Friday: The last day that was normal was Friday 13. The last day I left the house.
It wasn't fully normal. They'd closed the schools the day before and the musical I was in, in The Pavilion, had ended two days into the run because the theatre was closed but I still went to work. Did the show on Newstalk, wrote my column at my desk, did an interview with Off The Ball about health risks and Cheltenham.
I drove home in good spirits. Picked up some Indian food on the way. Thought about a bottle of white wine I had in the fridge. I did buy some paracetamol on the way. We'd been talking about the imminent arrival of coronavirus all week. But I was looking forward to Friday night.
I got home and was calling the family for dinner. "Food's here!" The brood arrived to the table. No sign of the 17-year-old. "She's sick," said her brother nonchalantly. She arrived slowly into the kitchen. She looked unwell. Flushed. Lethargic. Chesty. I checked her temperature. 39.0. "How long have you been like this?" "Most of the day."
I gave her a drink, some paracetamol. She picked at food and went back up to bed. I felt a sense of foreboding. She hadn't been abroad. Didn't know any confirmed cases. But she, like me, is never sick. And I knew she knew lots of kids, who knew kids who had been to north Italy.
I woke up and checked her. Fever again. Unwell and chesty. Stuck to the bed. I'm a doctor but I'm not in practice. I'm out of the loop. I knew she needed testing but I wasn't even sure how to get it.
My old practice partner is in Lesbos (she's the Irish doctor attacked while treating refugees) and I could hardly ask her. I texted other GP friends. "How do I get a test?" "How bad is she?" was the reply. "We'll have access to testing on Monday. Will she be OK 'til then?" I wasn't sure she would. I rang the HSE line. I rang it over and over, but couldn't get through.
I contacted the doctor line for the National Ambulance service. "Are you guys doing the testing?" "Yes, does someone need one?" "My daughter." "Are you worried, does she have breathing difficulties?" I looked at her. Feverish. And I could hear her breathing across the room. "Yes." "Look if we have anyone out your way we will try to get to you. But we are flat out, it will all depend. Otherwise self-isolate and it'll be Monday through the GP or call 999 if she's getting worse." "OK."
I gave her more paracetamol. She cooled down when she got it but became hot again afterwards. I listened to her chest with the stethoscope I hadn't used in over a year. Dramatic bilateral wheeze throughout both lungs. I forced myself not to react. "We're waiting on the test now, love. It'll be grand." "Do you think I have it?" "I don't know." I texted a GP friend to discuss. "Presume she has it. Stay home. Call an ambulance if you need to."
I rang work. We'd been given equipment the week before so we could present from home if the need arose. "I'm in self-isolation. I need to broadcast from here."
I started to feel sick. I wasn't sure if I was imagining it. Could it come on this fast? No fever. But sweats and chills, soar throat and headache. My chest was tight. I was short of breath. I had pain in my chest. But not the same as any I'd ever had before. My respiratory tract started to burn. I will tell the truth. I was afraid. I never worry about my health. I'm not a huge worrier in general. But I was scared.
The burning started in the back of my nose and throat, extended down to the centre of my chest and started to move lower. I got into bed. It was hurting now to breathe. I willed myself not to panic. To pull myself together. I tried to sleep. I gave us both more paracetamol. I stayed curled up in a ball.
I got a phone call on Sunday morning. "There's a van near you - they can test your daughter." They'll ring you when they are close. I woke her. "They're on the way." She still looked dreadful but maybe not as bad as the previous days. Hope. Another phone call. "I'll be with you in 10 - I was at a call up the road. I'll try not to be obvious in the Hazmat - you have neighbours." "Do what you have to do. By the way. I seem sick now, too." I felt irrationally embarrassed. "Same symptoms?" "Yes, except I've no fever." "I better swab you both."
A sunny Sunday morning. A lovely man in protective gear came into our house and swabbed our throats and up our noses. He gave us face masks to wear. He looked at my daughter. She still had a fever. "She meets the criteria for admission."
It would mean calling an ambulance and her going into hospital alone. No one could visit. I looked at her. Her breathing was still bad but I knew the fear that this would cause. "I'll manage her here. If she gets worse I'll call you." I was afraid again. Hoping I'd gotten it right.
I felt fluey. But my chest pain and the burning had eased. I was still short of breath but I took comfort that some symptoms had already passed. I decided to be less scared. I was less scared. We waited on the tests. Maybe it wasn't even it.
Her fever broke. No temperature today. A huge relief. I felt dizzy and my legs were wobbly. My breathing was still not right; the stairs were a slight challenge but I was managing. It felt more like a regular flu.
I moved my studio equipment from the room I'd set it up in, into the hot press instead so it would be quieter. I sat in the tiny space surrounded by towels and duvets and broadcast to the nation. It felt like an act of defiance in the face of the virus. Like Radio Free Europe during the war. It wouldn't stop me. It wouldn't stop us. We would adapt. We would overcome.
