Having experienced the disease first-hand, Sobha now hopes to be able to reassure her patients with a lot of conviction

The last few weeks have indeed been an excruciating experience for my family and I. Thankfully, we have all nearly passed through this agony and I finally feel ready to share our tale – one of all the trials and tribulations that we had to go through as a family.

Our story began in earnest on the day of the nation-wide lockdown, on March 23. My husband and I had been working tirelessly, trying to make the pharmacy a safe environment amidst the pandemic.

We had personally sourced and bought personal protective equipment (PPE) for our team and implemented social distancing measures strictly as well as introduce a hatch in the pharmacy to serve patients safely.

At home we had also been practising social distancing strictly.

I was considering moving out for a few weeks as my mum is high risk (over 70) and an asthma/COPD patient, but she didn’t agree so I just maintained a distance from my family and stayed in a separate room.

Every single day after work I had a shower as soon as I entered the house and put my work clothes in the wash before I even spoke to anyone in the family.

I did not want to expose my mum, husband and our four children to the virus. We were being very careful, cleaning all surfaces in the house and paying particular attention to door handles, light switches, etc.

We also kept antibacterial wipes in every room to clean up when needed. We had hand sanitiser and handwash near all our sinks.

It was decided that since I was working at the pharmacy, I will be the only one in our household going out for essential things like shopping from now on.

March 25

I had started getting a sore throat, itchy eyes, body aches, pains and discomfort on the right side of my chest as well as a slight shortness of breath. I thought they were all due to the last few weeks that I had been working so hard, down to sheer exhaustion.

March 26

I heard the tragic news that hospital pharmacist Pooja Sharma and her father Sudhir had passed away within 24 hours of each other due to Covid-19. I felt quite down. I was at work that day and was in the rota for the next two weeks or so. My symptoms were similar to the previous day.

March 29

I was on duty and still had chest pain and a new upper back pain. I experienced shortness of breath and by the end of the shift I was feeling like I needed medical attention as my heart was beating faster – probably anxiety was making my symptoms feel worse.

I also checked my blood pressure and it was borderline high at this point as I was getting quite stressed. I went to my local A&E where I was checked if I had a fever or cough and my oxygen saturation was taken.

Everything was okay and because I didn’t have obvious COVID-19 symptoms I was sent to the “clean” area which was urgent care. However, the doctor on duty there referred me back to A&E as they suspected that the chest pain may be due to a cardiac or lung issue and that I needed more investigation.

Once back in the A&E, we were offered masks and all staff thankfully had their PPE.

I had my bloods, ECG and a chest X-RAY done. All came back normal apart from the viral markers in the blood which were slightly raised. The doctor said that maybe I had a slight viral infection. I asked for a COVID test, but they said that it’s not done at this stage as the symptoms weren’t severe enough to warrant one.

I was surprised to see how quiet urgent care and A&E was.

March 30

My husband started having fever, body pain, headache and diarrhoea and by the evening he had self-isolated in the loft bedroom. He called 111 and they advised self-isolation for the entire family for 14 days.

I managed to organise an emergency locum for the next day at the pharmacy and was trying to organise the next two weeks’ cover too, still fighting and not knowing what exactly was causing me a lot of physical difficulty at that point.

March 31

We all started wearing face masks in the house to protect each other.

That morning I noticed my mum was not well and took her temperature. She had a fever as well and I asked her to self-isolate in her room. I rang the duty doctor at our GP surgery and he organised an antibiotic prescription for her.

Now I had the responsibility of the whole household on my shoulders – looking after my four children, my mum and the husband.

I was exhausted – had quite a bad body pain and a sore throat. I was still feeling chest pain and breathlessness and was beginning to get a slight wheeze when I breathed in (I don’t have asthma) but I wasn’t coughing and I didn’t have fever and I had to soldier on either way. There was no other choice.

April 1

My son (aged seven) too started having high fever and insisted on sleeping in the same bed as me, even though we were practising social-distancing as a family. I wore a mask and allowed him a cuddle. I gave him Calpol and kept him cool.

By now my husband was feeling more and more anxious, whenever I checked up on him, he asked about his will as if he won’t survive this ordeal. He was feeling slightly breathless and was uncomfortable sleeping on his back.

My mother too was quite drowsy and breathless, and I woke her up for mealtimes only. It was a very challenging time for us all.

I also made sure that my mum and husband both had regular paracetamol and took vitamins to help boost their immunity. I ensured that they had nutritious food and were drinking enough fluids.

April 2

I still had right-sided chest pain and tightness, upper back pain, breathlessness and wheeze. However, now I also had symptoms of nausea, sinusitis, headache, runny-nose, sneezing, body aches and a cough.

I thought I probably just had a cold because it didn’t seem like COVID-19 symptoms from what I had read.

April 3

I lost all sense of taste and smell (anosmia), had earache as well added to my list of symptoms. My mum and husband were finally fever-free for the second day and my son too didn’t have temperature for the first time since his symptoms. I was starting to suspect it may have been COVID-19 after all.

