Life at the moment is a puzzle for Skiing With Demons author, Chris Tomlinson facing the real demons of Covid-19. When his ICU consultant wife becomes unwell he goes to pieces…
To sleep with my wife, or not sleep with my wife: that was the question. Whether it was nobler in the mind to face the slings and arrows of the deadly coronavirus, or retreat to the spare bedroom?
All those married to the NHS must have asked themselves the same question when the pandemic arrived at our shores. Dr Debs offered to move into the hotel her trust had commandeered, but my reaction was: “And leave me alone with the teenagers?” – not likely.
My life is rarely under threat
Having no known co-morbidities, apart from my acute hypochondria, we decided to continue living as man and wife. Without the sanctuary of a relatively normal home life, Dr Deb’s job would have been harder. I too would have struggled without regular physical contact.
We often spend weeks apart when I go mountain gallivanting. The difference is, when I’m the one going away, my life is rarely under threat and I find it harder to stay at home than being involved in the action.
After three weeks of keeping the home fires burning, while Dr Debs went out to fight the virus, I had become acclimatised to the new normal – the chronic anxiety military wives must face during times of war. Then on Easter Sunday Dr Debs woke up feeling especially ill and had a new persistent cough!!
dismissed the symptoms as a compound hangover
I too was feeling rough. I always find it hard to tell if I’m genuinely ill at 6:30 in the morning after the night before. Most mornings in the last month have been preceded by a night before, and I could have dismissed the symptoms as a compound hangover. Long shifts of elevated stress combined with a lack of regular food and sleep, was bound to take its toll on her. In my case, weeks of disinfecting surfaces while trying to police anti-infection rules in a laissez-faire household was grinding me down.
Feeling rough or not, Dr Debs would normally have continued into work, but given the current guidelines she decided to take her temperature before departing. After an agonising three minutes, the thermometer beeped and reported that all was not well – she had a temperature.
A coronavirus nightmares had turned into a reality
She retreated to the bedroom followed by me, alcohol wipes in hand. I retraced her steps and cleaned every surface she had touched that morning. Which was pretty pointless, given that I’d just shared a bed with her – the perimeter defences had already been breached.
She made the ultimate sicky call and a C-19 test kit was summoned from the hospital. I activated the self-isolation protocols erecting a do-not-cross cordon across the bedroom door. One of our coronavirus nightmares had turned into a reality – I would be sleeping in the spare room.
That first evening, Dr Debs requested some medicinal wine, which was reassuring – it meant she was feeling better. She hid it well, but her anxiety must have been greater than mine having seen first-hand how bad Covid-19 can get. Luckily, the wine worked and her temperature abated and I was discouraged from taking mine more than once an hour.
Each of us clutched our own bottle of wine
For the next two days we conducted our marriage through a door frame. When she wasn’t sleeping I’d chat to her from a chair parked in the hallway. In the evenings the subjects of our conversations bounced between the silly and the existential while each of us clutched our own bottle of wine. It was a surreal experience – ‘An audience with my wife’, I think I’m going to call it.
When she was asleep, (and she had a lot of sleep to catch up on), I decided to do a jigsaw of the Alps I’d been saving for my ultimate destination – whatever care home the teenagers put me in. While Debbie coughed upstairs, I did what I once considered to be a waste of time – sort and match coloured pieces of cardboard. But, I had an eternity of time to waste – 24 hours before the test arrived then 24 more waiting for the result and the jigsaw occupied my hands and mind.
The mountains will have to come to me
After a second sleepless night with the Covid demons in the spare room, I got up and delivered the prisoner her breakfast, then set to work on the jigsaw. In danger of completing it, I ordered a replacement (a jigsaw of the Lakes) online and a new and rather tragic, pastime was born. However, if I can’t go to the mountains then the mountains will have to come to me – courtesy of Amazon.
Just before lunch I got a text. “Do you fancy a cuddle? – I’m negative”.
It was Debbie – The hospital had called with her result.
“What a bloody silly time to get a common cough,” was my reply.
I chose to blame the dog
Relieved, but wondering how you can catch a cold when wearing PPE, I moved back into the marital bedroom. Others must have brought the common germ into the house, or it had been latent within her for some time – I chose to blame the dog. Dr Debs, the trooper, went back to work the next day.
That night I was looking forward to sleeping with my wife. For one night only, I could sleep in the knowledge that she hadn’t been exposed to infection since testing negative – I could sleep without worry. Just before we turned off the lights, Dr Debs decides to tell me, ” You know the test is only 70% accurate, don’t you!?” Completely ruining our special night.
Judging by my Facebook feed, the rest of suburbia seems to be enjoying their extended gardening leave. They must feel relatively safe in isolation with their families at home, while for us the virus keeps knocking on our door. I wonder just how different our recollections of the pandemic will be?
When people ask, what I did during the Covid Wars? I’ll be tempted to tell them, I was on the front line (or just behind it) when really, I wiped a lot of surfaces and did a lot of jigsaws.
related blog: Return To Labrador Island – The Covid Demons
FYI: A sample chapter from the SWD I can be read online here