In these days and times, I know that I am not the only one whose eyes start bulging if I hear myself coughing, much less anyone else. Every hour I find myself clearing my throat just to make sure it isn’t sore (I bet you did it just now too!). This is the fourth week that I have been holed up inside my flat, so it’s safe to say at this point, me and my children are virus-free.
So I can’t imagine what it must feel like to think that you are suffering from the COVID-19 virus, experiencing symptoms, only to be told that you are not being afflicted, and to get on with life. Find that hard to believe? It happened to Siani Colley-Nester, 44, who lives in Wales with her husband Matt, 41 and their three daughters, who range in age from three to fifteen.
Siani, a Bermudian who moved to the UK a few years ago, is asthmatic. Her husband has Crohn’s Disease, which makes them both fall into the vulnerable category, which makes them high risk for contracting the virus. Because he had a colectomy and ileostomy eight years ago, Matt is no longer on immuno suppressing medication, which would have increased his vulnerability.
To date, just over 6,700 people have died as a result of the virus in the UK and Wales.
Siani recalls when she and her husband began to feel unwell last month.
“Looking back, Matt was the first one to have symptoms, although we didn’t realise it at the time. Just two and half weeks ago he had a slight cough and a low-grade fever. We checked the website the 111 service had set up for COVID-19 symptoms and he did the online questionnaire. Their two criteria for possibly having COVID-19 was a persistent, dry cough and a fever over 37.8 degrees Celsius (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Matt’s symptoms didn’t fit the criteria because it wasn’t a persistent cough and his fever wasn’t high enough, so the recommendation from the website was that he didn’t need to self-isolate and could continue to work because his symptoms weren’t consistent with the UK Government’s guidelines. I woke up a few days later in the middle of the night drenched in sweat and I think I must have spiked a fever while I was sleeping.
“The strangest symptom we got was the loss of smell and taste. Five days after Matt got his fever, he didn’t smell bread that was burning in the toaster and then he couldn’t taste any of the dinner he made that night. The next day after work he came home and ate a spoonful of anchovies in front of me. He’s one of the pickiest eaters I know and just the smell of anchovies makes him gag. I couldn’t believe that he ate the whole spoonful without flinching. He said he tasted absolutely nothing, like he was chewing on paper.
“He called our GP the day after he lost his smell because he read a few reports that some patients in South Korea and Italy had lost smell and taste. Unfortunately, all the GP said was that he had to go by the UK guidelines and that his symptoms didn’t match the criteria for COVID-19 and there was no need to stay home.”
Siani says she didn’t realise that she was unwell until she noticed blood in her urine. She initially thought that her period had arrived but soon discovered she was bleeding from her urethra. She was seen by her GP a few days later. She says while she told her doctor that her back was slightly sore and she was more fatigued than normal, the focus seemed to be on whether she was having a persistent cough and high fever.
“I had neither primary symptom, so they allowed me in a treatment room to assess me. Despite me telling the doctor that I had no symptoms of a urinary tract infection, they placed me on antibiotics.
“We didn’t think too much about these symptoms for the rest of the week until I lost my smell and taste on March 21st. After we looked on the internet again, we saw that ENT UK had put out a press release the day before where they recommended the NHS should add loss of taste and smell as a primary symptom. To date, the NHS still hasn’t added this to the official list of symptoms.”
As Siani was enduring this, she says Matt started to feel worse; his coughing increased and his body started to hurt. When they called 111, they spoke to a nurse who conducted an over the phone assessment. Again, they were told that they didn’t have the virus—and then within an hour they were told that they did.
“An NHS doctor called back, listened to all our symptoms, and told us that we couldn’t be tested as we were not being admitted to hospital but in her opinion, we both had it and the whole family needed to be in quarantine for 14 days. She also said she was writing a referral for me to be assessed by a urologist as I was still bleeding.
“When I got off the phone with the doctor I cried. Not for me or even my kids but I was so upset as I’d worked in three different schools that week and had been to a child’s birthday party with pregnant women and babies.
“I was so scared and worried that I’d put them at risk. I had to call friends to let them know. I felt like a pariah despite having not done anything wrong. We were okay as far as food was concerned and had a couple of great friends who offered to drop off anything we needed. I felt blessed in this. But once we got sicker, we felt like crap. Really achy and more exhausted than I was in any of my pregnancies.
“At one point, I’d been out in the garden when I started to feel really tired. I came into my house and had to lay down on the kitchen floor because I couldn’t make it to the couch, I felt as though I was going to pass out.”
Describing herself as a warm and huggy person, Siani says she felt undoubtedly her three daughters were exposed to the virus as well so the entire family has been in isolation for the recommended 14-day period.
“My girls were great and they never fought during our isolation. All three eventually developed symptoms to various degrees. My youngest had the worst fevers and my eldest suffered the worst breathing issues. My 10-year-old only developed a low-grade fever for two days and a sore throat for four days. There was a lot of movie watching, iPad time and game playing during the worst of the illness.”
While it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint exactly where Siani and her husband contracted the virus, they have their suspicions: “We firmly believe that Matt picked it up in Cardiff or on a train between Swansea and Cardiff as he’d been travelling to Cardiff every day for two weeks. I desperately hope that I did not infect others. Not only was I washing my hands constantly and keeping good hygiene behaviours, I was teaching every class I had how to wash their hands properly. Despite all this, I know how easy it can be to unintentionally pass on germs and this seriously worries me.”
Worried about what is happening in her native Bermuda, which recently suffered two Covid-19-related deaths, she has this stark message for those who are not taking precautions seriously: “Wake up! Yes, Bermuda is another world. However, we are not immune to contagion. We are tiny and close. We are up in each other’s business and personal space. This allows Corona to spread very easily. You don’t think you have it when you first do. What you don’t know is that you are already spreading it at this point!
“My immediate family and I are very lucky as we’ve had mild cases and have recovered well. Some people will not have this experience, and many will die from it. If my behaviour threatened the health and life of your family, you’d surely call me out on it. My older sister, her kids, and my parents are at home in Bermuda. My parents are in the ‘at risk’ group and people behaving stupidly could kill them!”