Until last week, I was one of the 15% of people who had never had Covid. Now, like many in this new wave, I’ve succumbed
Two lines? Really? There must be some mistake. This was what went through my head last week, on seeing my first positive lateral flow test. Ah, maybe it’s a duff test, I thought, sitting at the foot of my bed feeling slightly shocked but otherwise absolutely fine and symptomless. So I did another one.
That was positive, too, the line next to the little C so thick and vibrant it seemed to be animated on the test strip. Would a third be wasteful? And seeing as I believed every negative test to be accurate, why should the positive be so much less trustworthy?
The further proof I craved arrived over the next four or five hours, as I proceeded to feel increasingly dreadful. My God, the aches! The fever! And during a heatwave, as well. The humanity!
Until last week I was among the 15% of people in England who had never had Covid – despite, thankfully, not being in a clinically vulnerable group of people who have needed to shield and stay Covid-free. According to UK Health Security Agency figures released last week, people like me are accounting for about 55% of cases in the current Covid wave, driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron.
I was hardly unsympathetic to those around me who had got Covid. It’s difficult to downplay an illness like this one after all we’ve seen and the lives that have been lost. As a result, I was slightly terrified of catching it, but there’s nothing like a bit of first-hand experience to offer fresh insight. Turns out, it’s quite bad. Not that anyone really cared at this late stage.
“Such a shame for you that you’ll get no sympathy because you’re two years out of date,” replied one friend when I messaged to say I had tested positive. “I’m sure you feel bad, but it simply doesn’t matter any more.”
In fact, it was far more noteworthy to my nearest and dearest that I’d finally caught the virus after so many close shaves. My girlfriend has had it (twice), my housemate, too (twice), not to mention all the colleagues I had spent days alongside before they fell ill and the friends I had seen the day before they reported a positive case.
Like so many people, I took numerous precautions during the pandemic to minimise exposure, and have continued with some of these now that restrictions have all but vanished. I cycle to work whenever possible, and until very recently wore a mask on public transport. I do, however, go to the pub, to restaurants, to the cinema and attend more gigs than I did before the pandemic. After a miserable old time, I reasoned that catching Covid was the cost of doing business – better enjoy life and get ill than stay locked away but virus-free. I have long realised how lucky I am to be able to think that way, but as variants came and went, new wave led to new wave and my life got back to sort of normal, the negative tests kept on coming.
I had very mixed feelings about my positive test, not least because I had been due to visit friends in Norway and had to cancel the trip, but it also put paid to my theory about potentially being a global saviour. The longer my apparent immunity went on, the more I daydreamed that my DNA was key to creating a worldwide super-vaccine. But no, turns out I’m just like almost everybody else. Even Joe Biden.
So last week, as well as the Covid symptoms and an accompanying chest infection, I had to deal with that rather abrupt comedown soothed only by the occasional medicinal Calippo delivered to my door by a kindly neighbour. The realisation was rather hammered home by watching a week of superhuman exploits at the athletics world championships.
Now that I’m back to earth and back in work, mixed in with the disappointment and the bruised ego invented for comedic effect I’m left with a peculiar feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Perhaps it’s relief that I’ve finally got Covid out of the way? No more wondering what it’s like. Climate emergency notwithstanding, the defining story of my age has been raging on since spring 2020, and I’ve finally taken part – if you can call lying in bed, sweating and coughing, taking part.
And perhaps it’s just gratitude – that I am now emerging seemingly unscathed, thanks no doubt to the genius of the vaccine and my prior decent health. More than 200,000 people in the UK weren’t as lucky, and in my darker moments last week, I thought about them a lot.
Andy Welch is an assistant production editor at the Guardian