We continue with our series #LivingInLockdown Your Stories, where our members get to share their experiences of this strange journey we’re all going through. This week we hear from Alison Wade in Madrid who has spent lockdown coming to terms with the death of her Mother whilst battling possible CoronaVirus.
Alison is from Warwickshire in England. She moved to Buenos Aires in 2012 and used the freedom of being a digital nomad to split her time between Buenos Aires, Madrid and Warwickshire. After Brexit, she moved to Madrid and applied for residency. She lives in the centre of Madrid where she is experiencing lockdown alone in her internal, one-bedroom apartment.
Saturday 14th March. The day that Madrid locked down due to the coronavirus. And the day that my mum died.
After talking to my dad, I decided not to get a flight back to the UK. At that point, the UK wasn’t as badly affected as Spain, certainly not as affected as Madrid, and I didn’t want to potentially expose my almost 82-year-old dad to the virus. This has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
The next few days passed by in a blur, taken up by near constant messages and calls. After spending so many hours on the phone and shedding many tears, I was feeling mentally exhausted. I wasn’t surprised when I developed a sore throat and slight cough and didn’t think much of it.
When the waves of nausea and upset stomach started, I put it down to stress or my lack of culinary skills. Losing your mum during lockdown is obviously extremely stressful and I’ve never been interested in cooking, am not the best cook, and normally eat out a lot.
I decided that confinement in my sunless, little apartment was not helping and that a little exercise was needed after so much sitting around using my phone and laptop. I am usually quite active. If time allows, I prefer to walk around Madrid instead of taking public transport and every weekend I go hiking at least once, often on both days. I found a fun-looking aerobics video on YouTube and started off. It wasn’t that strenuous, yet after just 20 minutes I was feeling really out of breath.
That weekend, the breathlessness continued, even when I was sitting down. I used to suffer from bad hay fever when I was in my late teens, and the laboured breathing and pressure on my chest reminded me of this misery. I started to suspect there was something wrong with me, and that maybe I’d caught the dreaded coronavirus. However, compared to the accounts I’d read, my symptoms were mild.
Monday morning rolled around. It was time for work. I have worked from home for many years and was busy, so it was quite nice to slip back into a normal routine. The only normal in my life at that moment. I sat, reading and typing away on my laptop. Hardly strenuous but by mid-afternoon the breathlessness was back with a vengeance and I was starting to feel a bit anxious, which didn’t help my breathing. I was also tired, so I decided to do the Spanish thing and take a little siesta, knowing that sleeping would calm me down. It worked. I woke up feeling much better and finished my work.
Unfortunately, by bedtime, the breathlessness was back. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep and it was uncomfortable to lie on my left side. It was hurting and I could feel a weird, almost bubbling sensation. Coupled with my dry cough, which got worse with the breathlessness, it reminded me of when I suffered from altitude sickness in Bolivia – although thankfully without the scary hallucinations! Then the final symptom, the fever, started. Groaning, I got up, took some paracetamol, glugged down a glass of water, and got back into bed. At some point, I dropped off to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling hot in my sweat-soaked vest top. I took another paracetamol and decided that my breathing had improved quite a lot.
I again sat down to work but by mid-morning the breathlessness had made an unwelcome return. After the fever, I was now pretty sure I’d caught coronavirus, so I searched the Internet for the Covid-19 information line, which we’d been told to call to report possible cases of the virus. A lovely lady listened sympathetically to my explanation of my symptoms, told me to call my doctor at my local medical centre and added ‘God bless’ to the end, like I was about to keel over and die. For the first time, I started to feel scared.
It took several attempts to get through to my medical centre as at that point they were receiving calls from about 600 patients a day with coronavirus symptoms. I explained my symptoms to the receptionist who told me they were inundated with calls at the moment, but that a doctor would get back to me as soon as possible. About an hour later, I got a call. I explained my symptoms and answered the doctor’s questions. Over the phone, she then listened to me cough and breathe, then she diagnosed me with suspected, mild coronavirus. She advised me to rest, take paracetamol for the fever, drink lots of liquids and call back if it got worse.
About an hour later, thanks to the evident chaos at the health centre, I got a call from a different doctor. I again explained my symptoms, answered his questions and coughed and breathed down the phone. He too suspected coronavirus but was unsure as my breathing seemed worse than the other symptoms and he said it could be another respiratory issue. He gave me the same advice as the first doctor and added that if my breathing got a lot worse during the night, when the health centre wasn’t open, to take a taxi to the nearest hospital. He added that my breathing needed to be really bad, so bad that it was hard to speak, to be admitted to hospital, and that anything less would probably be a wasted trip.
That night, as I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself, was definitely the lowest moment. The fever returned but was sent on its way with paracetamol. The breathing laboured on. At one point, I wondered whether I might die in my bed and, as I live alone, how long it would take for my body to be discovered.
Thankfully, I felt quite a lot better the next morning and my morbid thoughts from the night before vanished. The breathing issues continued but eased as the days went by; I was only coughing occasionally and the fever had completely disappeared.
By the weekend, my breathing still wasn’t normal but it was improving; although doing basic household chores like stripping the bed clothes and sweeping the floor meant I needed to sit down and rest. However, I felt I was on the mend and feeling much brighter, so much brighter that I treated myself to a gin and tonic during a Zoom chat with friends.
