Having toughed it out alone with Covid-19 and survived, one Kiwi man learned the hard way how self-isolation really can save lives, writes Jill Herron

Choosing to self-isolate early with only Sophie the spaniel as company led to a lonesome, rough ride through Covid-19 for a Christchurch asthmatic – but one that very likely saved others from a similar fate.

For two weeks his adult son dropped food parcels on the step while John* lurched through a painful and frightening series of symptoms, from total exhaustion to feeling like his body was being randomly pricked by a pin.

On March 13, the 50-year-old Christchurch IT consultant had just returned from South East Asia, a long-awaited holiday he’d embarked on before the seriousness of the Covid-19 situation became apparent. 

On returning he chose to immediately self-isolate and within a few days developed fairly random symptoms. He put it down to a food-related upset or some other bug you might pick up from an aeroplane. He informed health authorities of the skin soreness, muscle aches and pin-prick sensations, was advised to stay home and rest, and later that week was feeling better.

“I was still able to work from home, with some discomfort. I was feeling a lot better. Then on Friday evening the symptoms returned with a vengeance. I felt pain all over, rather than just aches. I had a slight fever but no other Covid symptoms.”

The next day a Ministry of Health official phoned to say a passenger seated near him on his flight to New Zealand from Sydney had tested positive for the virus. An assessment was arranged for the Sunday afternoon. By this stage John was sleeping about 20 hours a day, had a dry cough and could barely walk to the toilet and back without puffing and needing to rest along the way. 

“I drove myself to the test lab, close to Christchurch Hospital. I was so weak and tired, it was quite an effort and I fell asleep in the waiting room. I think I waited about 40 minutes. There was one other person there before me. I was asked many questions about symptoms and circumstances. I don’t think I would have been tested had I not met a certain amount of criteria. The doctor was filling in a whiteboard of all the criteria, and at one point nodded to the nurse. That was the signal that I was going to get the test.”

The nasopharyngeal test involved a long swab being pushed up his the nose right to the back of the throat – an eye-watering experience in itself, he says.

Over the next two days his symptoms worsened further and on Tuesday a positive test result came through. Community and Public Health staff phoned John daily and his doctor organised a video consultation. 

Sophie the spaniel was John’s only companionship for two weeks. Photo: Supplied

“Over that week, sleep was my only respite. I would dream that I was fine – out riding my bike or something, only to wake and slowly realise that I was very sick, and try to go back to sleep. Often I would wake at noon. It took quite an effort to get up, shower, feed the dog and get myself upstairs to the couch. I would be puffing and feeling extreme fatigue. I developed more of a cough and a nasty headache.”

For six days John couldn’t eat, made worse by an oddly heightened sense of taste and smell. Things that used to smell good now turned his stomach and even sips of iced water tasted foul and had to be forced down.

His son tried to tempt him with everything from lemonade ice blocks to toffee pops, but all John could face was white bread. “I would only have one piece of toast with jam. Sometimes I couldn’t even finish that. The dog was happy though.”

By the end of last week the flu-like symptoms began to abate and John reports now feeling better each day, helped along by daily calls from friends, family and colleagues.

“I am so pleased I did not visit friends or family,” he says. “I would hate for them or anyone to go through this. It would have been so easy for me to spread this – so glad I didn’t. I know we hear about how some people, especially the young, have the virus with little or no symptoms, and that can make us less vigilant and maybe blasé or apathetic. That is what makes this virus so dangerous to the general population.”

Now John says he has “hit peak Netflix” and feels for those locked down with children and young people. But he knows he and Sophie must wait it out like us all. His tomatoes and chillies are ripening, though he doesn’t have the energy to harvest them. He probably shouldn’t be making food for others anyway, he reckons. 

“Sorry to my friends waiting on a batch of chilli relish.”

* Newsroom agreed to use a pseudonym to protect the subject’s privacy.

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