ďAll it takes is one careless momentĒ: Two personal warnings about coronavirus

March 29, 2020

Early morning shoppers continue to crowd together as they wait for a supermarket to open in south London yesterday.



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach two personal accounts from friends/colleagues of mine in London (who donít know each other). They posted these accounts yesterday at about the same time (one on Facebook, the other on twitter). They serve as a further warning that we should all take coronavirus very seriously.

I have Lukeís and Shirazís permission to repost their notes (originally written for their friends).


(Luke Harding is a foreign correspondent for The Guardian. He was expelled from Russia after writing articles critical of the government. His later book on Edward Snowden was adapted into a film by Oliver Stone. He has also written a book about the murder in London of the Russian ex-KGB whistle-blower and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko.)

(Shiraz Maher was for several years after 9/11 a member of the extremist Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, but left the movement after the 2005 London bombings and became an outspoken critic of radical Islam. He runs the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at Kingís College London, and teaches at Johns Hopkins University.)



Luke Harding writes:

Recovering in the garden after a grim two weeks with suspected covid! It began with dry cough and headache. At first I could read in bed and pretty much function. Gradually the symptoms got worse: breathlessness, chest pain, feeling totally wiped out.

The most scary aspect is that the virus is non-linear: you go down and then up and then down again, with a dip in the evenings. A kind of weird and horrible malaria.

On day eight I rang NHS 111. A brilliant GP phoned back. He remotely diagnosed covid (you only get a test in the UK if you are admitted to hospital) and said my chest pain was likely pleuritic rather than pneumonia. Relief!

Week two is more serious than week one. I started improving on day 12/13. A few residual symptoms: sore throat, cold spasms on the back, fatigue. I now feel Iíve definitely beaten this! Phoebe has had symptoms too. Sheís been heroic and wonderful.

Covid is serious for anybody whatever their age. Please stay at home and urge your parents to do likewise! Thank you to friends and family, love and support each other, and be well in our strange new times.



Shiraz Maher writes:

Iíve been debating about whether to Ďgo publicí on having coronavirus - which I kind of did inadvertently this morning. So, now I may as well share my experience(s) with you in order to help those who are worried about it or who are thinking they might have it. Here goes...

I was taking this thing pretty seriously from an early stage because of advice from my good friend @amhitchens, who rightly identified the coming crisis. So I put my house in lockdown, I closed @ICSR_Centre early, and I started taking precautions.

But you need to be constantly vigilant with coronavirus. All it takes is one careless moment, one unthinking touch of your face, accidentally touching a contaminated surface once and suddenly, boom, youíve got it.

Iím 38 and have no underlying health conditions. I figured if I got it, Iíd shake it. Hereís how things have played out. Firstly, itís not the flu. Whoever originally said that, did everyone a great disservice. This thing is not the flu. Itís a nasty, horrible, illness.

I started having symptoms about two weeks ago. The fever was mild and went very quickly. Is it Covid-19? Who knows, but Iíve shaken it quickly. Great. Then my lungs started packing up and my chest got very tight. This happened around 15-16 March.

The cough was dry and unlike anything Iíve ever had before. It was much more extreme and pronounced than a dry cough you might have during a bout of the flu. It feels like thereís something deeply lodged within your lungs, that theyíre (violently) trying to eject.

Of course, thereís nothing to actually eject. The resulting cough is dusty, dry and painful. Much more scary is that youíre unsure of when youíll stop coughing. You have no control over it. There were times I was worried Iíd start vomiting because the coughing was so severe

When you finally stop, itís a relief - but now youíre in a new phase altogether. Youíre fighting to draw air into your lungs but your chest is tight and, frankly, your lungs are in distress. Theyíre not functioning the way they should.

Your head is also pounding because of the violent coughing. I suffered terrible headaches after these coughing fits. The evening of Wednesday 18th was the worst day for me. I fought for breath for about 3-4 hours. It was horrific.

I recorded my symptoms and sent it to doctors (my friends). ďClassic CovidĒ came the reply. I kept monitoring it and, frankly, staying awake was a struggle. I went to bed. My breathing remained severely impaired for another 2 days, but I was managing it all from home.

By Friday, I thought Iíd got through the worst of it and things were looking good. Coronavirus is particularly cruel. Recovery is not linear. On Saturday night I started to feel distinctly unwell again. I decided to take my blood pressure because I have a home monitor...

Anything over 180/120 is classified as Ďhypertensive crisisí (basically, heart attack/stroke territory). Without revealing what mine was, lets just say I was well, well in excess of this (again, I donít have an underlying issue). This was easily the most terrifying moment.

I called my doctor friends and told them. ďTime to call 999Ē they said - so I did. It took more than 15 minutes to speak with a representative; thatís how overwhelmed the emergency services are. I told them my BP and that I have coronavirus.

Ultimately they decided they couldnít respond to my call. I am not criticising the London ambulance service. They are doing superb work under incredible, unprecedented circumstances. Iím telling you this part of the story to underscore two things...

The first is that you should only call them in an absolute emergency. Itís not a diagnostic service. The more unnecessary calls, the longer the delay in them answering becomes. Secondly, be prepared to take decisive action for yourself because they might not be able to help.

So I called my doctor friends again and started to take actions to lower my blood pressure naturally, at home. I spent the next 48 hours in bed and, only after this time, did my blood pressure return to anything vaguely resembling Ďnormalí (it was still high, but acceptable).

Now weíre into the start of this week. Symptoms have slowly evolved into a less severe cough and my chest being less tight (although these get worse in the evenings). But I have lots of new symptoms: crazy abdominal pains and headaches. The lethargy has persisted throughout.

Today weíre approaching the end of 2+ weeks since I first developed symptoms and about 11-12 days since they became particularly acute. For the first time, I feel like Iím starting to beat it but Iím nowhere near feeling 100%.

Coronavirus appears to have a completely different trajectory in different people. I canít spot a pattern. Although Iím only speaking publicly about it now, Iíve been whatsapping with lots of friends/colleagues whoíve also had it.

Some are shaking it off relatively easily. Others are suffering very badly. The most difficult part of this is the extent to which it takes hold within your lungs. Thereís just no way to tell what will happen at the start. You need to watch this symptom if it develops.

So thatís my coronavirus story. Itís a completely mad, crazy illness. It had made me feel more intensely ill than Iíve ever been in my life. On the Wednesday & Saturday of last week, I was genuinely fearful of what could happen if those symptoms continued to escalate.

I didnít want to tweet about my experience until I was more comfortable in my own assessment that Iím through the worst of it. And Iím sharing this with you now so that you can really think about the way this thing is hitting people.

Do you really need to go out right now? Is social distancing really that hard? Is it too much of an effort to wash your hands repeatedly, and to wash them properly, with soap?

Iíve lost several days of my life to this illness. Many, many other people will lose their lives to it. This virus continues to spread everywhere and you - literally, you - can help stop it with the most basic of efforts. Wash your hands. Stay at home. Do it now.



For those interested, here is a 3-minute interview on the coronavirus situation that I gave by Skype today:


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