female with a mug looking pensive next to a Christmas tree
Health / The world

The Reality Behind Isolating At Christmas

I’m aware, many of my readers live outside the UK so rules around isolation due to Covid-19 or other guidance will be different. I tested positive for Covid and had to isolate at home over Christmas.

Usually, I do LFD tests regularly because I work in the NHS. I had a sore throat (and no classic Covid-19 symptoms) so I thought I’d do an extra one “just to check”, not expecting it to come back positive. Seeing those 2 lines (control line and test line) made me say a few choice words. With regards to Covid-19 in the UK the next thing we do is book a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to confirm the diagnosis. I was able to go to a local walk-through service and a positive result came back the next day.

Managing the unpredictable

Initially it was difficult to manage the unpredictable as I waited for the PCR result. A negative result would have meant I could continue with my Christmas plans while a positive result leads to a 10 day isolation period. My husband and I assumed we would isolating over Christmas so we made contingency plans.

The rules changed just as I started isolating—a negative LFD test on days 6 and 7 can end isolation! While this is fantastic, I struggle with the unknown. I was due at work on day 8, not knowing if this was going to be possible until I took the tests on days 6 and 7 provoked anxiety.

Unfortunately, my tests on days 6 and 7 were positive so I kept testing, in the end I isolated for the full 10 days

Feeling I’m letting people down

The NHS is incredibly stretched and I felt awful, knowing my colleagues would have to take up the slack from the gap I left. Hospitals are declaring critical incidents due to staff shortages and the numbers of cases/hospital admissions is rising. This isn’t just about me letting my colleagues down, it’s putting an incredible strain on the system and there’s no hiding from the fact this is seriously putting our patient’s welfare at risk…

Over the festive period I wasn’t able to keep a number of social commitments. Some people would find this the hardest aspect of isolating. I felt gutted but I also knew I would re-arrange with people as soon as I could. It made me more determined to take the pressure off Christmas—I will see my friends and family at other times!

Unintended harm to others

How many people have I infected before I knew I was positive? There are high numbers of asymptomatic people, each one spreading this virus to tens if not hundreds of people without even knowing it—I know, despite taking all precautions, I’ve probably passed it on before I started isolating.

I would feel devastated if I’d passed it onto someone and they went onto be seriously ill, continue with long covid or worse, die.

I felt reassured by the test and trace service that contacts anyone you’ve had contact with during the incubation period.

Isolation and loneliness

When in lockdown, everyone was in similar boats—being cut off from each other, amenities closed, having to manage home-schooling and/or working from home etc. But when isolating as an individual (which I’ve done before for medical procedures etc), the world carries on without you. I’ve previously written about how isolating feels in a blog I wrote for Mental Health Awareness Week.

I’m incredibly fortunate that I live with my husband. I’m also an introvert and appreciate a bit of down time! Cabin fever set in after a week or so but, for me, I think it was more about the uncertainty than anything else.

I’m aware there are people in different circumstances who would feel a lot more isolated and lonely that I did, especially at Christmas when there’s a social expectation/requirement/hope to socialise.

Coping with other people’s reactions

Most people I told were kind and showed care, some were preoccupied with practical arrangement, others didn’t know the government guidance. In the UK, we have a test and trace service that advises people if they’ve had contact with someone who goes onto test positive—some people chose not to follow the advice. I felt worried about how many more people could get infected but had to remember I’d done my bit—I can’t control other’s actions.

This has been a common theme throughout the pandemic. I’m someone who likes clear cut rules and have followed all the advice as carefully as possible. Others prefer to prioritise their autonomy.

Most of the precautionary measures we take are designed to lower the risk of infection, not only to ourselves but of passing it on unknowingly. People appear to be using the phrase “we need to learn to live with it” as synonymous with “let’s ignore that it exists”. I understand people wanting to “carry on with their lives as normal” (meaning pre-pandemic) but learning to live with Covid-19 can mean continuing to take precautions.

I take precautions to lower my risk of heart disease (e.g. eating healthily and exercising) but taking precautions with regards to Covid-19 is about protecting our community, especially the vulnerable. This is not living in fear, it’s mitigating the risks.

I feel down-hearted that I’ve taken all the precautions and still contracted it. As someone who naturally reflects, I’m curious about where I caught it but I’m unlikely to ever know.

Appreciating the important things

Sparrow on bird feeder

Of course, I’m fortunate my symptoms are relatively mild. I think of the high numbers of people who end up in hospital as well as the people bereaved due to Covid-19—I’m grateful I’m weathering this fairly well.

During this period I enjoyed small things—I filled up our bird feeders and it was glorious to watch the variety of birds come to feed.

I’ve been given the gift of time—time for hobbies, time to reflect—I’m trying to appreciate what I have rather than mourning what I’m missing. I do like quiet time and rarely carve it out for myself. I got back into cross-stitch and started doing yoga and reading everyday.

This has led to me making resolutions to continue these activities as they’re fantastic for my mental and physical health.

For me, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus—this celebration still happened. Christmas wasn’t cancelled just because I was unwell. I may have missed midnight mass for the first time since I was a small child but I’m grateful that I could join a Christmas Day service online.

The online church community is something amazing that’s come out of the pandemic—being able to reach people in their homes, no matter what the reason, is an amazing gift. If you’re interested click here to find local church services, they use tags to highlight services that are live streamed—many are recorded so can be viewed at anytime.

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