Day 573 – 5k, 30 minutes, next April

A somewhat surreal experience at the specialist this afternoon yielded some mostly good news.

Surreal because the whole place looked like a building site, there was no receptionist, the doc himself looked like he had just finished working in his garden on a weekend, and the entire episode was accompanied by some energetic jazz funk on the radio. Then the previous patient – still clutching his fresh urine sample in one hand – asked if I could spare him R5 for parking. He was wearing a Liverpool shirt, so I took pity on him and gave him the money. In his other hand.

But once I was in the practice room, thankfully things were a bit more normal. Nice guy.

Let’s get the not so good bit over with first: no magic pill, no quick fix, no guaranteed timeline of escaping these crappy symptoms. That “you really just need to be patient,” line again, which seems to be the (admittedly justified) mantra for this thing. And a few more blood tests (LFTs, Cortisol etc.), just to check that the Covid symptoms aren’t hiding any other nasties. We’re all pretty sure that they’re not.

But mostly good news because – having had an ultrasound of my heart, a resting ECG and done some treadmilling (I got up to 6kph on a slight upward slope, for a whole 150 seconds!!) – I have permission to begin exercising again.
My heart is good and strong, I have no blood clots and my lungs are almost repaired. It’s just the rest of me that is completely broken and needs some work. So not klapping the gym, boet quite yet (it’s an absolute haven for Covid infections anyway), but a walk a day, increasing my pace and increasing my distance each week.

He stressed that he seen a number of patients who simply don’t seem to understand quite what a blow Covid has dealt them. The idea that once the acute symptoms have gone, you can go back to normal, just isn’t true. One also needs to recognise the regression that the infection has caused.
“You’re running 100m, but you’re starting 50m behind the starting blocks,” was his analogy.

Longest 100m ever.

Anyway, without putting any firm timeline on it, there was mention of six months (from now) to maybe get back to where I was. I almost cried. Six months might seem like a long while, but honestly, there have been a lot of times when I didn’t think I would ever get back there. And maybe I won’t. Or maybe it will take 3 months.
But there’s hope, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and so I’ve set myself a goal: I’m going to run 5km in 30 minutes with my son on his birthday next year.

Possibly, anyway.

That will be more than 9 months to get myself back to normality after this “mild” infection, assuming this all goes to plan. So let me just drop the message in here once again that you can increase your chances of avoiding all this shit, simply by getting vaccinated. Incidentally, my doc thinks that the timing of my first vaccine dose might just have been the thing that kept me out of hospital. Thanks be to Pfizer.

I have already taken the beagle on a celebratory trip around the block, and so now I am ready for bed, but it doesn’t matter.

This has been a good day.

Day 560 – It’s gone again

Yesterday wasn’t great, but it did pique my scientific interest:

But how interesting is this disease? Yeah, you might have the odd off day while you’re getting over any viral nastiness, but to get the whole package again so quickly? Fine last night, rubbish this morning?

And then just disappear again overnight. Full on and then full off again. Entirely transient.
Because today I’m back to where I was the day before yesterday. You’d never even know that anything had happened, (well, aside from all the stuff that didn’t get done because I slept through yesterday morning).

The most interesting part for me is the brain thing. I have no means of accurately measuring it, unlike my heart rate and sats, but really, my brain was completely useless yesterday. I couldn’t remember names, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t find words, couldn’t finish sentences. It was as bad as it’s ever been, and really, really frustrating.

And while the aches and pains were manageable with some medication, I couldn’t fix my brain that way.

And yet today? It’s every bit as good as it was before yesterday’s nonsense. Not perfect, but it’s had a rough few months. But it is working again.

But why? What happened yesterday and how did it cause all those – often very specific – symptoms and then where did it go today?

“Immune and metabolic dysregulation” is a very convenient, yet likely answer. But why “immune and metabolic dysregulation” in some people and in some instances and not others? Well, as with all novel conditions and pathogens, nailing the exact cause will come in time and will be key to stopping days like yesterday happening again.

