Two years of covering COVID and it finally came calling

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Ahem. COVID announced itself in my body rather politely and quietly for a virus that has been riding rudely roughshod through our lives.

I suppose you’d call it a cough in the same way that a stone’s ripple is also a wave. It was pathetic really, “ahem”, halfway through a 13km run.

Mat Dunckley at his hotel quarantine work station.

Something in the lung tickle informed by a lifetime of asthma and lung infections hinted at a visitor and I didn’t think much of it.

As the day wore on there were a couple more “ahem” moments and I started to feel tired.

So off I went for my first COVID test having enjoyed two pandemic years without a sniffle. I told the tester I felt I’d joined the party.

“I won’t have it,” I assured my wife. “I’ll get my result tomorrow and we can get on with things.”

I did cancel kids’ basketball coaching and ditched a trip to the office, then waved everyone off to school and headed for my home office/shed for a pretty COVID-normal day, aside from a couple “ahems”.

At 4.58pm, with my wife on the school run, there was a text. “Dear Mathew” – how quaint – “You have tested positive for COVID-19.” Say what now?

The next line was: “This disease can be serious for you and the people you know.” You don’t say.

First call was to the school run car. Then my boss. Then I really can’t remember who I called next.

I miss my family terribly and feel for my wife doing it all alone, that aside I’m not bad, lucky even.

We did right away set about isolating me from my wife and our four children. We decided that my daughter’s room would be the go. I settled in there among the unicorns and dress-ups and soft toys and prepared to wait.

We told school. I also told people the news on social media. Some thought this was surprising, I’m not sure why, COVID isn’t a secret, it’s not a mark on my character. I didn’t catch fraud convictions.

We gave isolation in the house a red-hot go. I wore a mask to go out the back door to my shed.

Working was bit tricky as the health system swung into gear. I don’t know exactly how many nurses and doctors I spoke to in that first 36 hours but it was many. And they were great.

One was a video call (she admired the pink fluffiness of my little girl bedroom backdrop), many had forms for me to fill out, one long call produced a big bag of prescriptions on my doorstep.

I’ve been given an oximeter (they’re a bit worried about my asthma), a thermometer and a daily text so I can send back my oxygen levels and recordings of myself counting to 30.

Within days my family all test negative so we decide – after attempting to manage a shared kitchen and forgetful children – that I should head for hotel quarantine.

My family wave goodbye to me as the minivan arrives to pick me up – unicorn daughter wants to know if I have to ride in the bag trailer. It’s sad.

That’s how I ended up where I am now. I miss my family terribly and feel for my wife doing it all alone, that aside I’m not bad, lucky even. But I’m double vaccinated which has done its job.

“Ahem” became a cough but one which has faded each day. The vague light-headedness went away after a week of feeling maybe 5 per cent below average.

Work’s been busy. I ran a live blog from my hotel table on the weekend’s protests, which wasn’t that novel having run plenty from my shed’s converted picnic table.

The food is not of the same standard which comes through that shed’s roller door in the hands of my kids or my wife. (That standard is so high it’s become a running joke with envious Zoom colleagues.)

Still, it’s passable grub, particularly the curries, and a morning flat white is brought to my room for a fee.

And that’s it. Now I wait. While I’ve been in here, Premier Daniel Andrews sliced the time in isolation to 10 days so I’ll hopefully get out soon.

One bonus is I no longer have to really worry about catching the damned thing or giving to anyone. My family’s negative tests have provided a mental pep.

Also that pause before touching anything or offering an elbow, well that can just back off a bit ’cos I’ve seen the concert and bought the t-shirt.

I have got to watch sport without interruption – yes the Black Caps, Otago and All Blacks all lost which didn’t make the walls feel any wider!

Video games were played like a teenager in a basement and I’m reading a new book. The downloaded workout app was untroubled.

Oh, and I should mention the view. I can see Mount Macedon in the distance and, in the foreground, there’s the building emblazoned with The Age’s name where I worked for the better part of 10 years. On it there’s an enormous electronic billboard promoting my masthead.

Ahem!

Mathew Dunckley is digital editor at The Age.

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