My advice on living with Covid-19 from a Lancashire victim

University of Central Lancashire lecturer Joel Rookwood has been in self-isolation since he was suspected of contracting coronavirus. Here he outlines his experiences

Monday, 30th March 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 30th March 2020, 12:05 pm
Joel Rookwood has been in self-isolation with suspected coronavirus

Corona. Covid-19. The virus. Whatever label you use, it has become central to our lives. You may know someone who has contracted the virus, you may be ill yourself. I am at Day 16.

I’m not certain where I became infected. I went into isolation two days before showing symptoms, but brought it home with me. It is likely to have been Anfield, where Liverpool played Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on March 11 – a game that should never have been played, particularly with fans present, and especially including 3,000 allowed to travel from Madrid, where the spread of the virus was more extensive than the UK.

I was interviewed for television stations in four countries before the game. Hands were shaken, goals were celebrated, commiserations were shared, hands were washed. It was a communal experience that seems a lifetime ago. Governments and governing bodies should have halted sporting events by then, but those of us who went to one should also have stayed away. In the fight against the spread of Covid-19, responsibility is both corporate and individual. If we did not know that then, we certainly do now.

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Supplies left at Joel Rookwood's front door by a friend

I will briefly outline my experiences here, before sharing some suggestions. I am a senior lecturer in the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Central Lancashire – but I offer no medical expertise. I actually run a Sport Business Management degree and research football events across the world. I simply write what I would liked to have read before I got ill.

I am not a confirmed case, as unless you have an underlying wealth condition, the UK only test those admitted to hospitals – which I have managed to avoid so far. I have twice been hospitalised with pneumonia, and fear susceptibility this time.

Symptoms of Covid-19 can vary in type and intensity, but breathing difficulties are a common denominator. In my case night times are the worst: acute shortness of breath and violent episodes of rigor (shaking). I haven’t eaten solid food or been fully horizontal for 10 days. Precious periods of sleep are counted in minutes, not hours.

If you contract the virus, you will very likely have to remain at home, as the incredible NHS remains chronically underfunded. Resources are scarce – and this is a pandemic. It is right that our health professionals are clapped in appreciation, and imperative that support is reflected in government funding.

Joel Rookwood has been in self-isolation with suspected coronavirus Photo: Lawson-Body/L'Equipe

As a relatively fit 39-year-old, my personal mantra has been: If I can breathe well on my home, stay at home. (Please note: if you are showing symptoms: consult medical professionals). This was tested over the weekend when my condition deteriorated and a 111 call led to me being placed in a queue for an ambulance. I was told I was 280th on the list.

I would probably have been hospitalised at any other time, but this is not any other time. I was grateful to hear a calm analysis that my condition was not critical – as was my wife, who has had less severe symptoms than me and seems to be through the worst. I took myself off the list.

I keep paracetamol in the house and in my system. I monitor temperature, heart rate and fluid intake: drinking soup and lots of hot water with fresh ginger. It is also important to remember that if you fall ill: do not panic. Calm is essential with a respiratory virus. Habitual shallow breathing can be detrimental, so practice deep breathing in a quiet space, especially if you’ve never tried it.

Our society is gripped by anxiety, so I also want to focus on some more positive reflections. Firstly, as a collective, we will find a new rhythm. It will be a life different and perhaps harder than before, but one with structure and routine. We all react differently to shared emergencies, employing various coping mechanisms for the deep sense of fear and loss of control we are facing. We will need to be kind to each other through this (including those argumentative, fearmongering types on Facebook).

Individual acts of kindness can help build community cohesion which can have monumental significance. Knowing my wife was also ill and our energetic toddler is nappy training, on Friday a friend from our church dropped a week’s supplies on our doorstep. There were tears of gratitude. Find out who and how you can help. Even if it is just messages of support. Everyone needs something we have. Now is the time to share.

It is vital we maintain physical distance – and the longer we avoid it, the longer we’ll be in isolation – but we must also remain social. It might not mean neighbourhood symphonies or impromptu concerts across balconies, such as in Italy and Spain, but we must adapt and find ways of keeping in touch. Screens are not just to be stared at. Instead, try to use technology to recreate human community: neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, FaceTime with friends, family dinners on Zoom. On a broader scale, American DJ D-Nice streams #ClubQuarantine live on Instagram, connecting over 100,000 people. Follow goodnews_movement on Instagram for regular doses of positivity.

More screen time is likely for most of us, but take breaks from devices and social media. Stay informed, but limit news exposure and don’t obsess over the government’s crisis (mis)management. Instead, structure your day, and be present where you are. Try to appreciate your environment, and distract yourself when that proves difficult. Cook, garden, draw, find tactile hobbies or learn a new skill. Be grateful for what and who you have.

It is also important to prioritise your health: Drink lots of water, eat as well as you can, try to get enough sleep, avoid screens late at night and exercise at home, as well as the permitted time outdoors. Various personal trainers offer free videos and classes. Whatever your age or fitness level, you don’t need equipment or space to exercise. Try YouTube yoga, an online class, or Tabata for interval training.

None of us know how long this will last – but remember that one day it will be over. In the meantime, be prepared, but don’t hoard. Instead of spreading fear, cultivate calm. Show gratitude to our heroic NHS staff and other essential workers. Thank your local supermarket staff, and anyone else working for this common effort, to win this common war against this common enemy. Be nice to people, make life as fun as possible, and be positive: It’s not just what you face, it’s how you face it that counts.

* Dr Joel Rookwood is Senior Lecturer in Sport Business, Management and Development | Course Leader for Sport Business Management at the University of Central Lancashire