In the meantime, get vaccinated, because yesterday’s unpleasantness is just another thing to add to this long list of stuff that you’re far more likely to avoid if you go and get jabbed.

Day 554 – Communicating the science

Covid-19 can be scary.

For some, it could be scary because they’re concerned that they or their families might get infected, get sick or die.
For others, it could be scary because they are worried about the safety, efficacy or side-effects of the vaccine.

For many people, it could well be both.

As scientists, I feel that we have a responsibility to try to allay these fears as much as possible.

Information – accurate, proven information – is key to dispelling these concerns. But even if we do our level best to ignore, debate, rebut or ridicule individuals intent on sharing misinformation around the subject, and perhaps because of the mess on social media and throwing around of SO MANY numbers by both sides, it seems to be difficult for science to get what should be a fairly straightforward message, across to the general public.

It’s no use us reading and understanding a research paper and thinking that that’ll make everything ok, if that information isn’t then provided to the layperson in a usable form. We need good, knowledgeable, approachable scientific communicators to accurately decode the often high-level, technical language into something that everyone can understand. Whether we’re talking about scientific, legal, engineering or any other field, this translating of complex information so that everyone can understand is such a hugely important skill.

I think we’d all like to see an end to this pandemic. We’d like life to go back to something like we had before; we’d like to travel freely again and live our lives without the restrictions that Covid has placed upon us. If this positive potential scenario doesn’t describe your feelings, then this post isn’t for you. Your situation is beyond my remit. Sorry.

I’m very deliberately not going to use numbers in this post, nor am I necessarily going to link to papers and articles that support my points. I have done a lot of reading, and I understand a lot of the detail, but in the greater scheme of things, that detail is unimportant and can even muddy the waters: it’s the principles that actually matter.

Working from that standpoint above, we all have to understand that there is no silver bullet here. No one single 100% solution. Getting back to anywhere close to normality is going to require a combination of efforts, none of which by alone will end the pandemic. On the plus side, the more of these you personally put into place, the better protected you and those around you are, and the more you will be doing to end this horrible situation.
The more people that also put them into place, the quicker this thing is over.

Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

The first way is obviously the vaccines. The vaccines are undoubtedly very effective, but they’re not perfect. They aren’t 100% effective, so yes, you will hear of people getting Covid after they have been vaccinated, and you will hear that vaccinated individuals can pass the virus on. But your chances of contracting, becoming ill from, becoming hospitalised by or dying from Covid are massively reduced when you have been vaccinated. And just as importantly, your chance of passing the virus on to other people is hugely reduced as well. This is big news, because every person that you don’t infect can’t infect anyone else either. Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

It’s no surprise that the countries that are beginning to open up again and drop many of their Covid restrictions are ones with high levels of vaccination. The benefits of a lack of strain on their healthcare systems because of fewer people being infected and fewer people needing hospital treatment are clear to see.

And the vaccines are undoubtedly safe. Again, they’re not 100% safe (but then, what is?), but your chances of becoming ill or dying from the vaccine are absolutely tiny compared to the sickness and death rate of the virus. Sure, you will have heard many, many horror stories on Facebook, but take stock of where you are hearing them from and whether or not they are at all believable. This is not a new, untested technology, merely one that we have been using for a while and that can now be adapted to assist us in the fight against Covid.

The vaccine is by far the best and most important tool that we have in our armoury against Covid. It’s now readily available, free of charge right across SA and much of the rest of the world. There really is no reason not to get it.
If you are reading this and you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please make a plan to go along and get it done. A bit of a sore arm for a couple of days is nothing – nothing – compared to even “mild” Covid.

But there are other things you can do – and should be doing – as well.

