‘This really hurts’ Britons with virus symptoms urge people to take illness seriously
He went from being a regular gym-goer to struggling to sit upright
Gasping for breath and struggling to speak, Andy Hardwick can barely keep his head upright as he describes the coronavirus symptoms he is experiencing.
The 51-year-old is normally fit and healthy, visiting the gym at least three times a week and suffering from asthma only occasionally. But he has been completely floored by Covid-19, and his friends and family urged him to make a video to show how serious the illness can be.
“My spine hurts, my back hurts, my neck hurts. You don’t want to talk, you get shortness of breath if you move around, and you don’t want to lift your head off a pillow,” Hardwick explained in the video, which has been shared on Facebook more than 37,000 times.
In it, he lies back in a grey hoodie, fighting to keep his eyes open as he talks in short bursts to the camera. “It does come in waves, you will feel slight relief sometimes, then it will go … This really hurts, it’s like nothing I’ve ever had before, I wouldn’t wish it on my enemy.”
According to Hardwick’s wife, Nicola, friends have said they didn’t even recognise Andy in the video. “It was like everything had just left him, all the energy,” she said.
Hardwick, a father of two from Wickford, Essex, said the illness started last Friday with a “very dry cough”, which made his throat sore. “You start to feel generally crappy and then you’ll find your lungs will tighten,” he described.
He wasn’t suffering from a fever initially, so he went to bed expecting the symptoms to pass. However, he woke up a few hours later with a temperature, unable to breathe properly. “[I was] sweaty, clammy but freezing – I couldn’t get warm and I had a raging thirst.”
After calling 111, he was assessed by a doctor over the phone who said his symptoms suggested he did have Covid-19, and he was instructed to call back if his breathing deteriorated and he was in need of hospital treatment.
Although paracetamol helped to reduce his temperature, his preventative asthma pump did little to help his breathing, he said.
‘This really hurts, it’s like nothing I’ve ever had before, I wouldn’t wish it on my enemy’
“If you get the cough, it’s very painful, and if you feel the need to laugh, don’t, because it’s very painful.”
His family think he probably picked up the virus while travelling to London, where he works as head of repairs and operations at Camden council, although he had been working from home since 18 March.
On Wednesday morning, Nicola said Andy’s state had improved and he was starting to breathe more easily, a welcome development after days of watching her husband suffer. “It is hard because you just want to give him a hug and you can’t. I must admit I was very scared with the way he was,” she said.
She said she never expected the video to go viral, but is glad it has made an impact, having received many messages from people saying they’re going to change their behaviour as a result. “You do think you’re invincible. You think: ‘Oh, if I get it, I’ll be ok, I’m fit.’ But this virus doesn’t really care whether you’re fit or young or old,” Nicola said.
“Everyone seems to get [the virus] different. Some get it mild, some get it very strong, some are hospitalised, and that’s the scary part, not knowing how you are going to be when you get it.”
The video concludes with Hardwick’s plea to the general public. “Please stay away from each other, respect each other. If our parents or grandparents get this, and they’re vulnerable or not fit, I’d hate to think what it will do to them. They will become a statistic. Stay safe.”
“She was refusing to go to hospital or get any doctors, because she had had such bad experiences before, but by Tuesday she was taken in an ambulance and swabbed [for a coronavirus test] that day.”
Self-isolating at home with her five-year-old son, Ashley had no choice but to soldier on. “I was taking some paracetamol and trying to get on with it really,” she remembers. “It felt like there was something in there . All the time my body was feeling that it was fighting something off but I didn’t know what.”
Her symptoms came and went, she lost her appetite, but things were never so severe that she felt unable to cope. Even with her son to look after, she was able to continue working from home.
In any other year, Ashley might have written off such an illness as a seasonal bug – were it not for her friend’s condition. “It made me think: shit, that’s probably what I’ve had over the last week, without it being confirmed.” As the week wore on and Ashley recovered, her friend – who asked not to be named – deteriorated. On Monday she was moved to intensive care. Seven days after she was swabbed, her coronavirus test came back positive.
What is most troubling for Ashley is the thought that she might have spread the virus. “It’s horrible, it’s a horrible thought, which is why I isolated immediately. It’s been horrible thinking I have potentially given that to my friend and she’s in the ICU – and also who else have I given it to? I don’t know.”
Ashley works with families on the edge of care. She uses public transport, she is in and out of people’s homes, she works in schools. In the week she first began to suffer symptoms, she had been in a GP’s surgery waiting room supporting a young person. She doesn’t know where she caught it nor, more crucially, where she may have spread it.
Last week, as the UK authorities issued ever more urgent advice to begin physical distancing and take care over hygiene, Ashley – following developments from her self-quarantine – was furious to see people flouting the rules. She recorded a video and posted it to Facebook to urge friends to follow the advice. “It’s crazy. It’s absolutely terrifying,” she says. “Have they not seen what’s going on in Italy? Stop fucking about and stay at home.”
On Tuesday night, Ashley’s friend was moved out of intensive care. She is now beginning to recover.
‘It’s been horrible thinking I have potentially given [the virus] to my friend and she’s in the ICU’ Sarah Ashley Suspected coronavirus patient
▲ Andy Hardwick, who is usually fit and healthy, said the symptoms were like nothing he had experienced before
▼ Sarah Ashley self-isolated at home with her five-year-old son and was able to cope with the worst symptoms