BBC News: Parosmia: ‘Since I had Covid, food makes me want to vomit’
NHS: NHS to offer ‘long covid’ sufferers help at specialist centres
NIHR: Living with Covid19
NHS: Your COVID Recovery
AbScent: Covid-19 Smell and Taste Loss
NHS: Sleeping Well
NHS: Fatigue
NHS: Memory and Concentration
NHS: Musculoskeletal, Shoulder and Back Pain
Which: Long Covid: what is it and what help is available?
NHS: Long-term effects of coronavirus (long COVID)
Lockdown, guidelines, masks and so on…
Why lockdown has been so SO difficult for some people
Spiritual learnings realised because of the coronavirus

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