I Slept Through The Start Of Lockdown And Woke To A Strange New World

I fell ill before Boris Johnson grounded the nation. Two weeks later, I emerged into an alternative reality, writes parenting columnist Robyn Wilder.

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When the idea of a UK lockdown was first floated at the end of February, long before Boris Johnson actually grounded the nation in March, I naively thought: “I’m not sure it’ll affect my family at all. We rarely go out, and I already work from home.” Of course, this hubris bit me right in the bum a month later when the PM advised us all to “stay home” in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19. By this point, I was largely oblivious to the lockdown. I was already ill.

Flashback to the week before the schools close: my five-year-old is sent home after lying down in the middle of PE lesson and, to quote the teacher, “looking greenish”. His symptoms (a bit of a sore throat, sometimes) are vague to the point of nonexistence and certainly don’t include a cough or a fever so he’s back in lessons the next day.

Two mornings later, I wake up with aching limbs and a muzzy head. My throat is sore, my glands are up, I’m covered in shivers and running a low-grade fever.

“This is it,” my husband and I tell each other. “This is coronavirus.” I take to my bed with the TV remote clutched to my chest as my husband hoovers up our sons, and informs the world and his wife of the plague on our house.

On the one hand, I am terrified. I’ve been self-isolating for two weeks already under GP’s orders, as I am a diabetic asthmatic with chronic conditions that weaken my immune system. I’m also a catastrophist with a vivid imagination, and even though I’ve deliberately kept away from alarmist headlines and accounts of Italian ICU, I’ve already decided I’m probably a goner.

By the time my husband and kids get home from panic-buying everything in every supermarket within a three-mile radius, I’ve written half my will and testament in my Notes app, and fallen into a fitful slumber.

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Against all odds, and my own expectations, I do wake the next day. And oddly, I feel fine. I have no fever. My glands and various aches have receded. We decide not to isolate me from the rest of our household, figuring that if I have it, most likely we all do. I eat breakfast with the family, but keep smelling and tasting something metallic, like blood, instead of the food in front of me. Soon I am overcome with wave after wave of irresistible sleepiness, and stumble to bed.

In bed, I don’t read, listen to podcasts, or binge-watch anything. I just sleep. I sleep for hours at a time, and my sleep is so weighted and overwhelming that each time it feels more like I’m being snuffed out than falling into a slumber.

I have to rouse myself to go to the bathroom (frequently I fall asleep after deciding to go to the toilet, then dream I have gone). Occasionally I’ll wake to find a sandwich by my bedside, which I devour methodically, in a minute, before crawling back under the covers. A couple of times, when I wake, I wonder if someone is drugging me, so thick and blankety is this sleeping.

It’s three days before I surface. When I try to walk, my legs are unsteady and the room whirls a bit. But my husband is having to run the house, watch the children and complete his full day of work, and I want to help. Plus I miss everyone. After just two hours on the sofa, the giddiness threatens to pull me away again – and I have to retreat to my bed for a further two days.

Eventually, the bone-deep tiredness begins to ebb away. My two-week quarantine is up and it’s time to collect my prescription meds from a pharmacy. And it’s here where I start to see how different the world is in lockdown.

It’s lunchtime on a weekday and my normally packed town centre is deserted, with solitary figures – half of them wearing the sort of terrifying rubber face contraptions favoured by Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises – skulking in the shadows. Starbucks is closed. A woman is arguing outside Iceland with a man who stood less than two metres away from her.

The pharmacy is operating a strict one-customer-at-a-time policy, so I line up with everyone else in the street, then feel very weird about wandering around the pharmacy on my own. I feel like every main character in every post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever watched, although none of them ever seemed to be buying Calpol and diarrhoea relief and ADHD stimulants.

I hurry home afterwards in a bit of a panic, fling my outer clothes into the washing machine, and wash my hands and face seven or eight times before I allow my children to touch me. I am so grateful to be home with them that we play all their favourite games without clearing up. At lunchtime we watch a movie and they choose their own lunches.

I’m slicing the (homemade! Not, thankfully, by me) bread when my husband comes in having finished his work. “Ah no, I’ve only been giving the kids one slice at lunchtime,” he informs me. “Oh, and have you used up all the biscuits? Because I was rationing them to one biscuit, plus a piece of fruit, every snack time.”

“Oh no,” I apologise. “I didn’t realise.”

“That’s okay. But have you taken them for a walk yet? Or had them read any of their books? What about the Google Classroom lesson plans the teachers have set? I’ve been trying to do at least one of those a day. Have you done any?”

No, I explain. We spent much of this morning choosing our favourite Pokemons, then crawling around the living room looking for “treasure”, finding the treasure, and eating it (three mini KitKats). I have, I realise, thrown the entire system my husband put into place while I was ill, into total disarray.

I apologise again, but my husband shoos this away. “It’s okay,” he says. “It’s understandable. You’re new here.”

I am. I’m new here, in this new world, and all its connotations for my family. I just know two things: I’m 75% sure I actually had coronavirus, and I have so much left to learn.