It’s been a challenging Christmas and New Year…
Two days before Christmas, my wife tested positive for Covid with a home lateral flow test. I immediately took the same type of test and the result was negative.
Bernie had some mild symptoms, including a strange headache and a dry cough. I had none, but I was cautious about being asymptomatic, hence the need for a more accurate ‘second opinion’.
We immediately booked a drive-in PCR test in nearby Lancaster. Within the hour, we were tested and returned home to await the results, hopefully the next day.
Shortly after we arrived back, my mobile rang. It was the care home where my mother is a resident in Morecambe. As part of their routine testing, she had shown up positive for Covid. I phone her every day, but we had not been physically together for over a week.
Bernie and I made some tea and digested the news and its implications…
We were due to visit mum on Christmas morning, taking her some presents and wearing our reindeer antlers to bring some cheer. With a confirmed Covid result, she would now be confined to her room for at least the next week, and possibly longer. She would not be able to take part in the home’s Christmas Day festivities. Our only link with her would be the mobile phone which, between us and aided by the force of habit, we managed to keep alive for her… and her ability to use it and its pre-programmed numbers of the four most important people in her life.
We had one final method of contact, an accidental benefit of her room’s location, used often during the two lockdowns she’s endured since March 2021: we could go and stand outside her room’s window on the ground floor…talking to her through the glass by using the mobile phones. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s something; and that something is a life-saver.
The one good thing was that we had already had our Christmas meal with the extended family. We had taken mum out of the home – with their blessing – for both the family meal and (at their request) to escort her to the home’s Christmas meal, held at a nearby hotel on Morecambe’s seafront. Both were lovely events. Serendipity had smiled on that, at least.
But now we had Bernie’s testing to deal with… The lateral flow tests are not completely reliable, so we had to wait for the end of the following day to get the PCR results back.
It came back, just before midnight, as positive, confirming that she had Covid – omicron variant; the one that’s sweeping the country, infecting at least 1 in 25 of us. Thankfully, its effects are reasonably mild – in the healthy body at least. It can be a different story in the elderly.
We could do nothing about mum’s personal lockdown; nor my wife’s positive diagnosis – which meant she could not leave the house for the next week, and only then if she got a negative lateral flow test (LFT) two days in a row.
I rolled up my sleeves, went to bed early and prepared to play nurse, cook, dog-walker and general juggler. But, sharing the same life and bed, I was unlikely to be Covid-free for long.
My wife’s sister is widowed. She normally joins us for two or three days over the Christmas period. We phoned her with the bad news. She was instantly adopted by one of her close friends and invited to spend the whole of Christmas day with them. One problem solved…
As long as Bernie’s infection followed the normal pattern, her sister would be able to join us for New Year, or shortly after.
We cooked as much food as we could store to be ready for the week ahead, Bernie remained well enough to stay out of bed within the house. I made sure I had my small armoury of tools to help fight off the infection, as I was the proverbial ‘last man standing!’. These ‘tools’ are my own and include regular nasal salt-water flushes and frequent gargling with an alcohol-based mouthwash, like Listerine.
A friendly medic assures me the alcohol kills any virus in your throat – stone dead, but needs refreshing, often. The former was a wonderful gift from a friend of my mother in my teens (a yoga teacher) who spotted I had troublesome sinuses. If anyone wants the recipe, I’ll gladly supply it. It’s slightly yucky, but very effective at flushing out sinus tissues. It’s been a lifelong friend ever since. The salt water does not kill viruses but the laws of physics (rather than molecular biology) suggest that it will flush most hostile things out of your nasal passages. I have no idea what the experts would say. It seems to work for me.
We phoned mum on Christmas day, to try to bring her into the family warmth. Her symptoms were still mild and she was okay with things. “At least,” she said, “we had our celebrations early.”
Over a week later, I’m still showing no signs of Covid, but we have learned a thing or two about Covid testing. Chief of these is that you can have Covid (Omicron) for many days without it showing up on a Lateral Flow Test (LFT). This shocking fact was confirmed by a biologist friend, who, in retrospect, worked out that it was only on the fifth day of catching it that the second line showed up on her test.
Effectively, this means that the LFT is practically useless as an Omicron early warning tool. A massive number of responsible people who regularly test themselves are seeing false negative results until the ‘viral load’ builds up to a level detectable by these pre-Omicron devices. By that time, the infection will have continued to expand at its exponential rate.
If we could work this out, Governments have known this for some time. Yet, there appears to be no movement to produce a more accurate LFT. The LFT results are the only way you can get to see an elderly person in a care home.
Bernie is now through her Covid and feeling well, again. My mother is not, and her cough is getting worse. We are all praying that, at 92 years old, she has the strength to survive.
I’m still virus-free. My eldest son, a doctor in Australia, says I may have had it earlier and not noticed the symptoms.
Me, I have faith in total hand hygiene, masks to protect others, staying away from crowds… lots of fresh air and my little tool kit.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.