We played the REM song on air. I did a report by Skype on Euronews, a French TV channel, on the importance of social distancing and the lack of UK response to Covid-19 and went straight to bed after it.
My daughter was now on day four in bed. But definitely was no worse. And possibly was a bit better. I got up a few times but was oddly drowsy, so kept having to lie down. I fell asleep at around 9.30pm and slept for 11 hours.
Tuesday - St Patrick's Day
Woke up fluey. But no real deterioration and possibly better than the previous evening when I was so drowsy. I knew I might struggle on air as I was fierce tired still, so we played some Irish songs to break up the show. Back to bed.
Social distancing from the rest of the kids was hard. But we still didn't know what was wrong. At around six or seven I got a phone call. "Is this Ciara Kelly? This is Public Health." It was slightly surreal but all of it was. The sick daughter. The Hazmat. The hot press. "Yes." "You have been tested positive for Covid-19." I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding in. "And my daughter?" "Her test isn't through yet. You are a doctor so it went through as a priority." "But I'm not working as one and she is sicker than me?" "Health care workers are processed first." I know, in principle, this makes sense but not in this case. "OK, how soon will we get hers?" "As soon as it's processed."
There was form-filling about my symptoms and if I was safe to stay at home. And then he was gone. I went into the rest of the family. "I have it." Even though we were all talking as if it was already here in our home. We were all still a bit stunned. I texted and rang friends and family.
Shock and offers of help came back at us. We sat around the TV in the dark watching Leo Varadkar's address to the nation. To this day, I have no idea what he said. I thought about what I should do.
Woke up tired. The fatigue seemed to be the hardest symptom to fight now. My chest felt a bit better. Ella was a bit improved so we are about the same level of unwell now. Tired and fluey but managing. I told work I had it. "I'm going to say so on air." Army cadets rang me to do contact tracing. They only trace you from day one of symptoms. So in my case Saturday. And I had seen no one but my own family in this house, so it was easy. Back into the hot press. Feeling slightly daunted.
"You may have heard there were 69 new cases overnight. Well I am one of them. I have coronavirus," I had to go to ads after that. I felt oddly emotional saying it out loud. I had not foreseen the reaction. The textlines went mad. My phone started hopping. I was on the news.
My head felt woolly. None of it felt very real. I wanted to go back to bed but in another weird twist I was asked to go on Liveline with Joe Duffy. Our shows overlap and compete with each other but these are strange times and I thought it was important to say what it was like to have it. He was lovely. I went to bed. Prime Time asked me if I would do an interview by Skype. I agreed but getting dressed nearly killed me. I'd been in pyjamas since Monday. I spoke to Miriam from my living room but I was barely able to stay awake to watch it. I felt very weak on Wednesday night and realised I'd done too much.
Felt very tired facing into show. Rang work and said I think I will take tomorrow off. Daughter on day seven in bed but looking brighter. Still no word back on her swab. Felt flu-like and more wrecked than I could remember since childhood illnesses.
On air, a listener said they were worried about their son's Leaving Cert results and they were unhappy the orals were cancelled. I said perhaps they needed some perspective.
They were worried about their Leaving results; some of us were worried about our children's Covid-19 results. I almost broke down on air.
Definitely needed Friday off. Overwhelming amount of kind wishes and offers of help. One or two nasty things said, too, though. Oddly the kindness and the meanness both made me teary.
Cakes and food arrived to our door. People I don't even know offered every kind of assistance. Back to bed. Everything all a bit too much.
Day seven. Slept in. No alarm as no work. Cough had changed. Now chesty and much deeper. Productive. Not like the dry, short-of-breath one I'd had up until now. I'd been told days seven-nine were the worst and if I was going to get a pneumonia it'd probably be now. It feel a bit like that.
I listened to my own chest. Not dramatic but something was changing. I rang the local pharmacist.
It isn't best practice to treat yourself as a doctor but I can't go out. No one can come here without full protective gear.
And I know the protocol. I started the antibiotics. My sister did the pharmacy run.
And that is where we are at. I still have no word on Ella's swab. So no one she was in contact has been informed officially about her. Although we have told her friends' families that we presume she could have it.
We're both still in bed mostly. And I'm on antibiotics now. I've tried to describe this honestly so people would get proper insight into it and no doubt it's an unpleasant time in general.
Physically I feel sick. But mentally and emotionally, feeling unwell and being stuck at home for a week and counting is hard and a bit depressing. But it is still just like a really bad flu we're going through.
I'm weak and wobbly but I am not at death's door. And I'm hoping the antibiotics for the chest infection will kick in over weekend and next week I will be on the mend.
For most people, this is what coronavirus is. And it is doable. And I am fully convinced I and my family will come out the other side of it as most other families will, too.
What surprised me most was just how sick Ella was. It is the sickest she has ever been.
Please, for all of us, stay safe, stay home and keep social-distancing.