630 days of plague, and COVID 20 days on

Well, I’m basically better. I woke up on Saturday feeling a lot more like myself, had a normal weekend (writiing blog posts, cooking the family dinner twice) and worked the whole day yesterday and today, mainly catching up on a thousand emails but with a fair number of meetings too. Still working from home, and not being very adventurous as yet. On Thursday I will go and work in the office in Brussels, and we have our work Christmas dinner downtown in the evening. Everyone will be tested before dinner; my system must be swarming with antibodies right now, so I am not apprehensive.

Thanks to everyone who commented for their sympathy and support. It does help one’s morale.

B is fine, and had a much milder case. We finally got U tested and she turned out negative (she may well have had it asymptomatically at the same time as me and Anne, and recovered), and she will go back to school and then to the care home in Tienen tomorrow. A bit farther afield, my friend R in Antwerp got out of intensive care and is convalescing at home. More widely, the Belgian numbers are finally turning around – the weekly average rate of infection registered a decrease this morning for the first time since 9 October. Then it was 1898; now it’s 17146, almost exactly nine times higher.

I had a nasty dose of the bug, basically lasting fifteen and a half days from midday Thursday 18th, when I realised I could no longer ignore the symptoms that I’d had since the previous day and went to bed for two weeks, until waking up feeling better on Saturday 3rd. But it could have been a lot worse, and likely would have been a lot worse if I had not been doubly vaccinated. More importantly, perhaps, because I was vaccinated I was much less infectious, and despite close contact with a number of colleagues on the 15th and 16th in London, I don’t appear to have passed it on to anyone apart from Anne. (So our household R number is 0.5, 0.3 if you count F having had it in October without anyone else catching it from him.)

I will continue to be careful – I know enough people who have had COVID twice to make me very cautious, and my blood oxidation level remains lower than I’d like it to be. (Having said which, I wasn’t measuring it before I got COVID, so possibly I’m normally a bit onn the low side.) We only get booster shots here six months after our original second shot, which for me would be Christmas Day; but I’ll be in the queue as soon as it’s available.

It’s weird to look at the subject line of this post – 630 days, 90 weeks. Certainly when I first started this sequence of ten-day posts in March 2020, it seemed unlikely that I’d still be writiing them in the summer (and indeed there was a gap of a couple of months during that first deceptive lull). I dare not predict now when I’ll feel that I can stop updating, except that it certainly won’t be before next year.

See you soon. Get vaccinated, if you haven’t been; get boosted as soon as you can; and try not to get the damn bug.

COVID, day 15

I stopped my daily updates at the weekend, but no harm in a five-day check-in. I’m still not completely well; I am less dependent on paracetamol and my hot water bottle that I was last week, and in general I’m up almost as much as I am in bed, but I’m really not back to full fitness as yet. I had hoped to do a biggish work meeting this afternoon, but realised when I woke up this morning that I simply was not up to it, and pulled out apologetically.

Despite my very imperfect state of health, now that it’s more than 10 days after my positive diagnosis, the Belgian health authority has issued me with a Certificate of Recovery which I can brandish at anybody who asks. (Nobody will. The double vaccination certificate has more weight.)

A couple of people have asked whether I may have caught the omicron variant. The first case in Belgium was not detected until 26 November, and I was diagnosed on the 17th, so it seems unlikely. Anyway I don’t particularly care; I just happen to been unlucky in how hard I have been hit, and there’s not much point in speculating further.

Other people have been much less lucky. A lot of you knew E in Belfast who died suddenly on Tuesday. She and her husband I had both had COVID last month, which for E came on top of a series of other long-term health problems. Much sympathy to I at this devastating loss; she was only a couple of years older than me.

Stay well, you guys. Get vaccinated, if you haven’t been; get boosted as soon as you can; and try not to get the damn bug.

COVID, day 10 and 620 days of plague

Not a lot better today in fact, and I’ve been out of bed less than yesterday. I am coughing a bit more but I’ll take that as a good sign as my lungs start to clear themselves. My oxidation level is as good as it’s been, usually around 94%. But I think the story from here is going to be one of dull slow recovery, so I don’t propose to keep up my daily updates after today.

Meanwhile poor B has had a positive diagnosis. It is impressive that her care home has managed to hold the line as long as they did in such a high risk environment. But it cannot be pleasant for her.

As expected, the Belgian infection rates are the worst they have ever been and still climbing, but the other key numbers – deaths, hospitalisations, ICU occupancy – are still some way below previous peaks. I have not really enjoyed becoming part of the statistics.

My kind work colleagues have sent me A Desolation Called Peace to read. I expect I will finish it fairly quickly. Thank you, chaps.

COVID, day 9

Well, I am very glad to say that I feel a bit better today, and spent most of the afternoon downstairs. F ventured forth to the supermarket, armed only with a long shopping list, but seems to have survived the experience.

