Connor Reed, a 25-year-old expat from Llandudno in North Wales, has worked in a school in Wuhan, China, for almost a year. In November he became the first British man to catch the coronavirus. From coughs and aches to burning up and spending the night in hospital, here’s how he beat the illness that is sweeping the globe.
Day 1 — Monday November 25: I have a cold. I’m sneezing and my eyes are a bit bleary. It isn’t bad enough to keep me off work. I arrived in this country to teach English as a foreign language — but now I’m a manager at a school in Wuhan, the city in central China where I have lived for the past seven months.
I speak Mandarin well, and the job is interesting. My cold shouldn’t be very contagious, so I have no qualms about going to work. And I live alone, so I’m not likely to give it to anyone. There hasn’t been anything in the news here about viruses. I have no cause for concern. It’s just a sniffle.
Day 2: I have a sore throat. Remembering what my mum used to do when I was a child, I mix myself a mug of honey in hot water. It does the trick.
Day 3: I don’t smoke and I hardly ever drink. But it’s important to me to get over this cold quickly, so that I can stay healthy for work. For medicinal purposes only, I put a splash of whisky in my honey drink. I think it’s called a ‘hot toddy’.
Day 4: I slept like a baby last night. Chinese whisky is evidently a cure for all known ailments. I have another hot toddy in the evening.
Day 5: I’m over my cold. It really wasn’t anything.
Day 7: I spoke too soon. I feel dreadful. This is no longer just a cold. I ache all over, my head is thumping, my eyes are burning, my throat is constricted. The cold has travelled down to my chest and I have a hacking cough.
This is flu, and it’s going to take more than a mug of hot honey, with or without the magic whisky ingredient, to make me feel better.
The symptoms hit me this afternoon like a train and, unless there’s an overnight miracle, I will not be going to work tomorrow. It’s not just that I feel so ill — I really don’t want to give this flu to any of my colleagues.
Day 8: I won’t be in work today. I’ve warned them I’ll probably be off all week. Even my bones are aching. It’s hard to imagine I’m going to get over this soon.
Even getting out of bed hurts. I am propped up on pillows, watching TV and trying not to cough too much because it is painful.
Day 9: Even the kitten hanging around my apartment seems to be feeling under the weather. It isn’t its usual lively self, and when I put down food it doesn’t want to eat. I don’t blame it – I’ve lost my appetite too.
Day 10: I’m still running a temperature. I’ve finished the quarter-bottle of whisky, and I don’t feel well enough to go out and get any more. It doesn’t matter: I don’t think hot toddies were making much difference.
Day 11: Suddenly, I’m feeling better, physically at least. The flu has lifted. But the poor kitten has died. I don’t know whether it had what I’ve got, or whether cats can even get human flu. I feel miserable.
Day 12: I’ve had a relapse. Just as I thought the flu was getting better, it has come back with a vengeance. My breathing is laboured. Just getting up and going to the bathroom leaves me panting and exhausted. I’m sweating, burning up, dizzy and shivering. The television is on but I can’t make sense of it. This is a nightmare.
By the afternoon, I feel like I am suffocating. I have never been this ill in my life. I can’t take more than sips of air and, when I breathe out, my lungs sound like a paper bag being crumpled up. This isn’t right. I need to see a doctor. But if I call the emergency services, I’ll have to pay for the ambulance call-out myself. That’s going to cost a fortune. I’m ill, but I don’t think I’m dying — am I?
Surely I can survive a taxi journey. I decide to go to Zhongnan University Hospital because there are plenty of foreign doctors there, studying. It isn’t rational but, in my feverish state, I want to see a British doctor. My Mandarin is pretty good, so I have no language problem when I call the taxi. It’s a 20-minute ride. As soon as I get there, a doctor diagnoses pneumonia. So that’s why my lungs are making that noise. I am sent for a battery of tests lasting six hours.
Day 13: I arrived back at my apartment late yesterday evening. The doctor prescribed antibiotics for the pneumonia but I’m reluctant to take them — I’m worried that my body will become resistant to the drugs and, if I ever get really ill and need them, they won’t work. I prefer to beat this with traditional remedies if I can.
It helps, simply knowing that this is pneumonia. I’m only 25 and generally healthy: I tell myself there’s no reason for alarm. I have some Tiger Balm. It’s like Vick’s vapour rub on steroids. I pour some into a bowl of hot water and sit with a towel over my head, inhaling the fumes. I’m going ‘old school’. And I’ve still got the antibiotics in reserve if I need them.
Day 14: Boil a kettle. Add Tiger Balm. Towel over head. Breathe for an hour. Repeat.
Day 15: All the days are now blurring into one.
Day 16: I phone my mother in Australia. There was no point in calling her before now — she’d only worry and try to jump on a plane. That wouldn’t work: it takes an age to get a visitor’s visa to China. I’m glad to hear her voice, even if I can’t do much more than croak, ‘Mum, I feel so ill.’
Day 17: I am feeling slightly better, but I don’t want to get my hopes up yet. I’ve been here before.
Day 18: My lungs no longer sound like bundles of broken twigs.
Day 19: I am well enough to stagger out of doors to get more Tiger Balm. My nose has cleared enough to smell what my neighbours are cooking, and I think I might have an appetite for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Day 22: I was hoping to be back at work today but no such luck. The pneumonia has gone — but now I ache as if I’ve been run over by a steamroller. My sinuses are agony, and my eardrums feel ready to pop. I know I shouldn’t but I’m massaging my inner ear with cotton buds, trying to take the pain away.
Day 24: Hallelujah! I think I’m better. Who knew flu could be as horrible as that, though?
Day 36: A tip-off from a friend sends me hurrying to the shops. Apparently, the Chinese officials are concerned about a new virus that is taking hold in the city. There are rumours about a curfew or travel restrictions. I know what this will mean — panic buying in the shops. I need to stock up on essentials before everyone else does.
Day 37: The rumours were right. Everyone is being told to stay indoors. From what I’ve heard, the virus is like a nasty dose of flu that can cause pneumonia. Well, that sounds familiar.
Day 52: A notification from the hospital informs me that I was infected with the Wuhan coronavirus. I suppose I should be pleased that I can’t catch it again — I’m immune now.
However, I must still wear my face mask like everyone else if I leave the apartment, or risk arrest. The Chinese authorities are being very thorough about trying to contain the virus.