„In order to get tested, I had to lie a bit.“
At the end of February 2020, a 68-year-old German man contracted the coronavirus in South Tyrol – now, he is almost completely recovered. In an exclusive interview, he tells us how he got infected, how the quarantine was organized and how the public health office and medical staff could have better communicated with him.
Hier geht es zur deutschen Originalversion des Interviews (inklusive Audio):
The most important question: How are you feeling right now?
Mr. M.*: I am officially out of quarantine since yesterday, and I am feeling very good. I am symptom-free.
Do you know how and where you contracted the coronavirus?
Mr. M.: I went skiing in South Tyrol on February 29th, that was the week after carnival. Although there were fewer people than usual, contact could not be avoided. People go on the ski lift together, you pass others on your way – the usual when you go on a ski trip. That’s where it happened, probably. Of course, it is only an assumption.
What symptoms did you experience at the beginning?
Mr. M.: I already had a slight cold, but very likely, that had nothing to do with the coronavirus. I had a cough and my voice was slightly off, but that did not disturb me – I still went skiing every day. On the last day of the trip, the cough got worse and I experienced trouble breathing. But I still did not have a fever.
„The public health office told me that my symptoms could have been anything.“
What did you do then, who did you contact first?
Mr. M.: The day before we returned home, South Tyrol was officially declared a risk area. Since I had suspicious symptoms, I called my doctor immediately. He told me to contact the public health office or the test site in my region.
What happened next, were you offered a coronavirus test?
Mr. M.: I called the whole morning, until I reached someone at the public health office. They told me that the symptoms I had could have been anything and that they cannot prescribe a coronavirus test. Nevertheless, I went to the test site and told them that the health office was sending me. I lied a bit. The staff was friendly, did not question it and conducted the test.
How was the coronavirus testing, and how long did it take until the result?
Mr. M.: First, you had to wait for two hours, but that was fine, everything was very well organized. They took swabs of the nose and throat, as you have probably seen already numerous times on TV. After this, they sent me home and that night, my body temperature rose to more than 38 degrees. I felt better the next day, but I noticed that my immune system was feeling attacked. On Tuesday afternoon, I received the result – that I had tested positive for the coronavirus.
„I was called by the staff of the health office every day to check on my situation.“
What was your first reaction, when you heard that you contracted the coronavirus? How was the reaction of your wife?
Mr. M.: I still had hope that it was just a normal cough or flu because I still had no concrete notion of where I could have been infected. Home quarantine was sure anyway, since I had recently returned from the risk area of South Tyrol. Either way, I had to stay in home isolation, with or without a positive test result. It was more exhausting for my wife, than for me. Until we got the result, she had to make sure that we had no contact at all while at home. Nevertheless, she was quarantined, too.
Who decided to put you under quarantine?
Mr. M.: A few days after the test result, I received an official letter from the public order office that I was to be put under home quarantine until March 22nd.
How was the quarantine and the medical assistance organized?
Mr. M.: I was told by the health office that my doctor would call me – which, by the way, never happened. But I was called by the staff of the health office every day to check on my situation. I had the feeling that the staff was mostly calling for their routine documentation. It was mainly about checking if I was in need of stationary treatment or any intensive care.
Did you receive some advice or any special medication?
Mr. M.: No, not really, and that worried me a little bit. When I asked what I could do, I always got the same answer: You can do nothing. I hoped that I would at least get some medical advice like ‚inhale regularly, get this or that‘, but I had to arrange that on my own. My wife bought some medicine to ease the complaints, like paracetamol and cough reliever. I took these at night, so I could sleep.
„I guess the coronavirus test will just count as a normal doctor visit.“
Were you tested regularly during the isolation?
Mr. M.: No. Of course, I asked, also in interest of the people around me, what happens now and what are the next steps. Initially, it was said that when you are symptom free for 48 hours, you get tested twice every 24 hours. If the results are both negative, I would be healed. But after one week of isolation, they told me that these tests will no longer be conducted due to the lack of capacity. So, I continued reporting my state of health to the best of my belief and self-observation.
Do you have any pre-existing diseases that could have affected Covid-19?
Mr. M.: Although I am almost 70 years old, I am healthy and physically fit. The one week of intense skiing did not exhaust me at all.
During the whole process of testing and therapy: was there any contact with your health insurance agency? Did they pay extra costs?
Mr. M.: I asked the man from the health office, but he could not tell me anything about the charging process of the coronavirus test. I guess that this will just count as a normal doctor visit. I had no contact with my health insurance agency at any time.
„In self-isolation, I listened to Mr. Drosten, who is a brilliant scientist.“
You spent the quarantine at home. How was it cohabitating with your wife?
Mr. M.: We strictly followed the rules from the Robert-Koch-Institute. We kept two meters apart and lived in separate rooms. I spent my time in one room without any contact. My wife placed the food in front of the door and I took it when she left. When I had to go into the kitchen, I wore a face mask and gloves. We paid acute attention so as not to cause droplet or smear infection. Still today, my wife has no symptoms, and therefore we think our efforts worked. Although you cannot be sure about that, the health office never declared her as a contact person.
What did you do the whole time in self-isolation, how was your everyday life?
Mr. M.: I spent most of the time in bed. I was lucky to have my computer and the TV in the room I stayed in. I watched TV and read everything you can read about the coronavirus. Also, I listened to Mr. Drosten, who is a brilliant scientist. He explains everything really well.
