Coronavirus: My body was racked by relentless cold shivers as I sweated and my chest tightened

The nights were cruel: a writer’s experience of suspected coronavirus

Change your expectations now of what medical assistance looks like. Our health system is very different to the one we had until recently. I have experience. By the time you read this, it will have changed again as the HSE races to keep up with demand.

Nobody is being incompetent here, there is simply no time.

I developed mild symptoms five days after encountering a returnee from Venice who sneezed into my tea at one of the many literary events which I attend as an author. The person was not overly embarrassed and jested about that epidemic in China, never believing it could hit us. Italy hit the news a few days later. Later that week, forgetting that encounter with a stranger, I could feel myself coming down with something. It was the evening, I put it down to my busy schedule, and I was fine the next morning. I carried on as normal.

But with each subsequent night I got hotter and sweatier, I may have coughed a bit, only to wake refreshed, having successfully fought off an ordinary “cold”. When the night symptoms began to intrude into daytime, I phoned my GP. A receptionist insisted I ring the HSE helpline instead. Protocols were just developing. It took several hours to get through. After explaining all the above, I was told to ring my GP if I got worse and that there was no need to self-isolate. I was given instructions on hygiene.


The sweats turned into sporadic fever.

I ached slightly, wasn’t quite with it, but still didn’t fit the latest definitions of having the virus. As the helpline had said – I couldn’t possibly have caught it from that stranger, their tracing team would have contacted me about it. I felt I was attention-seeking, rather than being careful. Over the next 48 hours the gaps in between feverishness shortened, and fraught, sleepless nights meant that tiredness overwhelmed me.

I was told to call 999 if I really could not breathe, that hospitals are now only for patients needing mechanical assistance with breathing

Soon, the nights were cruel; I felt like seated metal. If you cannot picture that, I am glad of your inexperience and hope that you remain that way. As bands tightened around my chest, I longed for the bolt to be removed from my neck. It burnt through my throat and out the other side, pulling my ears with it. My body was racked by relentless cold shivers as I sweated and wetted sheets. I could not lie on my sides. Or my back. Or settle in any way at all as I struggled against each wave shaking my body, and I squirmed away from a burning ribcage. Imaginary iron hands gripped my bones and yes, at times, I was hallucinating. My pallor was a translucent yellow and my eyes red-lined. Vision was impaired and, more than anything, I was scared.

Did I think I was going to die? Yes, but I didn’t.

Two days

In normal circumstances, would I have received medical assistance? Yes, but I didn’t. I tried many times to ring jammed doctors’ phone lines and out-of-hours clinics which were inundated. I couldn’t get through because someone like you needed them too, or you didn’t.

Either way, I tried for two days. And even though they may have answered the phone at four in the morning, I couldn’t call them then because I was already on another planet, concentrating on staying alive. This is what true flu and untreated chest infection is like. When I finally made contact with the hard-stretched medical professionals (who were lovely), they diagnosed me with 98 per cent certainty that I have coronavirus and a test was ordered.

I was told to call back if I got worse.

I got worse.

I phoned back.

I was told that if I was able to hold a conversation on the phone, then I did not need hospital admission. Yes, I was struggling to breathe through that metal corset wrapping my lungs but only in a slightly laboured way, or when movement was required. I was to call 999 if I really could not breathe, that hospitals are now only for patients needing mechanical assistance with breathing.

They kept in contact by phone, said I would be tested at home. Six hours later, that changed. They told me to ring my GP when surgeries opened in 24 hours’, that now only GPs could request a test. By this stage I could not care less for a test, it wouldn’t change my treatment and I only wanted medical help. Prescriptions were made over the phone, examinations being impossible in the circumstances. My GP registered me on the new system for a community coronavirus test.

The system crashed. I have yet to get an appointment for a test. As yet, I still haven’t been tested and I am pleased to say that I slept for over two hours last night. I didn’t sweat. I am on the home run.

Lynn Buckle is author of The Groundsmen, published by Epoque Press, and several Irish anthologies