This weekend, the NHS started coronavirus antibody tests for all staff. These are the tests that tell you whether you have had coronavirus in the past (but not if you have it at the moment). Mine came back positive. It seems I must have been one of those “asymptomatic carriers” who apparently comprise approximately 30% of infections.
Apparently few “asymptomatic” people are truly asymptomatic, they’re just not ill enough to know when they had it. I’ve been looking back over the last few months and trying to point when it was. There’s two main candidates. The first is the cold I had back in March. I don’t think this was it because my symptoms were so utterly typical of having a cold (runny nose, chesty cough and feeling a bit under the weather but well enough to exercise/write/get very bored at home self isolating) and also because I know several other people who had the same symptoms and also thought they had colds. The second time was mid May when I thought I was suffering from particularly bad hayfever. There was one day when I set out for a long run and after about 5km I decided that I wasn’t feeling great and turned back. I was developing a headache, the inside of my nose was burning and throbbing and I felt knackered and kept having to walk. I was coughing too, but it was the “irritated” sort of cough that comes from your throat rather than your chest, and I normally get this with hayfever. When I got home I tried to test my sense of smell by sniffing at some pomegranite flavour shower gel. I couldn’t really smell it so I moved on to sniff some toilet cleaner. Well, I could definitely smell that, in fact the smell made me feel dizzy. I had some food, water, painkillers and a nap and by the next day I felt much better and was sure I had just succumbed to hayfever and hot weather. So I went to work, and went running after work, and so on. I still have that throaty cough, by the way.
I wanted my test to be positive and I wasn’t entirely surprised that it was given that I work in close proximity to a loads of people, including paramedics, and catch public transport nearly every single day. It was only a surprise because I haven’t been ill! It’s left me feeling pretty weird. On the one hand, it’s a good thing – although it’s not proven that having the antibodies makes you immune to coronavirus, there’s a good chance it could do (at least for the short term) and just the fact that I’ve “had it” and been okay makes me feel just that little bit less “on edge”. (Although maybe being “on edge” is a good thing because people who are not on edge take more risks.) The bad thing about my positive result is a very strong sense of survivor’s guilt. This is not just about the people who have died but about the people, including many of my friends and colleagues, who were young(ish), fit and healthy like me and had a “mild” case of coronavirus which has still left them feeling exhausted, short of breath and unable to carry on doing the things they love, for weeks on end. Why did I get away with it when they didn’t? I try to justify it to myself, maybe it’s because of something I did right – maybe it’s because I take care of my health, maybe it’s because I am vegan, maybe because I kept my distance from people and therefore only got a small “load” from whoever infected me – but the truth is it is probably none of those things. I got away with it because I am lucky, and because I just happen to be 40-something, female and white with no medical conditions, none of which I had any choice about. Luck and privilege don’t sit too well with me because I don’t feel like a lucky person but I guess it is better to put up with a life of calamity and bad timing than contract a life threatening illness.