„I paid attention to how I was feeling and reflected upon the age of people who were most likely to die from the virus.“
Does Covid-19 feel different from a normal cough or flu? Have you felt any extraordinary pain?
Mr. M.: Definitely different than a normal cough. This one went strongly on the lungs. I had pressure on the upper lung-area and pain when breathing deeply. I barely talked, but when I did, I had to cough immediately. This is how I imagine lung inflammation. I never had one and never had a flu, at least not that I’m aware of.
How did your condition evolve from the first symptoms until your recovery?
Mr. M.: I had a really bad cough for a long time. I spent the mornings coughing for over an hour. Except for the first day, I never had a fever, my body temperature was always normal. It did not take long for me to have trouble breathing, though. We have stairs in our house and I suddenly felt how exhausting it was. I had really bad headaches, too. I felt that I was coming down with a cold. My body definitely fought with the virus for ten days and finally won. With time, the complaints declined. At the end of the quarantine – that was last friday – I felt extremely better.
Did you fear death at any point? After all, you belong to the group of people, who are most at risk.
Mr. M.: That is true. Of course, I paid attention to how I was feeling and reflected upon the age of people who were most likely to die from the virus. But I never had the impression that my state of health was so bad that I had to go to the hospital. Therefore, the mortal fear was only a theoretical assumption.
Were you concerned about having infected your family and friends before you got the positive test result?
Mr. M.: Yes. I spent a whole week living with one of my skiing-friends in an apartment during our trip. The man contracted the coronavirus too, although we don’t know if he was infected in the same place as me or if I infected him.
„I felt that it would still go on that my body was fighting, and I just hoped that it would soon be over.“
How did you feel mental, did the disease also depress you?
Mr. M.: Actually, no. The most difficult part mentally was the fact that I received no support from the medical staff. That was and is still very disappointing. I wished that I had received some tips on what I could do. This definitely should be working better. Apart from that, I tried to think rationally: one day passed and again and again. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. It did not get worse, over all, the fever did not rise. Otherwise, I would have panicked. I felt that it would still go on that my body was fighting, and I just hoped that it would soon be over. And it soon was over.
What was the thing that helped you the most during that time?
Mr. M.: I regularly used an inhaler with essential oils, as you use when you have a cough. This eased the pain a lot. Since I did not receive any medical tips, I fought the strong headaches with coffee. I checked the ingredients of painkillers and there was caffeine. And then I thought, ‚hey, you didn’t have a cup of coffee for a week now‘. After a large cup of coffee, the headache was gone. I would have expected a tip like that from the medical stuff. I also spoke to my friend a lot, with whom I went on that ski trip and who contracted the virus, himself too. He told me how he was feeling, and I told him how I was feeling. That connection definitely helped.
What have you missed most during that quarantine time?
Mr. M.: To go out when the sun was shining. The time of my quarantine was two weeks of beautiful weather. I wished I would have been able to do gardening. My garden is directly behind my home. But luckily, I could spend some days on the balcony. My living conditions are very advantageous, very close to nature, more than tolerable.
„At the moment, I still don’t know if there is anything left in my lungs or what I am supposed to do now.“
When were you discharged from quarantine?
Mr. M.: That was Tuesday night. I continued my report to the health office every day and on Sunday, I noticed that I was feeling considerably better. I could report that for three days in a row I had no symptoms and no pain anymore. Thereafter, they declared that because I was stable, I was discharged from quarantine.
What happens next? Are you still under surveillance because of any possible impairment of health?
Mr. M.: They didn’t tell me anything about that. The health office did not send a declaration to my doctor, either. I will call my doctor tomorrow and ask for an appointment. At the moment, I still don’t know if there is anything left in my lungs or what I am supposed to do now.
Can you move around freely again, or did they impose any conditions?
Mr. M.: I specifically asked them if there were any behavioral rules that I should follow. They just told me that the same official rules from the government apply to me, as for anyone else.
„Follow the rules which the government set: Keep as much distance as possible.“
Numerous people have also contracted the coronavirus or will be infected soon. What can you tell others from your experience with Covid-19?
Mr. M.: I used the ski lift with other people. I’ve been to South Tyrol for ten years now, and it was never that empty. And, still, I got infected somewhere. Obviously, we were not careful enough. I clearly state: If I had known that the virus would get so close so fast, I would have cancelled the trip. We even met people from Heinsberg there, the coronavirus hotspot in Germany. They knew already that there was something going on. If I had known, I wouldn’t have gone to the ski area. But, to me, the coronavirus was still far away at that time. It was in China, in Heinsberg and Bavaria. And South Tyrol was still no risk area.
Concerning the disease: I am almost 70 years old and it has been ten uncomfortable days. And just as a bad cough or flu, you must stay in bed and bear it. It is really uncomfortable, but apart from that, it will never be a real threat. Stay calm and disciplined. And follow the rules which the government set: Keep as much distance as possible.
When will your normal daily life start again?
Mr. M.: Normal daily life will still take some time. At least, until my wife and I will follow our daily routines as it was before the coronavirus, such as going to work. Personally, I have had to cut back on activities because my circular flow is still a bit weak from spending 14 days in bed. But I can already do some gardening, which is what I was most looking forward to.
*Editorial staff changed the name.