Francesca Boyle returned from London in February last year. Along with her luggage, her great memories, and new friendships, she also brought back an unwelcome visitor – Covid 19. Here Fran shares her experiences of what that was like.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I used to be part of an amazing ER team at Access, now I’m working for the Ministry of Justice. It’s very cool. I’m a lawyer, pretty young, pretty healthy, lived in the UK for a while, and am now back in NZ.
Fran, I understand you were one of the first Covid patients in NZ. Can you tell us about your experience?
I was officially patient number 396, part of the first cluster in the big outbreak before we started lockdowns. I brought Covid home with me from London. I flew home and within a couple of days, I was feeling terrible. I had a test at Napier Doctors, which was positive. Luckily, I had been following health advice and isolating myself as if I was already positive. You can’t imagine what that was like, coming home after two years away and not being able to hug my parents. However, I’m so glad I did because no one else in my family caught Covid. This was the original strain, before Delta, and was more containable.
I had a really bad case. I didn’t end up requiring hospital care but it was nearly at that point. I resisted going to the hospital because Napier didn’t have many cases and I didn’t want to spread it. The illness lasted three-four weeks of intense sickness and it took about three months before I felt fully recovered.
Let me state this, Covid is not a cold. I didn’t have any cold symptoms rather lots of headaches, a dry cough, and super, super tired. I was so exhausted I had to rest between spoonfuls of food and would be gasping for breath. That was quite scary. For about two weeks, it felt like someone was sitting on my chest, I felt I couldn’t lift my chest to breathe. Words can’t describe how horrendous this was. I also lost 10kg during this time.
I am so thankful that none of my family got it, especially as my parents are older and my grandmother is 92. If they had my symptoms, I don’t think they would have survived. I feel like if I wasn’t already fit, or was a smoker, or had underlying health conditions, I wouldn’t have made it.
Did you have other friends and family overseas who also contracted Covid 19? How did they find the experience?
Yes, I found out there was a cluster in my nanny network. We all got it.
Most of them weren’t quite as bad as me. However, we all lost our taste and smell at the same time. At that time this symptom was not being recognized as a Covid symptom. However, it didn’t feel right and that’s why I decided to take a test. I was trying to eat my favorite salt and vinegar chips and realised I couldn’t smell them! When my sense of smell eventually came back after three months, smells were completely different. Things like onions, garlic, oranges, and grapes are no longer nice smells. Now they just make me want to vomit.
I was lucky in that I hadn’t started working yet and I had my Mum to look after me. I would not have been able to take care of myself or others if I had been a parent.
This was a new thing for the medical community in New Zealand, how was your experience?
Napier Doctors did an amazing job. There were only a few cases in the community but they were well set up with testing stations outside. Once it was confirmed, they would call me every day. They would drive over to our house and dropped off a couple of thermometers so both Mum and I could check our temperatures every day. They also checked on her and her symptoms. They were really helpful. If I had needed to go to the hospital I am sure that would also have been managed very well.
Can you give any advice to anyone who has concerns about getting vaccinated?
I am double vaccinated, and the prick of the needle was a far more pleasant experience than my experience with Covid. The risk of changing it with the disease is far scarier than any concerns with the vaccine. Although the prick did hurt, I also got a free lunch leftover from Super Saturday.
If a vaccine had been available when you returned to NZ, would you have taken it?
Absolutely. I would have taken it back in London if available, but they were only available for a certain group.