April 4

My breathlessness was getting more pronounced and I reached out to other colleagues and healthcare professionals – I was advised to do breathing exercises at home and also get tested for COVID-19 as NHS ‘frontliners’ could get tested.

I got the number for the NHS testing in my area and arranged for testing for myself and my husband. In the evening I started to get a low-grade fever.

April 5

My husband and I went to the venue where we had to do a self-swab test. It was his sixth day of isolation and he was recovering well apart from the tiredness and headache.

Thankfully my mum also was recovering. I myself got a low-grade fever again which was controlled with paracetamol.

At this point I had full blown COVID-19 symptoms.

In the evening, we heard that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been admitted to hospital. Everything seemed like a nightmare and surreal!

April 6

Due to my symptoms, I had started to self-isolate in my room and now that my husband and mum had recovered, they looked after me in a reversal of roles.

Whilst in isolation I was reading about the high false negative results of COVID-19 testing and was nervous about getting the results back – although I was sure that either way we have to treat what we have as COVID-19 and treatment plan would not change anyway.

I spoke to some friends who work in the NHS. They also had been tested for COVID-19 and were tested positive however their symptoms were milder than mine, just fever and body ache, no respiratory symptoms and they were back at work after 14 days’ isolation.

It gave me some hope. The news is so depressing just focusing on deaths but not recoveries. I avoided to watch it for my mental health as it was too stressful.

April 7

My fever was high now, fluctuating between 38 and 39 degrees, I was sweating, and getting vivid dreams. I was trying to drink hot water and lemon a couple of times a day and traditional Ayurvedic remedies my mum and husband insisted I have.

I also had regular paracetamol as well as steam inhalation with vicks which helped.

The breathing exercises and lying on my front also eased the breathlessness a lot. I had ordered an oximeter online to check my saturation but it still had not been delivered.

Even so, I felt I could cope at home and I was still able to speak in sentences and walk around a little without getting too much out of breath.

April 8

I was burning up with fever in the morning as I woke at four and couldn’t go back to sleep. My husband, meanwhile, got the result of his COVID swab test and it was positive, but he had fully recovered by then.

I was stressed about getting my own results, my email was mistyped and I rang the lab company for my results but they still hadn’t sent it.

I was panicking a bit but in my heart I knew that the result of the test was going to be positive.

Good thing is my other children had very milder symptoms and my seven-year-old had bounced back after two days of fever and had totally recovered.

My mum still had some weakness and breathlessness. Due to my mother still not making a full recovery, we asked her to rest and not overdo anything.

April 9

It was the first day I was fever-free, my only symptoms now were a persistent cough, shortness of breath, anosmia and exhaustion.

My test results arrived, and it was also positive! No surprises there however now that my illness had a label, it felt scarier, but in a way relieved because now I’ve had it, and hopefully, I would have some kind of immunity to it in future.

I meditated and prayed during this time, which gave me emotional and spiritual strength to pull through without panicking.

Mental health is very important, and a positive mindset will enable faster healing.

After finding out that we have to open pharmacies for a few hours on bank holidays this weekend, I organised cover at one of my branches for good Friday and Easter Monday.

At another branch my staff were simply exhausted as we had already two members of staff self-isolating and really needed a break. Therefore, we decided to keep it closed as planned before.

My husband and I were still working from home throughout our illness, as we had to organise the management and logistics of our businesses.

April 10

I was improving however I was feeling nervous as I had read that the illness may start getting a bit better before it gets worse.

Also during day 7-10 of the illness, some people may be in respiratory distress and can end up being hospitalised.

However, watching Netflix and keeping in touch with friends and family helped me to get through this time and divert my mind from this.

Speaking to a doctor, I was advised that Day One would be counted when I started getting any symptoms, so I was probably already past the critical stage.

This helped to calm me down. I was sad to hear one of our relatives had been hospitalised with COVID-19 but happy that they were now discharged and were recovering.

April 12

Today we found out that Prime Minister Johnson had been discharged from hospital. This news has filled us all with hope that we also can fight and overcome this virus.

All three of us – my mum, husband and I – still feel weak and have post viral fatigue which will probably last a while. We are just grateful that we have recovered from the illness. I finally felt a bit like myself after a week of bedrest.

April 13

I had seen an article about a community pharmacy technician Mandy Siddorn passing away due to coronavirus in the UK. I felt sad and realised what a risky time it is for our profession. It is more important than ever to protect ourselves and our teams.

According to the World Health Organisation, 80 per cent of laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were mild to moderate, 14 per cent severe and 6 per cent critical.

Just to be clear, a mild case of COVID-19 is not like a mild cold. The symptoms will still be pretty severe. Anything less than needing oxygen puts you in the mild category of COVID-19.

I am just grateful that my family and I have got through COVID-19 and I guess our symptoms were mild even though they felt severe to us. My successful fight with the disease means that as a pharmacist I’ll now be able to reassure my patients with a lot more conviction.

It is Vaisakhi today and New Year across most of the subcontinent and even though we couldn’t celebrate our family’s Nepali New Year in the way we would have liked, we hope this year is filled with good health and happiness for all!

Sobha Sharma-Kandel is superintendent pharmacist of Neem Tree Health Ltd in South East London.

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