Our Covid Christmas

A positive Covid test hasn’t been anything of note across much of the world for the past couple of years, but in Australia and particularly in Queensland it’s been hard to find anyone who even knows someone who has had Covid, let alone who has had it themselves – until the past week or so when Omicron’s hit Australia with gusto.

After getting so many questions and messages via social media over the past week or so since we tested positive, I thought it might be helpful to share some of our experience here, and our suggestions for what to have on hand for when it hits your household.

I should start by saying we’re all fully vaccinated, Sam hasn’t had his booster yet as he isn’t yet eligible but Stuart and I are both boosted. However as Australia and the rest of the world has quickly learned, while vaccination status definitely impacts the severity of the outcome, it’s still no barrier to copping a dose of the Omicron variant.

After getting a head up on the Thursday before Christmas that someone we’d seen earlier in the week had tested positive, we had immediately cancelled all of the catch ups we had scheduled and tried to get a PCR on the Thursday afternoon, but were turned away from 3 locations due to them all being over capacity.

We were fortunate enough to find some rapid antigen tests (RATs) at the local 7-11 on Christmas Eve (Friday). And yes, there was a sense of irony that after 30+ years in the healthcare industry our best sourcing option was a 7-11… On the Friday morning we all tested negative, but continued to keep ourselves isolated as we knew there was still a risk we hadn’t entered the positive testing window.

Stuart then tested positive via a RAT on Christmas morning (Saturday), which was no surprise as he’d developed a cough overnight and wasn’t feeling great. Sam and I were negative, but we bunkered down for a Christmas Day as a threesome and lovely friends who were supposed to be spending Christmas lunch with did a contactless lunch drop off instead.

Monday morning Sam and I both tested positive as well, which was pretty well on track with the exposure to positive test timeline that initial overseas reports were indicating was a hallmark of Omicron, and Sam quickly also developed similar symptoms to Stuart. I was completely asymptomatic, to the point that I smashed out a tough Peloton workout mid morning.

We’d made a decision that there was zero value in us going and joining one of the very long lines to get a PCR test. We knew we were positive beyond any shadow of doubt, we’d already limited our exposure in the lead up to testing positive and let anyone that we had had contact with in the proceeding days know. We felt that standing in line for hours, if we could even find a line to stand in, just put others at risk of exposure and wouldn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, as well as contributing to the strain on the healthcare system unnecessarily.

From there, it was all about managing at home as there was no question any of us were sick enough to go to hospital. Unfortunately my asymptomatic status was short lived, and from the Tuesday I very quickly rode the fast train downhill to unequivocal sickest in the house.

Stuart and Sam both had very similar symptoms and timelines. Cough, sore throat, slight fever and fatigue which saw them confined largely to the couch for the first couple of days, then a pretty quick recovery to be largely asymptomatic by day 5.

I was lucky enough to add severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea onto my symptom list, which left me unable to keep anything down for a couple of days and made the whole experience pretty unpleasant. I only really started feeling human again on day 6, but once I started to come good I improved pretty rapidly.

Things changed pretty quickly during the 10 days we went from skipping blithely into Christmas to coming out the other side of the whole household having had Covid. For the first time RATs became an endorsed part of the diagnosis and management strategy on a national level, and the exclusion and quarantine definitions and timelines changed significantly to be much more uniform across the country. Being in isolation gives you plenty of time to stay abreast of all the last national and international information, and we were certainly happy beneficiaries of the reduction in isolation time from 14 to 7 days.

While none of us would rank it as the ideal way to spend the window between Christmas and New Years, and each of us had a fairly rough few days of not feeling great, it was nothing like the terrible illness that previous variants had delivered. That said, it could have been very different if we weren’t vaccinated.

Given it’s almost inevitable that if you haven’t already tested positive it’s a ‘when’ not ‘if’ equation now, regardless of your vaccination status, these are the things that we would recommend you make sure you have on hand and have a plan for.

