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

Monday 21 September 2020

A photo of Roger and his wife, Ria
Roger and Ria had to isolate separately in their house while Roger waited to be cleared 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.

Asymptomatic but still anxious

Roger, 78, was diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning from a family ski trip to Austria in March. He and his wife decided to get tested when they came home, and initially, both came back negative for COVID.

“We had only been there for a couple of days before everything really fell apart,” says Roger. “We arrived back in Brisbane two hours before the deadline for compulsory virus testing, but we decided we’d go anyway. We both tested as negative. About 10 days after that we found out that one of the girls that was in our group in Austria had got sick and got tested and been infected. So naturally, we had to go get tested again. This time, I tested positive, but my wife and daughter were negative.”

Roger didn’t have any symptoms of COVID-19, so he was allowed to isolate at home with his wife, Ria, while they waited to see how the virus could affect him.

“My wife and I had to isolate from each other, which isn’t easy to do while living in the same house,” he says.

Roger and Ria had to stay completely separate, with Ria taking lots of precautions to prevent herself from getting sick.

“It was very stressful,” says Ria. “The Health Department sent us a lot of information about what to do in the house. We had to get a plastic bag to put his dirty clothes in and I’d wear a mask and wash his clothes. And the same with his dinners. I’d knock on the door wearing a mask and leave the food outside, then I had to wear a mask and wash the dishes up.”

Family and friends delivered groceries and other supplies to the couple, but they weren’t allowed to come in the house and had to leave the bags at the door.

Ria and Roger were allowed to see each other outside in their yard as long as they maintained strict distancing. In the end, Roger says he spent most of his days in isolation outside, playing sudoku and reading to pass the time.

“Our exercise would consist of doing laps of the house, which could drive you nuts!” says Roger. “We’d each do 40 laps of the house to try and get our exercise in.”

While Roger continued to not have any symptoms of COVID-19, waiting to see if he would get sick took an emotional toll on him and his family.

“I was called by the nurses every day,” he says. “They’d call and ask me what my symptoms were and I had to give them a temperature reading and luckily, it was always good. But I was always anxious when I took my temperature.”

The family knew that it wasn’t until the second week of a COVID-19 infection that some patients became seriously ill, and they waited anxiously to see if Roger would fare the same.

“It was like he was unwell, even though he had no symptoms,” says Ria. “When we were waiting for those ten days to pass, we were on tenterhooks. And I kept thinking, what if I get it? What are we going to do then? In a way, it was good that all the cleaning and organising kept me busy. It distracted me from the emotional stress.”

Their daughter, Sami, whose birthday celebration had been the reason the family travelled to Austria, wrote about the anxiety she experienced everyday waiting to hear if her father had been unwell.

“I knew that at his age, a coronavirus diagnosis could quite easily be a death sentence,” she says.

But, after two weeks isolation had passed without any change in his health, Roger was given the all-clear and no longer considered infectious with the disease. The news was a huge relief to Roger and his family.

“I thought I wasn’t too concerned throughout it, because I felt fine, but when I got the call and they said everything was fine and I was in the clear, I had a little cry,” he says. “It wasn’t just a laid back, ‘She’ll be ‘right, mate’ attitude. I was tense.”

Even though Roger is officially free of COVID-19, the couple are still taking precautions to stop the spread of the virus, having firsthand experience with how stressful even an asymptomatic case can be.

“When people say it’s not a big deal, or even friends say that I didn’t really have it, we can’t understand it. We can’t understand how they could take for granted that this wouldn’t happen to them, and that it could be worse,” says Roger. “And I’m the proof that you could be asymptomatic, that you could not know you have it and spread it around to everyone you see. Surely that’s enough reason to be careful.”

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Last updated: 21 September 2020