The Malta Independent 9 August 2020, Sunday

Marie Benoit's Diary: An eminent medical professor contracts Corona and lives to tell the tale

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 7 July 2020, 09:53 Last update: about 2 months ago

Professor Jane Somerville, who is a frequent visitor to Malta and has been on a government contract as visiting consultant in congenital heart disease for a number of years, left Malta in March and immediately contracted Covid-19 In London. Here she shares her experience.

“I was enjoying the sunshine in Malta in March and intended to stay another week or even 10 days when a very dear friend whose opinions I usually respect told me to “go back now and tell me when you’ve done it.” He was completely obsessive.  I resisted at first. However, I was proved to be wrong – he was sensible, prescient, and yes, right. Oh dear, I said to myself, it’s awful when men are right, and we are wrong. However, since I respect what he says, and I cannot say that about many Maltese men I know, I returned to London.  

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London was talking about lockdown.  I did a few errands and got on with my life. In fact, lockdown then came when our government finally got themselves together instead of watching Brexit and ignoring everyone else’s sensible advice about this virus.  I am not surprised that our PM contracted it and badly as he was ignoring all the rules.

I am not going to bore you with all the details, but I have thoroughly enjoyed lockdown. At first I was somewhat sick but I was very well looked after.

I have a gorgeous roof garden which I supervise daily and annoy my occasional gardener (an ex ballet dancer) who came and dug and clipped. I watched every plant, every dead head, everything so that the garden is now spectacular thanks also to the Mediterranean-type weather we have been enjoying. 

My daughter-in-law asked if her excellent housekeeper could come and live here, in Marylebone, and look after me. In the evenings she goes over to her, six blocks away to walk her dogs.

I also have by chance living with me the daughter of a legal friend who is absolutely wonderful and does nothing but help me, is a technical genius and can work all the things that go wrong with the computers, and there are plenty in this flat, and helps me and takes care of me. She also takes Merlin, the four-legged member of our household, out for his night walk. Indeed, the night when I was most sick as it happens, she said, “You are not well, I am leaving my door open.” I replied that I hoped I would be alive and be in a position to call her if help were indeed needed.

I got Covid that was the problem – either picked up in a fancy private clinic or at the bank. Probably the former as my beloved daughter-in-law who was with me, also got it.

I know it was Covid. I started with complete loss of smell, taste, and negative attitude to food. How good was that?! Well I lost 10kgs – I did not want to eat. I was kept alive with jelly soup made by my sons and little bits of food they brought whilst they stood over me hoping I would eat it.

Anyhow Covid is a bad experience in many different ways. The cough comes, chestiness comes, the oxygen saturation falls with the invasion of the lungs. I suspect I was saved because by chance I was taking heavy antibiotics for another problem. Anyway after three days of worsening and my eldest son asking me what arrangements I had made for my funeral I had to admit to him not a lot.

I improved slowly. I was ill for about 14 days. So, you could ask was it Covid? Certainly, the stupid test for the virus tested negative, but are we surprised? I learnt as a medical student viruses do not like to be sent by post and examined a few days later.  My son, not satisfied with the result, made me have my antibodies tested and they were hugely high 3-4 weeks after I finished. That was good. I was grateful. Very good efficient service run privately out of an Edwardian building, Hammersmith town hall.

So how is one post Covid? I’m sure there are lots of descriptions in Malta. I doubt it is very different if you really get the disease, but you feel weak, fatigued, not very interested in life around, wanting to take siesta and not interested in completing too many tasks. I suspect this affects our Prime Minister who seems not entirely alert and rather muddled from time to time. I think he’s got a post-Covid brain. PCB.

Really our government has been awful and maybe some of the others, including the chief scientific advisors also are suffering from it and definitely our Minister of Health whose words cannot be believed whether it is 100,000 being tested, or whether they have eaten bacon and eggs for breakfast or some other matter that might be more relevant to daily life. Our Department of Health is not quite as sensible as yours and you have a good Minister of Health. I can’t think that anyone would want to be Minister of Health. It is a poisoned chalice.  Even now many instructions that are issued are still unclear. I think Malta did very well.

We seem to be now coming out of Covid lockdown. Fortunately, the hairdressers are let out so people can stop looking like shaggy aggies and get their haircut without being blamed for being too near somebody. That’s an advantage and our Prime Minister should go and see to his hair.

Shops are opening up but there is a lot of anxiety around,  a lot of mental dysfunction,  of fear and I think there are some real mental health issues but since I’ve never been very good on that subject I cannot comment further. I am also finding that people are far from efficient when they should be efficient, and excessively greedy when they should not be. This applies to banks, energy producers, post offices…  Very bad. I shouldn’t say more. 

So now, what do I feel when I look back? Firstly, I really enjoyed lockdown as I was with people who looked after me and amused me. The garden is now devastatingly beautiful, and I am still in touch with my lovely Malta friends.  I think your management of Covid was very much better than ours and you shouldn’t let the Brits in yet and have them quarantined if you do.  However I think you need the Brits so Malta might have to take a few risks.

Lots of love to the Maltese ­­– I look forward to my return.

PS your news is better than any thriller – I wonder if you ever are going to get closure from all the naughtiness that has gone on.”

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