  • First and foremost, if you’re eligible for a booster and haven’t had it yet schedule it asap. Being vaccinated is far and away the best way to protect yourself and those around you.
  • RATs. Try and source at least two for each person in your household, ideally three or four in case it takes a couple of days before you test positive, and you may also need to test a couple of times on the way out the other side like I did
  • Basic painkillers like Panadol and Nurofen, both for the fever and the sore throat. My throat was so bad I was taking both simultaneously.
  • All of the throat things. I can’t begin to explain how bad the Omicron sore throat can be. Stuart and Sam had a sore throat too, but mine was so bad I was literally sobbing with the pain. I couldn’t swallow anything at all, and given the vomiting and diarrhoea I was at real risk of dehydration. We had nothing on hand, but a wonderful neighbour responded to a desperate message and went out at crack of dawn and bought me every kind of lozenge, throat spray, gargle etc imaginable, and I used them all.
  • Electrolytes. If you’re lucky enough to get the vomiting and diarrhoea symptoms plus the sore throat this may be the only thing you consume for a couple of days, so have some Hydralyte or Gastrolyte or similar on hand.
  • My nausea was so bad I also ended up getting a prescription for ondansetron so I could keep some fluids down, but fortunately this seems to be one of the less common effects.
  • If you have any kind of fitness tracker they can provide useful insights that help put into context how sick you actually are. I’ve used the Oura ring for years, and the data I got from that was very reassuring as I was able to see key indicators like temperature, heart rate, respiration rate and compare them to my normal. While they showed I was unwell none of them ever went to extreme levels, which was very comforting particularly when I was feeling really lousy.
  • We didn’t have a pulse oximeter, but if you have any history of respiratory illness it’s well worth having one on hand to be able to monitor your oxygen stats, and it would have been a good addition to our Covid tool kit.
Covid supplies

It’s also important to think about who your support network is going to be. You’re going to need food and supplies dropped off, possibly dogs walked and a myriad of other things that you won’t have thought of in advance. Don’t feel bad about accepting any and all offers of help, chances are you will be able to repay the favour in the very near future when they test positive!

We were so fortunate to have wonderful friends and neighbours who immediately swung into action and we’re already finding ourselves able to do the same in return as they get their own positive diagnosis.

A big thank you also to all of the people who reached out to us offering assistance, we were overwhelmed with offers of support. One of the few positives that have come out of the pandemic is the sense of community that has come to the fore, and we really appreciate the kindness that has been shown to us and will definitely be paying it forward as and when the need arises.

UPDATE: January 4th

So this morning was day 9 and I finally tested negative and could be released back into the world!

Stuart and Sam and most of the other people we know who have had it were asymptomatic by day 6 and able to exit isolation on day 7 (as per the current QLD guidelines), but I needed to be asymptomatic and test negative as I was still symptomatic on day 6, and to be honest not well enough to be out then.

For those who like me who find themselves a bit harder hit by the Omicron bus, I wanted to give some hope in sharing that my experience was once you start to come good you actually get better very quickly. I still felt pretty rubbish on day 6, but by day 7 I was much improved and by yesterday (day 8) I was completely asymptomatic.

One of the things about RATs vs PCRs is that you can actually see yourself improving as the line gets fainter each day until it disappears. I didn’t retest until day 7 as there was no way I was wasting those precious babies, but as the line faded away I knew the end was in sight.

I’m sorry to all those messaging me who are desperately looking for RATs, unfortunately I don’t have a secret source or any ability to locate them. We were just really fortunate that we were early enough in the wave that we had ordered some online which arrived on New Years Eve, and had been lucky enough to find some in stock at a 7-11 on Christmas Eve, and my test this morning used up the last one we had.

I’m hoping that as distribution channels open up again today after the end of the holidays that supply starts to flow, and that we also start to see some common sense brought into the way they are funded and distributed throughout the community.

In the meantime, the Find A Rat website is the best suggestion I have for tracking them down, and this is also a helpful graphic illustrating the different tests available. (We used Ecotest and Orawell purely because that was what we had been able to source.)

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