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'We had a lot of chats through the bedroom door': What it's like to recover from COVID-19 at home

Four out of five people with coronavirus will not need hospital care.

WHILE HOSPITAL TREATMENT may be essential for some people who contract COVID-19, it’s important to remember that this will not be the case for everyone. Four out of five people will recover with rest and careful care in their own homes.

As doctors and healthcare staff are seeing worldwide, the virus affects each person differently. Yes, there are a selection of symptoms seen more commonly than others – like a cough, a fever, muscle pains and fatigue – but the severity of these can vary hugely from case to case.

If you begin to show symptoms of coronavirus, there are a number of guidelines available online via the HSE for self-care at home, including advice for isolating from others in your house.

“I had some idea of what might be going on”

Katie O’Neill is a PhD student living with three housemates in Dublin city centre. She first began showing symptoms of COVID-19 on March 29, and has since tested positive. Katie self-isolated in her bedroom for two weeks and continues to restrict her movements.

“I was prepared in a way, because I was the second person in our house to start showing symptoms,” she says.

“My housemate had been self-isolating since March 18. Her symptoms started with a high temperature, so when I started to feel feverish eleven days later, I had some idea of what might be going on. 

“I had the heating on and an electric blanket going full blast in bed and I was still shivering. I took my temperature, which was 38C at that point, so I messaged my housemates and we agreed I should stay in the bedroom from then on. I called the GP the next morning.”

Aside from a visit to the walk-in test centre at Croke Park five days later, Katie remained in her bedroom for two weeks, with plenty of support from her housemates:

“When my housemate was sick initially, I started making all her meals and dropping them to her door. Once she was able to leave her room, she did the same for me. We would talk a lot with the door open too, I’d sit by my open window and she’d sit in the hallway.”

“It was important to keep life normal for the kids”

For Lisa McGrath, whose husband Paul tested positive for coronavirus on March 23, the main challenge was in explaining the situation to her three children, aged 9, 13 and 15. Paul first began showing symptoms on March 14.

“I was worried about worrying the kids,” she says. “We’re lucky enough that we have a spare room, so when Paul woke up with a fever, which would be very unusual for him, we kicked into action pretty quickly. I moved into the empty bedroom.

From then on, “we were just trying to keep things normal,” says Lisa, who cared for Paul while he self-isolated at home:

We couldn’t be sure if it was coronavirus or not, so we just had to assume it was, and try to be as careful as possible. None of the rest of us showed any symptoms which was a huge relief.

For Lisa and Paul, “normal” meant explaining the situation to their three kids, reminding them to avoid physical contact with their dad and to wash their hands as much as possible, and beyond that, ensuring everyone stuck to their schoolwork and stayed calm. 

shutterstock_21006121 Shutterstock / 3445128471 Shutterstock / 3445128471 / 3445128471

“We did what we could”

As per HSE guidelines, the family put measures in place to avoid cross-contamination within their household. As Lisa explains:

I wouldn’t want anyone to think we got through this by becoming hyper-vigilant about cleaning, but we did all we could. We had a stool outside Paul’s bedroom door so that the kids could sit for a chat with Daddy if they liked, but we agreed that I would be the only one to drop food to the door and to collect the plate after. 

“We were also very clear with the kids that one bathroom was for Paul and one was for everyone else.”

Self-isolation is an essential measure in helping to slow the spread of coronavirus through a household, and through the wider community, but it can be a lonely experience. 

“It was a very strange time,” recalls Katie of her own period of self-isolation. “I spoke to my mam on the phone every day, and my friends were great about dropping off care packages, but you do miss seeing people.”

As Katie’s energy started to build up, so too did her frustration about being stuck inside. “Around day four I started to feel quite low and very restless,” she says. “All I wanted was to get out for a walk.”

Both Katie and Paul have since recovered from coronavirus and are feeling physically well again, after what Lisa McGrath calls a “very intense” time for her family. 

It’s only in the last week that I’ve had time to think about things on a wider scale, and to wonder how long this situation might go on for. When Paul was sick we were just doing what we needed to do each day.

The majority of people with coronavirus will experience mild symptoms and will recover fully at home without needing to go to hospital. Find guidelines on caring for yourself or others at home here, and find out how to access local community support here. For updated factual information and advice about coronavirus, visit hse.ie.

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