'It was just brutal. I think it's evil': First-hand accounts of catching COVID-19

From left, clockwise: Meg Elliott, Dan James and Letitia Russell.
From left, clockwise: Meg Elliott, Dan James and Letitia Russell.

For some people, especially the young, COVID-19 is a mild illness which comes and goes in a few days.

But for others it can be a "horrible" roller-coaster of headaches, sweating, coughing and crippling fatigue.

Throw in the pressures of raising children, dealing with ageing parents or managing other health conditions and you have the recipe for a nightmarish few weeks.

As thousands join the ranks of active COVID cases every day, the Newcastle Herald spoke to readers, all of whom are double-vaccinated, about their battle with the virus.

Meg Elliott, 50, Gillieston Heights

Meg Elliott said she had contracted COVID-19 despite leading a "reclusive" life caring full-time for her adult son, who has a disability.

An asthmatic and a smoker, she described the illness as "brutal" after catching it just before Christmas.

Ms Elliott was bedridden for a week and has suffered dizziness, a sore throat, temperature swings, excruciating headaches and fatigue.

"It was horrible. If I had the energy, I probably would have gone to hospital, but I didn't even have the energy to do that," she said.

"It was just brutal. I think it's evil, this thing."

Ms Elliott said she was a "fairly active 50 years of age".

Most of her symptoms have waned except the sore throat and tiredness.

STRUGGLE: Meg Elliott outside her Gillieston Heights home on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

STRUGGLE: Meg Elliott outside her Gillieston Heights home on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

"Right now I'm going to bed at eight o'clock at night, I get up at my normal six o'clock, and usually by about nine in the morning I'm back to sleep for a few hours.

"I feel like I'm walking against an invisible brick wall."

Her headaches had been "in the eyes as well", she had lost her sense of smell and taste for a week and her fingers and toes had ached.

"Honestly, I was telling myself for two days, 'You've got to go to hospital, you've got to go to hospital.'

"But I'm a pretty tough old nut. I'm one of those women who just goes, 'Push through, push through.'"

Ms Elliott is also suffering post-traumatic stress after a man fell from a 40-storey balcony at the Surfers Paradise Hilton and landed next to her and her husband while they were on their honeymoon 10 months ago.

She said the psychological effect of being separated from her son and husband and unable to see her daughter at Christmas had been difficult.

"We drew an invisible line down the hall and it literally worked. No one in the house got COVID.

"We did really well with that, but it was pretty insane being separated. I thought I was going crazy."

She had assumed she would not catch the virus and that it would be milder.

"I honestly didn't think I'd get it. My son and I are almost recluses. I must have caught it at the shop. There's literally no other way."

She said she had received no communication from health authorities other than to confirm she had tested positive. Her family GP was not taking appointments for at least seven weeks.

"You've got to figure it out yourself. I think it's been a debacle. Just guesswork and figure it out for yourself."

Letitia Russell, 41, Aberdeen

Letitia Russell is a haul truck driver in the mines who is recovering from a rare form of cancer.

She finished her chemotherapy and radiation treatment in December then tested positive this week after her husband, Josh, also a mineworker, fell ill.

She stood in baking heat for two hours with her four-year-old grand-daughter in Scone on Monday to get tested. Both were positive.

COMPLICATIONS: Letitia Russell in Aberdeen on Friday.

COMPLICATIONS: Letitia Russell in Aberdeen on Friday.

Ms Russell's 71-year-old father and 67-year-old mother live with the couple. He has a chronic lung condition and is on oxygen filtration 24 hours a day. Her mother has Parkinson's disease.

"If he were to get it, it would be catastrophic for him," she said.

"So far we've been able to isolate from them enough so they haven't got it. We've written up a little schedule for common areas like the kitchen.

"We've got two bathrooms, so we're making sure the three of us who have got COVID stick to one half of the house."

The couple's grand-daughter, who has been caught in isolation after visiting from Sydney over Christmas, has nosebleeds and a cough.

"At four, all she wants to do is go and see Mummy, but we can't take her home," Ms Russell said.

Early studies have shown omicron may not penetrate the lungs as much as previous variants of the virus.

Ms Russell is worried about her illness progressing.

"I'm still a bit rough with it. I've still got the cough, the sinus pain, the runny nose and all that," she said.

"I actually only just said to my husband this morning I feel like it's starting to go lower than the top of my chest.

"I've finished my [cancer] treatment, but my immune system's not great. I'm still recovering from it."

She said trying to get tested was a challenge in the Upper Hunter.

"At the time Josh found out he was positive Muswellbrook Hospital wasn't doing testing the next day, Singleton's had closed down due to lack of staff, Murrurundi's was closed.

"It was really frustrating. Scone was the only one available and all they would say was show up at two o'clock.

"So by the time we showed up there were already 70-plus people waiting for a COVID test. It took us nearly two hours.

"You could tell that some people were starting to feel dreadful.

"It was 30 degrees standing out in the sun, and I had a four-year-old with me."

She said confirming her diagnosis with a PCR test was "really important" given her medical history.

Mr Russell received a text message on Friday discharging him from isolation, but Ms Russell said the family had received "no clear communication" about what to do.

"That's one thing I've been really disappointed in. It's very confusing, and I can actually see how this is spreading, because people don't have the right information."

A fact sheet on the NSW Health website says people with COVID can leave self-isolation after seven days if they do not have a sore throat, runny nose, cough or shortness of breath.

People released from isolation after having COVID do not have to isolate again if someone else in the household tests positive unless they develop new symptoms.

Dan James, 40, East Maitland

Mr James, a co-owner and executive chef at the Signal Box bar and restaurant in Newcastle, said catching COVID was a "rude shock".

The father-of-two keeps himself in good shape but contracted the virus at a circuit training session at an East Maitland gym at Christmas.

"I think there might have been about 20 out of that session that caught it," he said.

He tested positive via a rapid antigen then took a PCR test which came back negative. A subsequent PCR test was positive.

SHOCK: Dan James back at work at the Signal Box bar and restaurant. Picture: Marina Neil

SHOCK: Dan James back at work at the Signal Box bar and restaurant. Picture: Marina Neil

Like the other people with COVID the Herald has spoken to, Mr James developed a sore throat and headaches.

"I had hot and cold sweats for the first two nights, then it was just more body aches.

"I just feel like I've got a hollow chest from coughing so much. I'm generally really fit. It was a bit of a rude shock."

He contemplated going to hospital during his first two days of symptoms.

"I don't think I was close enough to be super worried, but it was at a point where I was quite sick at home and I didn't know what to do. Just hold in there.

"I hadn't been sick for a long time, so I think it was probably the shock of that as well."

Mr James' family have now tested positive. His wife, Charlotte, has fatigue and a sore back, but his children have had few symptoms.

"My daughter had a little bit of a temperature. My son was a little bit funny one day. For an eight- and seven-year-old it wasn't a big drama."

Signal Box head chef and co-owner George Mirosevich also tested positive, which forced the venue to close last week after also shutting for two weeks before Christmas.

Mr James said he had rapid antigen tests in a cupboard at home but had not been able to replenish his supply.

"From last week onwards we haven't been able to order anything online."

He said he had found the testing system challenging after waiting several hours in queues at Honeysuckle and Maitland Showground.

"I do sympathise because I know what it's like in a restaurant when you get slammed and you have a million people trying to get food.

"It's not easy to get organised, but we need more testing sites around Newcastle. Some of the line-ups I've been in have been diabolical."

This story Catching COVID: 'It was just brutal. I think it's evil' first appeared on Newcastle Herald.