science

I have tested positive for Covid – and I feel really guilty


It started with a text that was doing the rounds from Lambeth council’s director of public health: the South African variant of Covid had been discovered in a tiny box of postcodes that included our house, and we were all encouraged to get tested. I forwarded it to a neighbour, who said: “This cuts off just before our houses. This is basically: ‘Don’t go to the supermarket down the road.’” Is it a sign of cognitive impairment that I can’t find my own house on a map? Not really: I can never do that.

Still, we had ordered tests by then. I was reasonably sure we were an early-adopter household in the matter of the pandemic. Mr Z had a meeting a year ago with someone else who had just had a meeting with Nadine Dorries, and he felt mortally unwell after that when the news broke that she had Covid. She’s been our go-to yardstick of wellbeing ever since. How do you feel? Well, a bit rough, but not like I’ve had any proxy face-to-face contact with a junior Conservative health minister.

Maybe six hours after the text, he wanted to know if he felt hot. I am not a fan of this ritual. We own a thermometer. We really don’t need to hand-check each other’s foreheads like a pair of gibbons and then have a fight about whether there’s been user error in the matter of hands. It’s like trying to guess the time using the sun when you have a clock on your oven. But he seems to like it. Unless I say he’s not hot – then he doesn’t like it at all.

“You’re not hot,” I told him.

“Get the thermometer … Look, it’s 37.3! I’m at the outer limit of normal.”

“That is normal. That is exactly normal.”

“It’s the highest you can be without a fever.”

“A fever is 37.8.”

We were arguing about things you can Google. One of us had to be ill, surely? I was, if I’m honest, feeling a bit peculiar.

I wasn’t hot. I didn’t have a cough. I had perfect taste and smell. I didn’t have fatigue, or did I? What is tired? How much energy? I felt like a dog meme off the internet. I’d forgotten what normal was. My main ailment was that I didn’t have any appetite, except when someone left a fish finger sandwich half-eaten on their plate, then I worked through it like a robot vacuum cleaner.

Maybe I was just bored? Looking for a pointy stick to clean the crumbs from between the cooker and the counter, I realised that in 47 years, I’ve never done that before. It’s a symptom of something, isn’t it, compulsive cleaning? Oh right, it’s a sign that you’re pregnant. No, wait, it’s a sign that you’ve been pregnant for ages, and you’re just about to go into labour. So, not that then.

“It doesn’t feel like tiredness,” said my friend, who had Covid over Christmas. “It’s more like the life force has drained out of you and all your muscles have become a kind of lumpy soup.” OK, I didn’t feel like that. It was more like – I don’t know if anyone else, in the 90s, when they were young and stupid, took a popular illegal drug known as ecstasy? Imagine you did; now imagine that point in the night, say 5am, where it’s wearing off, but you haven’t been to sleep. So you’re simultaneously tired and wired, and you can’t wait to go to sleep, yet at the same time don’t want to. I felt like that.

“Ugh,” she said, “you could never just get Covid, could you? You have to have bon vivant’s Covid.”

I went upstairs to check how Mr Z was. “I’m fine,” he said, in dudgeon, as though the question had been: “Have you returned from the realm of the second rate?” The competitively hot phase was over, and we were now in competitive recovery.

My result came through; I’d tested positive. “I feel like Wilfred Owen,” I said. “I feel like I’ve been shot on the last day of the war.”

“You are nothing like Wilfred Owen: a) the war isn’t over; b) you’re still alive; and c) you have created no significant body of poetry.”

“You know what they say about marital disharmony? Try to use ‘I feel’ expressions.”

He was just sore because his test results weren’t back. I was sore because I basically had Tory MP Covid, where you say you’ve got it, but can still make a medium amount of sense on GMTV from your weird living room. It’s not that I wish I were more ill. I just hate Tory MPs.

Underneath that amorphous, Matt-Hancock-centred indignation, possibly underneath all indignation, I feel really guilty, as if I’ve undermined the national effort just by getting it. I feel relieved it’s not worse, then guilty about feeling relieved, as if I’ve failed a basic solidarity duty, not played my part, been a virus-freeloader. The only thing that would make me feel worse than admitting I have it would be to not admit it. The only thing that will make me feel better is if Mr Z also has it. Look, it’s marriage – I don’t make the rules.



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