Tales from a sickbed

A jar of Colmans English mustard

Poor Alistair Cooper MW, one of our JR.com team members, is just – only just – recovering from what was surely one of the many, many unrecorded cases of That Virus. It left him unable to smell English mustard. See also Ali's update, written a week later.

There are currently some 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom as I write this (23 March 2020). Given the lack of testing here in the UK, that figure can reasonably be expected to be much higher. Say, ten times higher? I would dare to say that the true number would yield some startling results. I am not a doctor; however, even ten times this number would to me seem to be an extremely conservative estimation.

I am convinced that I am one of the unconfirmed numbers in the UK to have contracted the coronavirus. I base this on the fact that I personally know of 18 people who have experienced the same symptoms as I have over the past week. Yet it is one symptom that we all developed that has led me to fully believe this. And for me, it is a particularly worrying symptom as well as being an extremely terrifying, and upsetting one – anosmia, the complete loss of sense of smell and taste.

For anybody this is an irritating, inconvenient and unpleasant condition, yet for a wine professional it is harrowing ordeal (see JR’s similar nightmare over a decade ago described in Take one nose). Sticking my uncongested nose into a jar of English mustard last week and smelling absolutely nothing, zero, was for me the worst moment of my personal battle with COVID-19 infection. As you will now read, the other symptoms experienced were also rather unpleasant but this –  goodness me – had me panicking beyond all belief.

Upon searching the internet for confirmation, I found many articles (such as this one from the New York Times) confirming that this is now considered a symptom and identifier of COVID-19 infection. This was both a concern as well as a comfort, as were reports of some people’s regaining their sense of smell and taste after several days, and others who several weeks later had not. Fortunately for me, I am slowly but surely regaining my sense of both smell and taste.

I thought it might be useful for readers to share my experience with this menacing virus, yet I stress that my experience is of course unique, and seemingly each individual case varies greatly.

Day one: I started to feel a tickle in my throat in the afternoon, definitely symptom number one – a sore throat. This progressed during the day and by the evening, swallowing was pretty painful. I went to bed and two hours later woke with the most severe sore throat I have ever had, akin to swallowing razor blades. I also experienced horrific night sweats.

Day two: Headache started, pretty painful though paracetamol somewhat helped alleviate this. Temperature (38.5 °C/101.3 °F) and fevers/chill and general mild malaise. Sore throat mildly subsiding but still horrid. Tight chest and pain across top of lungs / back of throat, not severe but noticeable. Mild cough. Horrific night sweats. Zero appetite.

Day three: Higher temperatures (39.5 °C/103.1 °F), and chills/fever. No energy, zero appetite. Still slight sore throat and very mild cough. No energy, no appetite. No desire to move from bed, slightly dizzy when standing up. Damned night sweats again.

Day four: Feeling mildly better, but still all of the above and headache back. Slightly more of a cough, but still not my main symptom. Night sweats the worst yet. Slight appetite.

Day five: Think I am turning a corner, temperature down to 38 °C (100.4 °F) and a little more energy and sore throat dissipating. Yet I am getting a mouth infection, red tongue and gums. Not nice. Night sweats are horrid.

Day six: Temperature down to normal, slight cough yet struggling to smell well. Didn’t think much of it. By the evening, I cannot smell or taste anything at all – nothing. Getting worried. Night sweats…

Day seven: ZERO smell or taste. Check in with others who have had symptoms, all saying the same thing. Nothing happening nasally, wasabi might as well be water. Mouth still painful. Night sweats mildly less intense

Day eight: Feeling much brighter, slight cough yet no smell/taste. Croissant might as well be cardboard. My partner cooked bacon, I smelt nothing. I decided to do some light exercise (very, very light – stretching and sit-ups, etc) which I thought was a good idea. I don’t think it was; my lungs didn’t thank me. Around 6 pm I stuck my nose in the jar of mustard and I swear there was the faintest whiff of vinegar – hallelujah! I suddenly, though, came down with a nasty coughing fit in the evening and some slight trouble breathing – tight chest. Feeling faint and I go straight to bed and to sleep. Slight sweats. Mouth better.

Day nine: Today (23 March)! Feeling a lot brighter, sense of smell and taste definitely improving – I can smell vinegar, marmite and deodorant. It’s not at full tilt yet, but it’s coming back, slowly but surely… No headache, no sore throat, mild cough, and mild mouth problems. I am officially on the mend – I think.

I think the scary thing for me is quite how useless the symptom guide is for people. We have been told to isolate if experiencing a fever or continuous cough – yet none of the people I know who I’m pretty sure have been infected has had either of these as their first symptoms. For some it was pain behind the eyeballs, for others it was a sore throat, others an upset stomach and so on. Now we have anosmia as a confirmed symptom. This is not a straightforward virus, it is highly individual in how it takes hold of one’s system.

Also, this is a virus that requires much caution. I felt much better yesterday and decided to do the light exercise as mentioned above. I consider myself a fairly fit and healthy person and exercise regularly, four or five times per week –  so my lungs have a pretty good capacity from running and plenty of exercise. I dread to think what this would do to smokers, the vulnerable et al.

The majority of other cases I know of personally I was with at the end of last week (10 days ago). It was a university reunion ... foolish retrospectively but we were all seemingly healthy at the time. The other two are my brother and his friend, who think they got it skiing in France 10 days ago. 

I either got it at a tasting in London, or en route, or from one of my friends. Really not sure!

Again I stress that I have not been officially confirmed with COVID-19. It’s almost impossible to be tested in the UK unless you are in hospital, or you are a football player or a celebrity – who are seemingly tested at will. Yet, given my experience and from what I have read, I firmly believe that I am one of the many numberless cases here in the UK.

Stay safe, and well, and I urge everyone to be socially responsible. COVID-19 is not just another cold.