Self-isolation. I know it’s a pain. I know you want to get on with your life. But if you have been exposed to someone with a Covid-19 infection and you stay at home for 10 days, you can’t pass it on. And again, all the people that you might have passed it on to – at the shops, at the restaurant, on the bus etc. – they can’t pass it on now, either.
Remember: limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

And then these three. SO EASY TO DO, but if everyone just did them, it would make such a huge difference.

Masks – they won’t stop coronavirus completely. Wearing a mask will reduce your chances of contracting Covid-19 a little, but far more importantly, they limit your chances of spreading the virus a great deal. Remember that some people will be lucky enough to be unaware that they are carrying the virus at all. If those people limit their chances of spreading it by simply wearing a mask, we’d be a lot better off. And again, every little bit towards limiting the spread of the virus… you know the rest by now already.

Social distancing – The further away you stand from a smoker, the less strongly you’ll smell their smoke.
Same goes for Covid. Yep, sure, you could still get Covid from someone more than 1.5 metres away, but it’s very unlikely. The further away you stay from people, the less likely you are to get the virus if they have it. Even less so if you’re wearing a mask. Ever more less so if they’re wearing a mask. And if you’re both vaccinated? Basically no risk at all! It all adds up.
And I’m lobbing ventilation in with this one – just like the smoking analogy above – the better ventilated a public space is, the less likely the virus is to spread. So avoid crowds, avoid busy, indoor spaces, open the taxi windows (ok, good luck with that one) and choose to sit outside at your favourite restaurant.

Handwashing – Soap, water, santitiser. Use what you want. We now know that Covid isn’t spread much from surfaces, but high-traffic, high-touch areas like door handles, life buttons, light switches and escalator handrests can still pose a small risk. If you wash you hands after using them, you reduce that risk to yourself. If everyone washes their hands before using them, there is no risk. Again, it’s a tiny thing, but like the whole of Cape Town not letting the tap run while they brushed their teeth during the drought, if enough people do it, and in combination with everything else, it makes a difference.

Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic, and we all have access to the tools we need to achieve that.
An hour getting your jab. Asking a friend or neighbour to drop you some shopping in because you sat next to Barry at that meeting and he tested positive yesterday. Putting your mask on – properly – while you’re around other people. Choosing not to join huge crowds right now, going for an outdoor option whenever possible, and washing your hands, just like we were taught as kids.

It’s completely possible if we work together.

Day 539 – Vaccine boosters? Yes, please!

There’s lots of chatter at the moment about Covid vaccines, waning antibody counts, natural immunity and the need (or not) for booster jabs.

I’m fully vaccinated, but when the time comes, if I need a booster jab, I will get a booster jab.
And if I need two booster jabs, I will get two booster jabs.
And so on.

Here’s why.

Despite being very, very careful, I got Covid. And by very, very careful, I mean that I was applying my laboratory safety training and standards to everything I could. I got Covid simply because I couldn’t control some environments that I ended up in.
Like Checkers in Constantia. Well, specifically Checkers in Constantia, to be honest.

But let’s not get bogged down in the details: the fact is that I did everything I could to avoid getting infected, but I still got infected.

I had a mild case of Covid. Thankfully, I avoided a severe case. I avoided supplementary oxygen, hospital, ICU, a ventilator and death. And sadly, we all know how that awful chain of attempted medical intervention proceeds, because we all know people who have ended up at every point along that pathway.

Our Covid-19 vaccines aren’t perfect yet. This is a new, rapidly evolving pathogen and until things settle down and find their natural balance, we’re always going to be playing a bit of catch up. But the vaccines are an incredible weapon against the disease. They’re out best chance. They’re your best chance.
There are plenty of data which tell us that vaccines limit your chances of ending up with a severe case of Covid-19. And to be honest, that should be enough for anyone to get vaccinated, because surely reducing the likelihood of ending up in hospital and all that comes with it is just common sense.

