What it was like getting hit with COVID-19
Well, I dodged it for two years, but COVID finally got me. My three vaccine doses and a course of anti-viral drugs have kept me out of danger, making me one of the lucky ones. But it felt like anything but mild. For me, it’s a wakeup call: We all want to move on, but COVID isn’t done with us.
I was shocked how powerfully it hit me. My symptoms, which first developed the weekend before Easter, have ranged from crippling fatigue to a severe headache, muscle aches, and a cough that wouldn’t let me sleep. And that’s not to mention the psychological hit.
I’ll admit it’s been a scary experience. All the old fears from the early pandemic have reared their ugly heads. Apart from death, it’s always been long COVID that scares me most. Hearing accounts from a colleague who suffers brain fog and has only half his previous energy levels, my daughter’s friend with high blood pressure and smokers lungs, and countless other accounts of people suffering from lasting debilitating after effects fills me with dread.
But my biggest initial worry was infecting others. My UN colleagues — all the way up to the Secretary General, with whom I always mask up — are thankfully all negative. I wore a mask at home once I tested positive but passed it on to my husband before I knew I had it. I also gave it to my son. Both developed hefty symptoms too.
Getting COVID now caught me off guard. Things had almost seemed back to normal at the UN headquarters. The vast halls filled with determined diplomats, the small talk in the lines for the reopened coffee bar, the return of in-person meetings — masks optional. The Russian invasion of Ukraine dominated discourse — the war is the UN’s new global crisis. COVID-19 seemed to be fading into the past.
Meanwhile, it felt like the whole of New York has been reawakening with the arrival of spring. Maskless faces have appeared in the streets, revealing facial expressions after years of lost nuance. Social life has returned, and with them invitations — a dinner here, a reception there. We no longer had to flash our vaccination status to enter restaurants.
But all this time COVID hadn’t gone away. It was always there, stalking the periphery, waiting to pounce. In recent days the city’s rising caseload had me worrying. The surging, highly contagious Omicron subvariant, BA.2 was seeking out people like me — the cautious so-far uninfected. More and more of my contacts were positive. I’d work out when I last saw them, wonder when my turn would come. Then, at last, it did.
Let me be clear, I don’t think the answer is to stay locked down forever. The presence of the vaccines and the anti-viral drugs for the at-risk have taken the sting out of COVID for most. But it is still dangerous for the many unvaccinated — by choice or not — and for those with existing conditions.
One third of the world’s population has not received a single dose, including an eyewatering 83% of Africans. It is utterly shameful when wealthy countries are so awash with doses. The new antiviral drugs on the market are free for people with prescriptions in New York City, but unavailable or unaffordable to most parts of the world and for those who need them most. I find it just as hard to fathom why so many refuse to protect themselves, risking their lives due to conspiracy theories.
The pandemic isn’t over. How can it be when so many are dying every single day? I see some of their faces on my Twitter feed. Many of the victims are young, their whole lives ahead of them. They leave behind countless more whose lives have been blown apart by tragedy. How can they move on?
We’re all desperate to start a more hopeful chapter. But getting COVID at this moment brought home just how much pain and loss the pandemic has caused. Those who’ve so far escaped tragedy must acknowledge the grief of those who have lost loved ones. One million people are being mourned in the U.S. alone. We must be patient, for their sakes.
This is a difficult moment. We can’t hide forever, and thanks to science, if you’re fully protected, you’re now unlikely to end up in hospital. But take it from me, COVID is no common cold. So, stay vigilant, if not for yourself, then for the vulnerable. Every death is a tragedy. Many can be prevented.