What does suffering CoVid-19 feel like?

March 20, 2020

by Martin Odoni

I have contracted colds, influenzas and fevers many times in my life, but I can state with certainty that none of them was quite like this. Anyone under the illusion that CoVid-19, the disease caused by the current Coronavirus pandemic, is “just ‘flu” can park their rear-ends on something sharp.

At the time-of-writing, it is the evening of Thursday 19th March, and I have been suffering the illness for five days. The first symptoms began to set in on Sunday morning, a mild shivering coupled with an inexplicable, all-over-body-achey tiredness. Given the initial ‘incubation period’ of three-to-four days, I suspect I was infected last Wednesday, when a customer where I work revealed he had been exposed to the virus earlier that day. (It would have been nice of him not to have waited until fifteen minutes after he arrived to mention it to us, but, hey ho.)

CoVid-19 exposure in work

Well… it may have been 15 minutes.

Now, CoVid-19, to repeat, is not ‘flu, but to be fair, anyone who catches it can be forgiven for mistaking it for ‘flu, as there is a lot of similarity. The high temperature, the bursts of sweating alternating with the bursts of shivering, the grueling tiredness, the aching joints as white blood cells fight a ‘territory-battle’ with the virus for control of your limbs.

Yes, these sensations are all present during a CoVid-19 fever too, and none of them is welcome. But there are differences in symptoms that become more noticeable as time passes.

One is the coughing. With a ‘flu, most of the coughing happens after the main illness clears up, and is usually just the lungs clearing out the last traces of the infection. The coughing tends to be very ‘productive’ i.e. it brings up a lot of mucus and other unpleasant fluids from the chest. But with CoVid-19, you will likely find the coughing starts around the time the fever sets in, and, at least for the first couple of days, it tends to be a drier, throatier, itchier cough that brings little to the surface, and is therefore even more maddening. It is not long before the throat becomes sore, and swallowing becomes uncomfortable. (In my case, it even led to a mild earache, due to the proximity of the tonsils to the ear-drums.)

Another difference is how the fever hits you. With ‘flu, the fever is no-nonsense. It just hits you like a Tyson Fury haymaker, smashing you to the canvas in one heavy blow of violent shivering, followed by a flurry of super-heated punches that soak your bedsheets in ringing hot sweat.

But the fever is subtler when it is CoVid-19., almost as though it is conserving its energy so it can torture you for far longer – which it does. When the fever starts, you shiver, and shiver. The shivering stage goes on for hours, far longer than with the ‘flu, often so gently you feel slightly humiliated for thinking yourself unwell. The sweats most likely happen after you have fallen asleep, and again, they are just gentle enough that they might not even wake you. But again, they go on for longer than they would with a regular dose of ‘flu.

The result is that, should you wake, probably about four hours after the shivering ended, the fever is still at its peak. You will probably feel, not so much fatigue or sleepiness, as something quite the opposite – panic. You want to shout out, may even want to leap to your feet – which is what I did – although it is probably best to resist that impulse as you will find balancing very, very difficult. That is when you notice you are ringing with sweat, especially all over the legs. For myself, I had to sink to my knees at this point and hug myself, as the sensation of being overheated was hurriedly replaced by the realisation that it was about 3am, and my bedroom was freezing.

The fever is still at its peak when you roll back over in bed and resume sleeping, and – this is the really nasty part – it never passes. When you wake up again in the morning, it is still going on. And the Battle Of The White Blood Cells has by now turned into a full-blown war through the length of your every artery. Your every joint, your every muscle, aches like your whole body has a migraine. It makes no difference if you stand up or lie down, and matters not a jot what stance or prone position you adopt, the ache just does not go away. It is everywhere. Externally, your sense of touch becomes distorted, as every physical contact you attempt somehow feels both numb and like your skin has caught fire.

At this stage in a ‘flu – early on day 2 – you are already over the worst of it. Oh yes, you are horribly tired and thirsty, and your temperature probably has not stabilised yet, but from here, you can be confident that the direction is up.

Not with CoVid-19. Early on day 2, the fever has still not really lifted, albeit it is probably abating somewhat. Your skin continues to feel excruciating and numb simultaneously, while the aches across your body broaden out and start to make you feel like you are being stretched by a traction engine. Your stomach starts to feel very sore and tender. Your temperature is still fluctuating, mainly elevated, but still punctuated by intermittent shivers, and there is no sign of it actually stabilising at all. And all the while, you feel so incredibly weak, you struggle any time you need to walk the short distance to the lavatory.

