Hospital consultant tells how 90-minute coronavirus coughing fits left him ‘gasping for air’

PUBLISHED: 13:26 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:24 03 April 2020

Emergency consultant Dr Vimal Desai warns public not to ignore Government advice about staying at home.

Emergency consultant Dr Vimal Desai warns public not to ignore Government advice about staying at home.

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A consultant in emergency medicine at Hinchingbrooke Hospital - who has recovered from coronavirus - has shared his story with The Hunts Post in a bid to urge the public to stay at home.

Dr Vimal Desai has provided diary entries in which he describes how his muscles ached so much he couldn’t sleep and how he believes he possibly passed the virus to a friend after they played football together for just 20 minutes.

Dr Desai, who is in his 40s, is normally fit and healthy and regularly plays football and squash. He says he has mild asthma which is well controlled and he wants to use his experience to urge the public to following Government guidelines on social distancing.

He received the results of his swab tests at the end of last week and now knows for certain that he had COVID-19.

MORE: We pay tribute to those on the coronavirus frontline

”The symptoms that I had weren’t on the mild end of the spectrum but at the same time, they weren’t at the extreme end – I didn’t end up needing to be put onto a ventilator nor did I go into organ failure; I pretty much had average symptoms,” he says.

“I initially knew something wasn’t right when I got back from work in the early hours of Thursday, March 12, having done the late shift on the Wednesday. I felt lethargic and my muscles felt heavy, but I just put it down to a tough shift. There was no cough, fever or shortness of breath.

“When I woke up on Thursday I felt fine – I had the energy to do the activities that I needed to do throughout the day and even went and played football that evening. I clearly wasn’t fine, even though I was symptom-free, as I believe that I infected a friend who I spent 20 minutes with that evening who then who went on to develop symptoms on March 17 and was also subsequently diagnosed as COVID-19 positive.”

Dr Desai says over the next few days he experienced lethargy and muscle pain and then he began to see spikes in his temperature, which over a period of nine days went from 38.4oC to 39.2oC despite regular paracetamol. He also suffered intermittent night sweats and would wake up with the bedsheets completely drenched.

“On a couple of nights, the pains in my muscles were so bad, I couldn’t sleep at all despite being so exhausted.

The worst part of it all were the coughing fits; they would last up to around an hour and a half and leave you gasping for air. My oxygen saturations should be above 98 per cent but instead they were falling to the late 80s; there were times when the air hunger got so bad that I felt that I couldn’t take it anymore.”

He says one of the strangest symptoms was the loss of smell.

“You may not realise it but we can only taste four things, namely sweet, salty, bitter and sour and therefore you are dependent primarily on your sense of smell to appreciate food and on its texture; as a result, some foods started tasting extremely salty or bitter whilst for food items that did not fit into any of these four taste categories, they tasted like cardboard.

“This also has an impact on my appetite, along with the breathing issues, and as a result, I have lost half-a-stone in a week with a fair bit of muscle wasting.”

Dr Desai says he felt he finally turned a corner on March 23 when his temperature stabilised and his breathing improved.

MORE: Nurses at Hinchingbrooke Hospital are appealing for food and toiletry donations as they work long hours

He is now exercising normally and no longer has to sit down for 10 minutes after carrying out basic tasks.

“So what do I want you to get from this? Well firstly, COVID-19 is a silently penetrating, massively contagious disease; you may not initially have the typical symptoms that you have read about in the media yet you may still have the potential to infect other people so social isolation and distancing is vital as well as ensuring that you are not spreading the virus on your hands – even those who are practicing this are still getting infected.

“Secondly, ignore the guidelines at your peril but I can guarantee you that you don’t want to risk yourself or those nearest and dearest to you to the possibility of developing the illness that I had last week so please stay safe.”


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