I did some mild blogging and even cleared this morning’s work emails, though that still leaves me more than a week in arrears. I generally write my book posts a couple of weeks in advance; tonight’s is the last that was written before I got the bug. But I expect to be able to do some catching up at the weekend, and the odds are that I will be fit for work on Monday.

COVID, day 8

Nothing drastic to report, after yesterday’s exciting adventure. I am 54 years old, and have not had to spend a night in hospital since my parents brought me home from the maternity ward. That record still stands, just.

The good news is that my appetite has returned – I had the same dinner as the rest of the family, for the first time in a week – and without going into detail, my digestive system seems to be back on track as well. These are the first real upticks I have had since I went down with the bug, but I am still very tired and again spent the day in bed.

A couple of people have asked what medication I am taking. Very little, is the answer. Belgian clinical guidance is to take the maximum safe level of paracetamol (four grammes a day), and I have combined that with advice from my old friend Emma in Stroud to take an aspirin daily to deter clotting. (And that may have worked.) Otherwise, a cup of coffee in the morning, herbal tea through the day, and most crucial of all, a hot water bottle to keep me warm in bed. I also have a TENS machine for micro massage. (Thanks to Esther for letting me try hers out when we were in Buxton.)

And I have been lucky, I know. Another old friend in Antwerp, a year and a half younger than me, is in intensive care with COVID. We had a damn good lunch together just six weeks ago. Wishing him well.

COVID, day 7.1: a trip to hospital

I am fine (ish). I spent five hours last night in the local hospital, but they released me without immediate need for further treatment, so I am back at home again.

Late yesterday evening, my pulse oximeter was giving a reading of 92%, which is below ideal, and I had a fever. Anne is a doctor’s daughter, checked the official Belgian clinical guidance, and got me to call the duty doctor who recommended that we go straight to hospital. So I had five somewhat dazed hours on a comfortable enough bed, being prodded, pricked and scanned; blood tests, EKG, lung scans.

The lung scans were particularly aimed at checking my vulnerability to a pulmonary embolism. I take a rather keen interest in this for three reasons:

  1. Embolism and thrombosis are the biggest killers of COVID patients in hospitals, because the virus makes your blood more likely to clot unhelpfully. In normal times, they are usually caused by blood clots from elsewhere in the body making it to the lungs; with COVID, the clots are already there.
  2. More personally, last year I was (successfully) advising the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis on how to get the World Health Organisation to recommend thrombosis risk screening in global clinical guidance for all new COVID patients in hospitals (I did not mention it at the time, but this was part of my motivation for going to Geneva in July 2020, where I directly lobbied ambassadors on the issue).
  3. Even more personally, my grandmother died of a pulmonary embolism at 31 in 1946, more than twenty years before I was born, leaving four small children, one a new baby. (My great-aunt, at 105, says that my son F has a real look of his great-grandmother, her sister who has been dead now for 75 years.)

So I was perfectly happy for them to take all the time they needed to assess the risks. In the end though, while my lungs are indeed speckled with COVID (and I didn’t need a scan to tell me that) the risk of clots seems to be low, which is a relief.

The other significant extra risk is of secondary infection, but they ruled that out with the first set of blood tests. Again, a relief.

So I was sent home at 2.30 am, with instructions to come straight back if I experience serious breathing difficulties, and/or if the oximeter reading drops below 90%. And I have just woken up.

COVID, day 7

There really isn’t much new to say today. I am still feeling pretty much the same, horizontal most of the time and sleeping a lot. We have been regularly checking in with the oximeter which shows my oxygen levels just in the not-too-worrying zone. The first measurement I took this morning was definitely on the low side, but after my first cup of coffee it went back into the safe zone, and has stayed there.

The Belgian numbers are very bad. As of this morning the infection rate is a hair below the peak of last October/November, but increasing at 54% a week, so will certainly blow through that record tomorrow or Friday. More than 1% of the Belgian population has had a positive diagnosis in the last seven days reported. The health services are officially overwhelmed. F had his latest test today and had to queue for half an hour. I will be cautious of course, but I’m also not going to put the system under further strain unnecessarily.

This is a real bore.

COVID, day 6

Not much change today – still horizontal, still on tea and painkillers, still not much appetite (or sense of taste or smell). But a couple of things to cheer me up.

First off, we got an oximeter from the local pharmacy, and it’s very reassuring to have a device you can stick your finger in to find out if you are just sick or Very Sick. Belgian advice is that you seek further medical help if the oxidation number is consistently at or below 93%. I’m just above that, consistently at around 94%. Which is not great, but could be worse. (I am not really interested in hearing if your local guidance is different.)

Second, I am glad to say that I checked with London colleagues, after my two days in the office there last week, including two working lunches, and nobody else has had a positive diagnosis. (Nor has my dinner date on Monday night.) So it looks like the only other person I have infected is Anne. Which sucks for both of us, but again, it could have been worse.

But I don’t think I will be up and about again before the weekend, and I don’t think I will be up for a planned trip to Portugal for SMOFCon at the end of next week, so alas will have to cancel that.

