Millennials haven’t been too concerned about contracting coronavirus. While we aren’t all as irresponsible as the young people caught on camera during spring break in Florida ("If I get corona, I get corona"), most people's concerns have seemed to lie with the economic fallout of the pandemic. We might not be able to pay our rent but we’re young! We’re healthy! We do Barry’s Bootcamp twice a week! Even if we do get it, we’ll be fine. After all, the early messaging was clear: the older you are, the more at risk you are from COVID-19.
But things have changed. At a press conference last week, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a stark warning: "I have a message for young people: You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you." He was right. Only a few days after my 27th birthday, I was hospitalised due to coronavirus.
In the weeks leading up to contracting the virus, I was pretty healthy. I don’t smoke, I barely drink and I exercise frequently. I do have asthma but only mildly during hayfever season and I rarely need my inhaler. That was, until now.
I started to feel unwell on Wednesday two weeks ago. I woke up tired and groggy, as though I'd had a bad night’s sleep. I had been at home, looking after my mum who had tested positive for the virus a week before. While I had sort of accepted that I, too, would contract the virus, I didn’t think it would hit me so hard and so quickly. That night I woke repeatedly with a raging fever. I was drenched in sweat, my head was pounding and I felt faint. I took my temperature: 39 degrees. Something was very wrong.
By Friday, I couldn’t get out of bed. My body had completely shut down. I slept for the majority of the day and couldn’t eat anything. On Saturday, it felt like someone had kicked me in the temples.
As a family, we had self-isolated for most of the month and I had spent it running up and down the house ensuring my mother was well looked after, taking her temperature, feeding her small bowls of soup, making sure she was medicated while speaking with doctors over the phone who monitored her progress. My anxiety levels were high and I had two panic attacks in one day. I was worried about my mother, who was so worried herself that she’d cry. At this time, the UK infection and death rates for coronavirus were relatively low; we had hope, at least. But as my mother’s health improved, mine deteriorated. Fast.
By Sunday, my chest tightened and I struggled to get any oxygen into my lungs. I couldn’t stop coughing and vomiting. I texted my friend who is a doctor for some advice. She advised me to take 10 puffs of my asthma pump to relieve the wheezing. It worked for a few hours but then it got worse. She told me to go to the hospital for treatment. My dad dropped me off at a London hospital A&E and after a few hours, I was given a nebuliser (a machine that combines medicine and oxygen in a fine mist which is then inhaled into the lungs), swabbed and sent home. But things got worse and three hours later, I had to dial 999.
I was suddenly unable to breathe. My chest was heavy. My lungs were tight. My head and heart were pounding. I’ve had the flu before but this was far more menacing.
The journey to the hospital was a blur. The blue lights, the loud siren. A paramedic wearing protective clothing, visor and a mask squeezed my hand through gloves for comfort as I desperately took deep breaths to inhale as much oxygen as I could. My parents weren’t allowed to come with me so I was alone and terrified. When I arrived at the hospital I cried and cried as the nurses comforted me as best they could while hooking me up to the oxygen machine and taking blood samples. I was given fluids and antibiotics for a chest infection. Meanwhile, all I could hear were alarms and beeps echoing through the hospital. There were hurried footsteps and medical staff talking in hushed tones. It was scary.
Monday was the darkest day. My chest tightened as though I had smoked a brick of Marlboro Reds while walking up 100 floors on a StairMaster. Each time I took a breath, I’d feel a sharp pain; the nurse said I had pulled a muscle from violently coughing. The oxygen helped and kept my anxiety levels down. I slept. A lot. By Tuesday, I was able to sit up properly in bed and take in my surroundings. There were eight beds in the isolated ward, many with the curtains closed around them, but I could hear the faint hissing of the other patients’ oxygen tanks. I was surprised to see that I wasn’t the only ‘young’ one there. One guy on the ward looked in his mid 20s, others seemed to be in their 30s or 40s. My nurse, who had been attentively looking after me, told me I was lucky to have been brought in so quickly. I noticed she was trying to lift the mood, despite the fear in her eyes. She told me I was strong and would get back to good health soon. I didn’t believe her. Then I received a text from my friend, asking if I was still alive. I read it out to my nurse. "Still alive? Of course you are. I’m looking after you!" she said, smiling at me. And she did.
By Thursday, I was allowed to go home to finish my recovery. The first thing I did when I walked out of the hospital to the car was look up to the sky, take in the fresh air and let the sun’s warmth drench my face. I was relieved I could see another day.
I’m a young, fit and healthy twentysomething who never imagined I could be hospitalised from coronavirus. I survived; others haven’t been so lucky. It’s been 20 days since I went into quarantine and five days since I was discharged from the hospital and I still can’t do very much without feeling exhausted. Had I not self-isolated when I did, I may have unknowingly infected hundreds of other people.
In the UK, COVID-19 has killed over 1,400 people and infected over 22,000; it worries me that young people are not taking this seriously. Coronavirus isn’t here so you can relax in the park with friends or sneak out for a barbecue. It has brought so much darkness to families all over the world, and continues to do so. Please listen to the government’s advice and stay home.
The World Health Organization says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.