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What it's like to have COVID-19: Matt shares his story

Thursday 17 September 2020

A photo of Matt.
Matt is an avid cyclist and says that being attuned to his body helped him recognise early signs of his COVID-19 infection.

This article was written during the Queensland response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects the information available at the date of publication. Please check the Queensland Government COVID-19 webpage for updated information and current health advice regarding COVID-19 in Queensland. All information was correct as per the experience of the interviewee at the time of their interview.

Every single Queenslander has been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Whether restrictions have altered your ability to work, you’ve had to cancel plans to see family and friends, you’ve needed to run school at home for your children, or you’ve just been more vigilant with handwashing, each and every one of us has been affected.

Because Queenslanders have worked so hard to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state, most of us have not directly come into contact with the virus so far, even if it has changed how we live day-to-day. But some Queenslanders have been directly affected by the virus, either because they’ve caught it, because they’ve had to undertake essential travel, or because they work in our hospitals and health systems testing and treating people with COVID-19.

This is one of a series of stories of everyday Queenslanders who have had real experiences with COVID-19. We wanted to share these stories to help Queenslanders understand what it’s been like working on the frontlines of this pandemic and what it’s been like to be truly caught up in the virus’s path. These stories are a record of the hard work that has been done and will continue to be done in Queensland, and a reminder about why we need to stay vigilant when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

When a mild case lingers

In mid-March, Queensland man Matt was in New Zealand working on a charity cycling event. Then the pandemic started. Six days after coming home, Matt tested positive for COVID-19.

“Around 28 out of the 51 people in our travelling group contracted it,” he says. “Some of them were asymptomatic the whole time, some of them have been really sick.”

Matt’s symptoms were minor, in fact, the first changes he noticed in his body weren’t even listed as some of the common symptoms of COVID-19. But as an avid cyclist, Matt knew his body pretty well, and he could feel something wasn’t right. Because he’d been overseas, he was able to get tested and diagnosed.

“I had an elevated heart rate and my blood pressure was up,” he remembers. “I also started to get a minor headache. Because I do a fair bit of cycling, I like to think I’m pretty aware of my health and I knew something wasn’t right. I rang the Queensland Health COVID hotline and they went through the criteria and said that because I’d travelled overseas, they’d test me.”

At the time, Matt wasn’t overly concerned about his diagnosis, focused more on the impact it would have on his work and partner.

“My views have changed now, but at the time I thought that most people in my age bracket and my level of health would be fine, so I wasn’t too concerned. I was more worried about my partner – I didn’t want her getting sick. But now seeing what’s happened worldwide and people who have died who are young and fit, it’s much more scary.”

Matt was allowed to recover at home as a patient of the ‘virtual’ COVID ward. To prevent her from catching the virus, Matt and his partner had to isolate from each other within the confines of their two-bedroom apartment.

“We distanced in the household, we slept in separate beds, and we wore masks in the house,” he says. “During the whole ordeal, she tested negative on two occasions – we can’t quite believe it. I think we just did really well; we were washing our hands every five minutes, disinfecting every surface we touched. It was really hard work.”

Matt was regularly called to check his symptoms and condition, which worsened as time went on.

“The virtual ward would phone twice a day. The staff were great to deal with. It gave me a little bit of a sense of confidence that people cared. They were most concerned about a niggling little cough I developed. I also had loss of voice, a sore throat and sore lungs.”

A photo of canned foods and plants Matt's friend bought to his house while he was in quarantine.

Nearly two weeks after testing positive, Matt’s major symptoms began to subside. At two weeks, he was given the all-clear to end his isolation.

“I stopped showing symptoms three days before the two-week mark, which really shows that quarantining if you’ve been exposed can prevent you from spreading it to others,” he says.

There are silver linings for Matt. His cycling business, after suffering from an initial downturn in business, benefitted from the number of Queenslanders suddenly wanting to get outside for exercise. He and his partner, who is Dutch, were able to use some of their time off work to move forward with applying for a partner visa so she could stay in the country. But he says his health hasn’t completely recovered from his infection.

“I’m definitely not back to normal. I have good and bad days. I have days when my lungs are great and days when they’re not, which I think I notice more because I do the cycling. There are days when I get really fatigued. No one can say for sure if it’s the ongoing effects of COVID, but I didn’t have days like this before.”

Matt is now taking part in research projects studying people who have had COVID-19, including regularly donating his plasma through the Australian Red Cross. He worries that if Queenslanders become complacent about COVID-19, more people will be infected and have to go through what he’s been through, or worse.

“I’m sure everyone’s heard people cracking on with drivel about how it’s not that bad or it’s just like a flu. I’d say to them that for me, it wasn’t a major sickness, but the ongoing effects have made me change my early viewpoint about this virus and how it affects people like me. This is serious and we need to keep taking it seriously.”

Last updated: 17 September 2020