Meanwhile our Brussels office has gone to teleworking four days a week, in line with the latest restrictions, which obviously makes no difference to me this week anyway. Supposedly this is just for the next three weeks. We’ll see…

COVID, day 5

Well, yesterday was gruesome. Horrible gastric symptoms in the evening; I am a little better today but my appetite has completely disappeared and I have not yet got out of bed.

It has also become clear how I got infected last weekend. No blame at all to the person who I caught it from; we took all sensible precautions, but in the end it’s risk reduction and not elimination.

Anne is a lot better than me, but still very far from 100%. We are both better off then the husband of a friend who died of Covid, aged 62, in just five days earlier this year. But it’s going to be another few days before I’m fit to work again.

COVID, day 4

Woke up this morning with bad headache and cough. Anne’s positive results came through, and indeed I found mine on the mijngezondheid.be website. She thinks she is improving; I am definitely not – very bad gastric symptoms this evening. When this is all over my weight will have improved!

COVID, day 3

Well, feeling no worse today, if also no better; sniffly and sneezy. I have had much worse flu than this. (But it would certainly have hit me much harder without the vaccinations.)

Anne had her test today, and we expect it will be positive. F’s test was negative, as anticipated, but now he has gone into the same isolation at home as when he was the only one infected, a few weeks back. U shows no signs of being affected; we have not yet been able to sign her up for a test – since she doesn’t have a phone, the tracing system doesn’t spot her immediately.

Lots of fluids and painkillers. And we just got a massive grocery delivery of oven-ready meals for F and U – Anne and I have largely lost our appetite, and I proved yesterday that I am not really up to cooking

And I am certainly not up to much else, for the time being. We had originally scheduled to visit my relatives near Aalst tomorrow – they called and cancelled while I was in London because they had non-COVID colds; we’d certainly have had to cancel anyway. (They have recovered well, apparently.)

COVID, day 2

I’m not going to do tediously long updates but it’s maybe useful just to keep track. Did not feel any worse for most of today, and felt up to making my own beans-on-toast dinner – but doing that really wiped me out. I put curry powder in the beans but was not able to really taste it, which is a telling symptom. Poor Anne has a cough too now and will get a test tomorrow. F had his this afternoon and seems fine, as does U.

I am a bit puzzled about how the tracking system actually works. My Coronalert app reset itself completely yesterday afternoon, which apparently happened last time too, when F got his diagnosis. It took with it the only record I had of my positive test apart from an ambiguously worded text message. Presumably there is some record somewhere in the system, but I don’t have it.

(It says to stay in isolation for 10 days if you had a positive diagnosis, not because, as I would have expected.)

COVID, day 1

So, I wrote yesterday that I was “Still waiting very anxiously as of this writing for the results of my return-to-Belgium test taken this morning. I feel about as grotty as I usually do after a series of late nights with friends, capped by Eurostar yesterday evening.”

I woke up, still not feeling in top form and still with no test result, had breakfast and got on the train to work, assuming that I would get a negative test result during the commute and get through the morning with coffee as usual. As the train pulled out of our local station I checked the Coronalert app for the umpteenth time, expecting either yet another blank or else clearance as a result of yesterday’s test. But no. It said that my diagnosis was positive and I must isolate for the next ten days.


I got off at the next stop and got the first train home again, logged into email and started converting all of the in-person meetings I had planned for today and tomorrow into virtual meetings. I had a bit of a cough, but felt that I could probably power on through. And I actually did do my first scheduled meeting, with a group of MPs from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the U.K. House of Commons, who were visiting Brussels; the Foreign Office is still able to set up a video link at short notice.

But as the morning wore on, I started to feel more and more grotty, with chest pain and general fatigue, and shortly after noon I admitted to myself that I was not going to do anything more at work this week, cancelled everything else and went to bed, where I have stayed. At the moment it’s no worse than a medium attack of flu. But I will listen to my body and take it easy.

Given the five-ish days of incubation, it is very likely that I was infected at Novacon. Two other attendees also had positive diagnoses today. I did have a negative test result on Sunday morning, but I don’t know if that excludes my having picked it up earlier. Anyway, the con has sent around an email to inform all members. I do hope that I managed to avoid passing it on to anyone in our London office, where I spent most of Monday and Tuesday.

So there we go. In the meantime B has also had a high-risk contact and is confined to her room in the Foundation in Tienen, which will frustrate her mightily; at least I can read, or talk to people, so she has it much worse. U was with us anyway due to a suspected case at her end of the Foundation; they called this morning to say that the people concerned had negative tests so U could go back. Ah, I said, I have news for you; she can’t. So Anne, F, U and I are stuck here for the time being. The others will be able to leave the house as soon as they get negative tests, but the system is creaking at the moment under the highest case load for over a year.

Very cheered by the outpouring of good wishes on social media; much appreciated. I hope I won’t have to do many more updates like this one.