Covid-Positive in Europe’s Second Wave

by Kirsty Gordge

Mid-pandemic, a New Zealander travels halfway across the world to be with her partner in the Czech Republic. But the journey comes at a cost.

I closed the door to our home behind me, and before I even took my boots off, I said, “Martin, I don’t feel well. I have a strong headache. I need to drink lots of water.”

Over the next few hours, my assumption that I was just dehydrated after a hectic day at work got weaker and felt like a feeble excuse. I finished my sixth glass of water and admitted I now felt foggier than when I first got home.

It crossed my mind in a fleeting moment that this might be Covid-19. I quickly dismissed it; how ridiculous! I wasn’t going to get Covid. I’d spent all year avoiding it! I’d been through two New Zealand lockdowns (after visiting home on “holiday”), separated from my partner for 5 months, and was on a financial rollercoaster. It would be silly to get it now.

Still, statistically speaking, the numbers in the Czech Republic were currently rising, and rapidly. As an English teacher I had been in contact with loads of people since I got back to Brno (where no quarantining was necessary, if coming from a low-risk country), and my long-haul flight was actually only 8 days ago. The thought nagged at me as I turned the bedside light out and slipped into a deep sleep.

The next few days I spent at home; I’d woken up and decided that the right thing to do was avoid people, just in case. It made sense. My boyfriend had already moved into the other room, just in case. And he was planning to cook and deliver my meals to the bedroom, just in case.

The headaches and fuzziness deepened as the days passed, the pressure in my head making me feel like I was on an airplane. My nose began to run a little. Eating and showering took a lot of effort. I managed to teach some of my students online for a few hours a day, but I was totally “done” after that. Vitamin D with a cocktail of tomato juice and squeezed lemon (with olive oil and ground pepper—highly recommend) became a daily ritual.

Between Day Three and Five, my eyes felt swollen and tired, and even with all the windows open, I was stuffy. Swallowing became uncomfortable, and I lost my sense of humor (never good). I was aware of my nose in a way I’d never been before; I could actually feel the inside of it. It was like having a mint and then going outside and breathing very cold air: refreshing, for a second, and then icy, uncomfortable, and irritating. My lymph glands were sensitive, and I felt warm and swollen. My eyes were watery, and on Day Seven I sneezed, a lot. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a fever; my temperature remained around 36.5 Celsius. This was partly the reason I was still in denial, coupled with the dread of having to deal with a foreign health system.

A test center in the Czech Republic during the pandemic

The turning point was when Martin cooked fish, and we realized I couldn’t smell it at all. On the same evening, I had trouble sleeping and everything felt worse, so we called my doctor the next morning, and I was approved for a Covid-19 test, and booked in for a few days later. (In the Czech Republic you must be referred by a doctor to have a test for free; otherwise you can pay around 1800 CZK for a private one (approx. USD78)).

When the cotton swab was pushed far through the back of my nose, I reflexively pulled away and whimpered “no, no, no, no,” and the doctor actually looked sorry for me. I couldn’t believe that in all the footage I’d seen of people getting nose-swabbed on the news in NZ, not a single one of them had winced appropriately. My eyes teared up in sorrow.

Walking away, my burst bubble repaired itself, and I felt a sense of pride, and duty. The fresh air through my hyper-sensitive nose felt good. Whatever happened from here, I would join the world statistics, and I felt good about that, like I was joining a community. All I had to do now was go back to bed and wait for the SMS.

The next morning I was confirmed Covid-positive and told to stay at home until I was contacted by a Health Official. Relief unexpectedly washed over me. Okay, it was Covid; I believed it now. The pure fact of having a diagnosis was actually comforting. Every day I’d been waiting for it to get worse; each day could have been the day I went to the hospital. But luckily, it never happened.

Ten days later and I was declared “recovered” by a Health Official on the phone and allowed back out into society.

I was free!

Going back into classrooms and offices after Covid was difficult. For the first week I had headaches at the end of each day and felt completely exhausted. Small things like rubbing out the whiteboard reminded me just how weak I was. But I slowly regained my strength, and four weeks on, am still feeling marginally better each day.

It remains unclear where I “got it” from. Although the long-haul flight seems like the obvious perpetrator, I feel like it was the safest place I’ve been since leaving New Zealand. The plastic face shields on top of face masks, white latex gloves and regular hand sanitizing was enough to make me feel protected. Arriving at Vienna airport and taking off all the PPE was slightly uncomfortable; I wanted to remain in my safe bubble, not mix with humans who sometimes wore their masks below their noses.

But in the midst of a second wave, the origin of my Covid doesn’t seem important. Above all, I feel incredibly lucky that I didn’t have it worse. After the second Czech lockdown was announced in October, other European countries soon followed suit. Needless to say by November, the novelty factor of being housebound again has worn off, but we are focusing on the positives, with a side-helping of gratitude.

However, as a Covid “survivor” (or at least a recovered statistic) the approach to life is a little different. The fear of catching it has been erased, but so has the entire purpose of the last ten months in which the point of life seemed to be, literally, to not catch Covid-19.

I’ve already had what we are – still – supposedly all trying to avoid.

But it’s not just me. There are 37 million of us, all across the globe.

Does this make us… day-walkers?

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