It was now Monday 6th April. Another Monday morning of work to aid the feeling of normality. Only this Monday morning was to be far from normal for me. Funerals in the UK were now private affairs, with a maximum of ten close family members allowed to attend, all having to maintain an appropriate social distance. Today was my mum’s funeral. Obviously, me going to the UK to attend was just not an option. I’d discussed the arrangements with my dad and sister and helped to choose a coffin and wreath, but it was so far away and I was so far removed from it that it just didn’t seem real. At noon, my brother-in-law called me on WhatsApp video so I could view the service. In director mode, he scanned the room to set the scene. The first person he panned onto was my dad, stood all alone in his suit, with no one able to comfort him. It just about broke my heart and my tears flowed throughout the service.
Although my health felt much better, I felt pretty miserable for the rest of the day. I decided to get into bed with some hot milk, chocolate and a book. Out of nowhere, I felt my chest tighten and the heavy pressure and breathlessness returned. Followed by the fever. I’d been reading about the coronavirus and had learnt that the symptoms often return after about a week. This is the point when it can really take hold and become serious. Needless to say, it was another sleepless night. By morning, however, the fever had gone and my breathing was a lot easier.
The breathlessness came and went for about a week. Little by little it improved and I was able to do chores without having to sit down.
Another week went by and other than a little tightness in my chest and occasional bouts of breathlessness, I felt so much better and so much happier. Friends I’d been videoconferencing with told me I was looking much better; I’d been told at one point that I looked like shit! I was on the mend and I was smugly hoping it had been the dreaded coronavirus as it might mean I have the precious antibodies and immunity.
Four weeks had now passed since I’d had my very first issue with my breathing. Although I still wasn’t 100% and still not exercising, I felt well. Then boom. One evening, out of nowhere, the breathlessness returned. This time it was accompanied by a more severe pain on my left side and an urge to cough. I couldn’t lie on my left side as it was too uncomfortable and I had another restless night.
In the morning, it was still painful and my breathing was still problematic. I again called the doctor at my health centre. It took several attempts to get through as they were still receiving a lot of calls. I gave my symptoms to the receptionist and about an hour later a doctor called me back. I gave my symptoms, answered her questions and breathed down the phone. Something was definitely not right, perhaps pneumonia, so I got sent for a chest X-ray.
I took a taxi to the hospital. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon yet the streets were deserted of both traffic and pedestrians. Almost everything was shuttered and closed. Gran Via was particularly eerie.
When I arrived, an ambulance was at the hospital entrance, with two paramedics dressed in protective white suits. I hesitated. Did I really want to go in there? I’d not been tested for coronavirus as I’d not been ill enough. I was only suspected of having it. Maybe I had something else and would catch it whilst inside. I checked my mask was in position and walked in the main entrance. Apart from a lone receptionist it was deserted. The cafe and main waiting area, which I’m sure are usually bustling, were deserted. The receptionist pointed me in the direction of radiology and I followed the hospital’s warrenlike maze of corridors. They too were deserted. Another lone receptionist greeted me and sent me through for my X-ray. When I returned to the reception, another two patients had appeared. I walked back outside, into the glorious sunshine, glad to get out of there.
The doctor phoned that evening with my X-ray results. Good news. My lungs were clear and looked good. No pneumonia. So what was wrong with me? We again went through my symptoms. This doctor too latched onto the fact that I was only suffering with breathing issues. I’d had the other coronavirus symptoms, but they were gone and really mild in comparison. The doctor wondered whether I could have asthma. She listened to my heavy breathing down the phone again and sent me an electronic prescription for an inhaler.
Saturday was another difficult day with frequent bouts of breathlessness and the pain in my side. By Sunday, when I was due to collect my inhaler, I was feeling much better again. So far, I’ve not felt the need to use it, but the instructions have been read and it’s primed and ready for action!
The doctor phoned me back on Monday morning to see how I was feeling. Interestingly, the four symptoms she asked about were breathlessness, fever, cough and an upset stomach. When I first called the medical centre, a different doctor had told me that my upset stomach wasn’t a symptom of coronavirus. Perhaps my upset stomach wasn’t caused by my terrible cooking after all!
It’s now been about six weeks since I started feeling ill and it lingers on, albeit very mildly. I’ve felt worse with a heavy cold, but the symptoms I’ve experienced have been very different to a cold and at times scary. It’s scary not being able to breathe properly, especially knowing that this respiratory virus can be so lethal. I’d love to know what is actually wrong with me. Is it coronavirus? Is it asthma? Or is it something else? Obviously, you can’t be properly diagnosed with any illness over the phone and as medical centres are not seeing patients with respiratory issues, I suspect it will be some time before I find out.
Everyone has found the almost seven weeks of isolation with this lockdown difficult and the death of my mum and the uncertainty of my illness have definitely added to the stress. However, there have also been some positives. I’ve really enjoyed having time to myself and having the time to actually think. I like my own company. I’ve found myself pretty busy most of the time and it’s been great chatting to people who are not in Madrid that I wouldn’t usually have time to speak to. I’ve significantly cut my alcohol consumption – the last thing you want is alcohol when you can’t breathe properly – which must be good for my health. I’ve also been eating more healthily; apart from the chocolate that I bought to cheer me up! Finally, not being allowed out has saved me an absolute fortune; there’s a limit to how much you can spend in your local supermarket for one person.
I’m now looking forward to being able to go out for a walk and get a bit of exercise. As I live in a shady, internal apartment, I’m also looking forward to finally seeing and feeling the sun. I’m sure these things will help me feel so much better and aid my recovery. In a few weeks, I’m looking forward to going to my local terraza and having a drink in the sunshine whilst watching my Madrid world start to get back to normal. I’m also looking forward to seeing friends and having something more exciting to talk about than the coronavirus. But most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing my dad and giving him a very overdue and much needed hug.