There is also plenty of evidence that being vaccinated means that you are less likely to get Covid at all, less likely to be sick with it and less likely to pass it on.
But perhaps you think that you’re not going to get a severe case of Covid-19 anyway. And sure, looking at the stats, even if you do get Covid, you’re more likely to have a mild case than a severe one.

So let me tell you about my mild case of Covid-19.

I was unable to get out of bed for over a week. I couldn’t even move.
I lost more than 10% of my body weight.
I have myalgia, arthralgia and headaches every morning until my medication kicks in.
I have had to have two chest x-rays.
I still can’t smell or taste anything, 9 weeks on.
I have had to have tests on my heart to check for cardiac damage.
I’m constantly tired all day; I can’t stay awake after 9pm.
I have had 67 separate blood tests.
I can’t remember people’s names. I can’t think of words. I can’t do simple quizzes anymore.
I used to run 20km a week. For six weeks, I couldn’t even walk up the stairs in my house without taking a break.
I’ve spent thousands and thousands of Rands on tests and drugs.
I’m still taking 12 different tablets every morning.
I’ve had malaria, influenza, Salmonella and meningitis in the last 20 years. This was far worse than any of them.
I can just about manage to walk a kilometre now, but running is a pipe dream.
I have other ongoing symptoms I don’t want to tell you about. (It’s better for both of us.)

It’s completely changed my life. And not in a good way.

You might not get it as badly as I did.
Or you might.

This isn’t a pity post. I’m not looking for sympathy. And I’m not for one moment suggesting that many, many people haven’t had it much worse. Of course they have.
This is just me telling you that “mild” is a massively subjective term, and completely belittles the experience that many of us have had (and are still having) with this disease.
But if you think that you don’t need a vaccination or a booster jab because a mild case of Covid-19 is something you just brush off and get on with your life, well maybe think again.

I got vaccinated, but the vaccinations for my age group arrived in SA too late for me to avoid getting sick. And given my experience, now that I am vaccinated, I will do everything I can to ensure that I am always as well-protected against Covid as I possible can be. If I can give myself a bit more chance of avoiding death, hospitalisation or even just a mild case of Covid by getting a free injection that takes 20 minutes to administer once every six months, well, why the hell wouldn’t I do that?
And then if I have to do it again in another 6 months, I’ll be right there.

If you are hesitant about getting a vaccination, because you are worried that it’s not safe; that might make you feel unwell; if you think that you don’t need one because you won’t get Covid or if you do it won’t be that bad; if you are scared of needles, please just talk to your GP. The benefits far outweigh any possible risks or unpleasantness.

If you just need a sign: this is it.

Give yourself a better chance of avoiding all this shit. Really.

Day 526 – Jab

I got jabbed again on Tuesday morning in a seamless process far removed from the disaster of our first Covid vaccination experience. In and out in 22 minutes.

I can totally recommend the Discovery on Main vaccination centre. Efficient, well-staffed, friendly, smiley.
Like an inverse Dischem.

Aside from the obligatory sore arm, I was pretty much fine until 30 hours in. Then, quite suddenly, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck – one carrying a cargo of sleeping tablets – and apart from a quick trip downstairs to eat something at some point, I basically managed to sleep from 2pm until 6 the following morning.
If that’s the only penalty for Covid immunity going forward, I’ll happily take it. Winning.

Feeling MUCH better yesterday morning and ready to take on the world, I foolishly took on the world. But my existing Covid, which I’m still slowly getting rid of, was wholly unimpressed and has reminded me of its ongoing presence. Head pounding, muscles aching, memory missing.
But another couple of extra hours in bed this morning (it really is like a reboot) and I’m getting back to where I was before Favour stuck a second needle in me a few days ago.

Back to the doctor next week then, when we’ll be able to definitively separate post-vaccination crappiness (which may already have have gone, but will certainly have gone by then) from actual Covid crappiness, and hopefully we can try to plan a route forward and out of this nonsense.

Onward. Upward. But with baby steps.