Day 3 starts better, and despite the fever still going on, you are more or less adjusted to it by now. You still feel a complete dearth of energy, but the pain seems to have gone away (or maybe you have simply ceased to notice it). Even if all you can really do is sleep, at least you can do so more comfortably now.

This is when the breathing troubles start. The War Of The Blood-cells has entered your lungs, and your chest tightens as the walls of your bronchi react to the viral invasion, and the coughing becomes more persistent and chestier. The potential damage to the lungs is in fact the most serious threat from CoVid-19, although thankfully it has not hit me too hard there as yet. But the sense of panic returns, which inevitably brings you to tighten up all your muscles on reflex, bringing the excruciating all-over-bodyaches back to the fore.

From this point on, every tiny bit of pain you experience, every twinge, every bit of physical bother, no matter how irrelevant it is to the virus itself, is loudly amplified by your central nervous system, and you want to scream.

And remember, you are, if you behave responsibly, probably going through all this completely alone, because you will have self-isolated as soon as the first symptoms became apparent. The arms-length position adopted by the NHS, while essential, compounds the feeling of being on your own. Atop all the pain and discomfort we can therefore place loneliness and uncertainty. Add to that the agitation of keeping an eye on the Internet and being startled at just how phenomenally badly Boris Johnson is handling the Government’s response to the pandemic, and the general emotional outlook of most quarantine patients will be total despondency.

BoJob - Keynesianism is back, Bozo

Just remember, Great Britain, you wanted the Blond Blimp as Prime Minister. I didn’t.

This is roughly where I am now. I do not feel noticeably better than I did on Sunday/Monday. My temperature continues to fluctuate, the aches all over my body frequently bring me to the edge of tears. my breathing is often impaired, and I am quite willing to admit that the lack of improvement is starting to worry me. I have to keep reminding myself that this expectation of improvement comes from past experiences of the ‘flu.

In terms of how ill I feel, I would not say CoVid-19 is necessarily worse than some of the ‘flus I’ve contracted, or even that it is the most intense. But so far it is more relentless and unending than any ‘flu I have ever suffered. Because this is not ‘flu. Oh dear me no. This really is not the ‘flu. I therefore should not really expect the same of it.

The difficulty is that I am quite unsure what I should expect.

13 Responses to “What does suffering CoVid-19 feel like?”

  1. marijo1951 Says:

    Thank you Martin for taking the time to write that graphic almost real time account of what it actually feels like to be going through a bout of this virus. I sincerely wish you a very speedy recover. I’ve always wondered about those who talk about ‘just the flu’ and even turn down a free flu jab, as if flu is nothing and can be shaken off without trouble. I remember 5 or 6 horrendous doses of flu throughout my life and clearly COVID-19 is flu on speed so I don’t want it.

    I’m on day 4 of voluntary self-isolation and will be going out for my 6 a.m. walk soon. I’m one of those that Bojo and Dom consider expendable, not over 70 yet but with troublesome ailments and a depleted immune system. I wonder what really made them change tack in their approach, the Imperial College report or some stirrings in the Tory ranks.

  2. A6er Says:

    Reblogged this on Tory Britain! and commented:
    Hope you are over the worst of it Martin, wishing you a speedy recovery.

  3. Mark Catlin Says:

    I wish you all the best Martin, hopefully it’ll pass sooner than later. M

  4. Jimbob Says:

    Sounds awful Martin. Hope you get well soon, Jim

  5. jaynel62 Says:

    Oh Martin, much of this sounds similar to symptoms of the flare-ups I experience with Fibro *& Sjorgens; I wish you all the very best it clears up soon. And Thank You for the detailed description of your symptoms I can now monitor the differences between my regular issues and (hopefully not) this awful virus xx

  6. Lynn Dye Says:

    Sounds horrendous, Martin, thanks for sharing with us all. Sincerely hope you are over the worst now and wishing you a speedy recovery.

    • Martin Odoni Says:

      Many thanks, Lynn. Unfortunately, I woke up this morning feeling even worse. They say more severe cases are like pneumonia rather than ‘flu. I really hope I’m not heading in that direction.


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