My experience with COVID-19 

Written by Paul Williamson – PDA ACT Associate Director

After eighteen months of avoiding COVID-19: joining the work from home revolution, avoiding contact with others, limiting outings, strict hand-washing and mask-wearing routines, my luck ran out in January, and I tested positive. I decided to travel interstate to visit family who I had not seen since the beginning of the Covid outbreak and, despite being extremely careful, it was not careful enough.

My symptoms were mild, much like a nasty winter cold, and I only learnt it was COVID when trying out one of the incredibly elusive rapid antigen tests (RAT) that I managed to get while my local pharmacy was re-stocking.  I take several medications, including one that supresses my immune system and increases the risk of infections – including COVID-19.

My recovery took much longer than the 3-5 days advised by my doctor but, eventually, I tested negative after around 4 weeks. 

Wait, what the…

I never fully got back to my baseline of good health, which had consequences when I again tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of March. I was triple vaccinated by this point, had already had COVID once and falling ill again was one of the last things I expected. I figured that vaccination plus having the antibodies of a recent infection would protect me for at least a few months.

Symptoms this time were severe, including breathlessness, debilitating fatigue, extreme difficulty concentrating, a total loss of my sense of taste and smell, and less frequently reported symptoms, including painful teeth and gums and insomnia.

While testing negative a few days ago, I’m still unwell and suffering quite bad fatigue and a general feeling of malaise. 

It does happen

While anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in the number of people re-infected, there is no publicly available data in Australia at a national level to confirm this (as of March 2022). Research from the UK cited by Professor Mike Toole from the Burnett Institute supports anecdotal evidence. That research found that whilst in November 2021, only one per cent of new cases were reinfections; with the emergence of the Omicron variant, this figure had climbed to 14 percent by March 2022.

My concern (apart from a COVID-19 hat trick) is that some of the symptoms will persist, so called long COVID – a condition now recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). I’ve burned a lot of my reserves this year, and keeping up at work while parenting a teenage child and managing my health and other commitments – all while suffering ongoing fatigue and ‘brain fog’, is daunting.

I saw a great meme the other day about vaccination, something like: ‘you can put your faith in modern medical science, or risk dying like a medieval peasant’, which sums it up quite nicely, in my opinion. Going through COVID-19 unvaccinated, based on my experience, is not something I would like to have done. 

We’re all in this together.’

During the Coronavirus pandemic, I have found the support available for people with disability variable. Despite the (often ad nauseam) pronouncements that “we’re all in this together”, that isn’t always how it felt.

Despite being supposedly at the head of the queue for vaccination, this isn’t how it played out for many people with disabilities who had to wait much longer. They were crowded out by others at vaccination centres or could not receive the vaccination due to living arrangements or mobility. Then we had difficulty getting (and the cost) of RATs, the requirement to queue for hours for PCR tests, the scarcity of support workers, the anxiety about introducing COVID-19 into the home, not to mention the added complexity of simple things like getting groceries and medication. 

While I managed to get by, having resources including calling on family and friends, I know others who had a much tougher time. Those on fixed incomes, not as adept at dealing with the bureaucracy, without family and friends to call on, were often left feeling like a cast member in the Hunger Games.

People with disability so often feel the brunt of failures in planning, policy development and program delivery during national disasters or other upheavals. The Disability Royal Commission (DRC) expressed concern about the issue as far back as March 2020, reinforcing its concerns in February 2022 with the outbreak of the Omicron variant. The impact of COVID on people with disability will undoubtedly provide fertile content for the final report of the DRC, due in September 2023.

People with disability are resilient and resourceful; they have learnt (often the hard way) they have to be. It would be nice, especially amid a global pandemic, if their very survival didn’t depend on it.

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