At the very first signs of any of the symptoms, you must self-isolate, they said.
But what happens when both parents get symptoms within 24 hours of each other?
What happens when you have no relatives in the country who can take over?
What happens when one of your 3 children has a learning disability (Kathleen, 21y, Down syndrome), is on a very strict diet and gets distraught when you tell her she’s not allowed to come near you?
The worst is that Kathleen and myself had already been home for about 3 weeks (I only ventured out with my other daughter to get groceries when I couldn’t get a slot available for delivery or collection). My husband, Andrew, had already been working from home for the past 2 weeks as per the government guidelines. Our other 2 teenagers had also been home for 2 weeks.
It also has to be said that we are a very tactile family, always huddled up at night on the sofa while watching Netflix. We thought we were safe…
Andrew was the first hit. He started with a temperature and a dry cough. We knew straight away.
Although he immediately self-isolated in the master bedroom and the office, together with his phones and laptop, we wondered how efficient it would be, and how long it would take until the rest of the family got it too.
And so, that night I asked Kathleen if she would share her bed with me. I knew it would be a real treat for her as she’s got sleep anxiety; she’s always loved not sleeping alone. At least she got the upside of Daddy being poorly.
The next day, I started deep cleaning the house, full of energy. But by the evening, I began experiencing some shivering: I was next in line.
I tried my best to explain to Kathleen that from now on, for at least 7 days, she wouldn’t be allowed near me or her dad. It didn’t matter how I phrased it nor how many times, she refused point blank to abide by it. It just didn’t make any sense to her, I was in her bed the night before, what was I talking about? This is someone who needs and thrives on hugs, kissing and complimenting! I had kept her busy enough so she had stayed away from Andrew, but now me too? She had just about managed to grasp the social distancing with people outside (at the very beginning, when we were allowing her to walk the dog for 5mn every day) and she still kept asking when she would be able to get back to work, but all in all, she was relishing the fact that we were all together at home, ALL THE TIME! With the help of nonstop media coverage, she knew that this virus could be very bad. She couldn’t articulate the words “Coronavirus” or “Covid 19” but she recognised them when she heard them, as well as “lockdown” and “deaths”.
Andrew had a temperature for 2 days and a light but persistent cough for 2 weeks. I, on the other hand, was hit hard for 14 days. Strangely enough, I didn’t have any of the respiratory difficulties whatsoever, but I got everything else: high temperature (which my body doesn’t cope with very well at the best of times), unbearable headaches, breathlessness, terrible body aches, insomnia, there were days when I couldn’t even take myself to the toilets I was so weak.
Now, Kathleen has always been a carer at heart, she just loves looking after every member of the family even when she’s told not to. She’s instinctively motherly and it makes her happy.
When she witnessed the immediate change in my whole persona (I’m usually very active and busy around the house), she went into “worry mode”. I tried to fight her off from my bed whenever she would come into our bedroom, reason with her, yell at her (with the little strength I had left) but it only worked for 2 days. By day 3, she grabbed me from behind as I was snail-walking back into my bed and burst into tears. I followed suit and there was no going back. I would go in and out of sleep and wake up with her next to me massaging my feet or caressing my head… I tried to warn her she might catch it and then? My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to look after her. I was adamant she was gonna get it too, after all, she always caught everything there was to catch, why not this? “I promise I won’t catch it, mummy. I want to look after you, love you, make you tea, make you better. You’re my mummy and I love you.” And she did.
Andrew managed to work through it. I managed to get from the bed to the sofa to the toilets back to bed, somedays I even made it to the shower. This virus played with my head and my body like a yo-yo. Every time I thought I was getting better, the next day was worse. To the point where I eventually decided to call 111 and went through the whole telephone assessments, and then a face-to-face assessment by a GP who advised me to go to A&E.
Kathleen was besides herself with worry. She kept calling us and when we didn’t answer, she found a way to call the surgery herself and spoke and cried to the receptionist (I still need to investigate how she managed that)!!! They kept me in A&E for a few hours until they felt it was best for me to go home and rest as much as I could (that was day 11). She was overjoyed when I arrived back home.
I hate to think of the damage it would have caused her mental health had I been admitted. Her sleep anxieties would have got worse, for sure.
My other 2 are more like typical teenagers, they knew I would be fine. One went on YouTube to learn how to cook dinner, and the other one kind of tried to clean up the mess of the first one…
So, you see, it’s not like Kathleen left me much of a choice. She was going to nurse me back to health, by hook or by crook. And let me tell you, she was relentless, helping me walk up and down the stairs (somehow, although she is quite petite, she’s as strong as an ox, always has been, which seems to be quite common with people with DS), out of the shower, in and out of the toilets, wiping my tears of frustration away, bringing me water, Paracetamol (loads of it), tea, a blanket, a cushion. She massaged my feet, legs, hands, arms every single night. Helped me put my robe on first thing in the morning, took my temperature, and told me countless times how much she loved me and how beautiful I looked.
I don’t understand how it’s possible, but I’m just so grateful none of my children got it (although Jessica did lose her sense of taste and smell at some point…), that Andrew didn’t get it too bad, that I never had to be admitted to hospital. I have to say, the few hours I was there, every single member of staff was ace: reassuring, caring, calming.
Family is everything. NHS is irreplaceable. Good neighbours and friends are vital. Never take them for granted.
Today is day 16 and I know I’m out of the woods. And I wish everybody could say the same.
(You can follow Kathleen on Instagram @kathleenhumberstone or Facebook Kathleen Humberstone or Twitter @KathleenHumber4)