Guest Notes

Wu flu notes

28 March 2020

9:00 AM

28 March 2020

9:00 AM

My Coronavirus hell

Many of you will be wondering what it’s like to get the coronavirus – aka Wu Flu, Covid-19, etc. Well I can tell you: it feels bloody great. Not the actual flu part, obviously – that part is horrible. I mean the bit afterwards once it’s all over and you realise with gratitude not only that you are still alive but also – yay! – you have a degree of immunity to this plague that is infecting and terrifying everybody else around you.

I don’t mean to play down the seriousness of Coronavirus. For an unlucky minority it means a stint in hospital. And for the unluckiest it means the kind of slow lingering death you wouldn’t wish on anyone, let alone your beloved elderly relatives. But the fact remains that for most of us, the worst thing about Coronavirus will not be the disease itself but the fear of the unknown leading up to your (almost inevitable) infection.

‘Will it turn bad and give me pneumonia?’ you wonder. Well I certainly did – and with good reason. As a fifty-something sufferer of Lyme disease and with lungs that were damaged by a pulmonary embolism, I’m very much in the ‘at risk’ category. Plus, being of a morbid disposition and having done quite a bit of research, I’m under no illusions about the potential risks. What can end up killing you is the ‘cytokine storm’, in which the virus persuades your immune system to attack itself so that your body, effectively, commits suicide – and you drown in your own lungs.

No doubt that’s why I was so paranoid when at the end of January I went up to London for two nights of partying with the wife – it was the Brexit Day celebrations – and we found ourselves staying in a hotel swarming with Chinese tourists. On one occasion, I remember waiting for the lift and a whole group of them emerged. Fearing they might be infected, I waited till they’d gone (obviously I didn’t want to be rude), then I took a gulp of air, dashed inside the lift and held my breath for the entire journey until I got out at my floor, hoping I hadn’t inhaled any of their viral miasma. At the time, I did feel a bit of an idiot. Now I wonder whether I was cautious enough.

More likely, I think, I contracted it at breakfast. You know what those hotel breakfast buffets are like – dozens of guests breathing and sneezing over the rolls and the butter, pawing the cutlery and jugs of fruit juice and the handles of the tureens with all the pale, unappetising bacon and congealed scrambled egg inside. We were all much less worried about hygiene in those innocent, pre-pandemic days. I wonder if we’ll ever be so complacent again.

Anyway, three or four days afterwards I went down with a bug. I felt too rotten to note the precise symptoms as they arrived. But my wife did because she was observing carefully, in case she got it too. First came the characteristic dry cough; then a fever such as I’ve almost never had before – one where I woke in the middle of the night, my t-shirt drenched with sweat. I remember thinking: ‘That’s good! Fevers are nature’s way of speeding you through your cold.’

That’s what I thought it was: a cold. Partly because my nose was a bit runny (though not exactly streaming), partly because despite having been obsessing about coronavirus for weeks it scarcely occurred that I might have it for real. Being a hypochondriac – as I am – sometimes has its disadvantages. It makes you capable of overthinking – persuading yourself you can’t possibly have the thing you fear you’ve got because you know you’re a hypochondriac.

How bad was it? Bad enough to feel rotten and irritable and sorry for myself; not so bad that I couldn’t carry on working. I still wrote my articles, though they took me twice as long as usual. And I didn’t cancel any of my engagements, such as the debate at Durham University where I had to speak for the motion ‘This House believes in patriotism.’ I wasn’t on top form, but my side still won – quite an achievement given that students are so lefty. Afterwards, my children – Boy and Girl – who are both at the university, dragged their sick reluctant father to various parties. It’s possible I infected lots of undergraduates. Or maybe not. The next day, I spent four hours in the car travelling home with the kids – and neither developed any symptoms.

That weekend, when I was still feeling awful, my fellow scribe Douglas Murray came to stay. Oddly enough, he too was suffering from what he called a ‘bad cold’ which he’d picked up in Italy. With hindsight, I think it’s quite likely that he too had had the Coronavirus without knowing it. But we didn’t discuss it any further because Murray – taking his cue from the great social commentator Nicky Haslam – declared that illness is frightfully ‘common.’

The worst of it lasted two weeks. I still have the lingering dry cough. As far as I know, the only person I infected was my wife, who got a much milder version – no fever, just the cough. This makes me suspect that many more people have – or have had – coronavirus than the statistics acknowledge. They just haven’t been tested.

Five weeks on, apart from the cough, I feel pretty good – OK physically, but just amazing mentally because I feel so incredibly smug. ‘I’ve already had it, so I’m immune,’ I boast to anyone who’ll listen – shopkeepers, the postman, passers-by. It’s almost like having a superpower or being the Omega Man who survives the apocalypse.

Yes, I know there are cases of people being reinfected. But I still feel much better off than all those of you trembling at home and awaiting with trepidation the first hot flush and that first dry hak hak hak…

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