Judy is a triage nurse in a call centre in Bristol. She told us about her feelings of survivor guilt after contracting Covid 19, but also about the other complicated feelings arising during lockdown. She’s in training to become a funeral celebrant and is keenly aware of how utterly painful it is right now for people to plan and have the funeral they need. Thankfully Judy only had a mild case, here she tells us how that made her feel as well as her hopes and dreams for what might come out of this awful situation.
©Kellie Sikkema for Unsplash
I was on a training course when I spiked a temperature on 24th April 2020. It should have been a residential course in a beautiful location in Devon but instead it was conducted on Zoom and I was attending from my kitchen table due to the covid-19 pandemic. The country was in lock down.
Turns out this was the start of a fortunately very mild case of covid-19. So why, on receiving a positive test result by text message a week later, by which time I felt perfectly well, did a friend’s reaction of “congratulations!” upset me? It upset me because a friend’s sister had died of the same infection during the same week that I had brushed it off. I couldn’t accept being congratulated for something so random.
But I should be relieved! I am relieved. In fact, I’m still pinching myself that the thing that’s killing all these other people only gave me a raised temperature for less than 24 hours.
So I can relax, can’t I? Can I? “They” say evidence shows you can’t get it again. Are you sure? Are “they” sure? I was lucky. Was I lucky to be going to work as a “key worker” while others stayed home? Yes: I still have a job. I’m still being paid. No: I contracted it in the course of my work. I didn’t know I was going to be lucky that night I had a high temperature. I had been training a large cohort of new recruits only days before. I suspected social distancing had been compromised so it seemed likely that this could be “it”.
Living alone, I wondered if I might be too unwell by morning to get out of bed so I took my phone and charger up to bed, a jug of water, a pack of paracetamol, a packet of crackers and another jug to pee in (the bathroom is downstairs, I’d heard that climbing stairs could feel like climbing Everest). I phoned my sister to check she still had a key for my house in case the cats needed feeding. I decided to wait until morning before telling my son, who had locked down with his student friends in their shared house 200 miles away.
By morning the temperature was already back to near-normal, the jug was blessedly unused and I could let my son know that I’d had a fever overnight but seemed to be better already. I didn’t mention covid as I wasn’t sure (although I think part of me WAS sure) and there seemed no cause for alarm. I spent the next week in self-isolation, slightly waiting for the more serious symptoms you read about, but had none. My chest felt a bit tight at times but that was probably anxiety. Halfway through the week I suddenly and completely lost my sense of both taste and smell, but that was all. I realised when the cat had done a poo on the carpet but I didn’t notice for hours. Usually the smell would make me gag. Bonus.
By the time I was due to return to work, testing for key workers had just been introduced and I was referred for testing by my employer before returning. The airport-based test centre is far from convenient for anyone without a car or feeling too unwell to make the hour and a half round trip but for me it was a joy after a week indoors. The sun was shining, there was blossom on the trees, the view from Bedminster Down to the Clifton Suspension Bridge has always been stunning but it looked so beautiful on that day it brought tears to my eyes; as did the grounded planes at the airport. Going on holiday currently feels like an impossibility and the memory of my flight attendant days made me sad for my former colleagues who have been laid off.
The test itself was less enjoyable: the car was boiling hot as windows must be kept shut and catching sight of myself in my rear view mirror sweating and gagging on the throat swab was not a good look.
Collage and stitch artwork of Clifton Suspension Bridge by Zoe Gibbons. More here.
Two days later, the result arrived in a very large type by text message: your COVID-19 test has come back POSITIVE. Having had no fever since that first day, I was expecting it to be negative by the time I was tested. I was still quite shocked to have it confirmed retrospectively.
What would I have done pre-covid if I had felt unwell while away on a training course? Would I have returned home? No, the course was expensive! I’d have dosed myself up on paracetamol at the picturesque guest house run by an elderly couple and dragged myself to the crowded pub in the evening with the other participants. I’d probably have joined them for a curry in order not to be a party pooper. Life of the party, me! Except, in the time of covid-19, I could have been the death of the party. A “super-spreader”.
By the end of the (now online) course, the fever had gone down and I’d still participated in the whole training, ironically to become a Funeral Celebrant. I joked with the other participants that they could lead my funeral if I died and please could I have “You Only Live Twice” sung by Nancy Sinatra from the 1967 Bond film of the same name. But how ridiculously dramatic that sounds, even in jest. I’ve never bothered to plan my funeral before or thank my lucky stars to be alive after a bad case of the flu, a general anaesthetic, running a red light by mistake or all the flights I took as a flight attendant without crashing. Congratulations! You didn’t die! That sounds silly.
“They” say the risk of death from covid-19 is no greater, it’s just that all the deaths are happening together. But I knew one of them. And many did the same job as me – nursing. And hundreds have been caused by unsafe working conditions. And all of them are someone’s loved ones.
If it’s possible to live twice, one life for yourself and one for your dreams, as in the words of the song, my dream is to gain my diploma as a funeral celebrant and help those mourning loved ones to hold the best funeral or memorial they can, even if it has to be conducted online for the time being.
I dream of restoring the NHS to a properly managed public service that works in the public interest. Also to maintain fewer cars on the roads, to ensure safe working conditions for all, to not be expected to come to work when you are ill. To see an end to zero hours contracts and hot desking and taking meal breaks at your workstation – not only to prevent infection but to promote decent, humane working conditions. I dream of a better way of life, funding for the arts which have sustained our mental wellbeing during lockdown, higher taxes for those who can afford them (we know many of us can, judging by the amount of charity funding that has been raised for public services during this time which should have been funded by taxation), more home and flexible working.
We have reconnected with the most simple joys in life such as a walk outside and we shall soon be able to see some of our loved ones again. Stay safe, won’t you?
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