Will Hodgkinson got coronavirus and recovered. Here’s his advice for sufferers: slow down, meditate, sleep
The first thing I must say to anyone getting coronavirus is: don’t panic! The entire world is telling you to panic right now. Every death is reported, every day there is news of further horror, we’re all stuck inside with far too much time to obsess over the first sign of a tickling cough, and then if we do go out to the shops we’re made aware that the nation’s hunter-gatherer gene has kicked in with frightening consequences. I’ve just had coronavirus. My wife NJ had it too, and so did our teenage children Otto and Pearl. And there is one thing that is more important than anything in order to get through it: calm.
It seems I caught it on the healthiest scenario imaginable: a bracing walk along Beachy Head. Every six months or so a bunch of us old school friends get together for a long ramble in the country, and this was a particularly great one: 14 miles of coastline, a tricky bit where we had to cross a river by crawling on all fours along a narrow waterlogged dam, lots of conversations about our slow slide toward irrelevance and decrepitude, marvelling at how close the path was to the edge of the cliff face, and then a few beers in a pub at the end of it. That was on Saturday, March 14. By Wednesday all of us, now dubbed by our wives as the coronavirus Six, were struck down.
Where did we catch it? Did one of us have it already? Did we get it on the train? Was it lurking in the chalky stones on which we sat for a break halfway through? Who knows? Clearly, this thing is incredibly virulent. It has gone all over the world in a month. The symptoms are flu-like — headache, fever, shivers, a hacking cough — with added oddities. It comes in waves. You think you’re getting better, you do something minor like getting up to clean your teeth, and you are so totally exhausted by the effort that you have to go and lie down. You feel like a malevolent imp is sitting on your chest, pushing poisoned spikes into your lungs. For a while I could hear a wheezing, rattling sound as I breathed. And of course, I gave it to the family.
There tends to be one particularly awful night. For me it came on the Saturday after getting ill, when I was sick after a coughing fit and facing constant shortness of breath. There is also an overwhelming sense of despair, which is certainly a part of it: your body is doing everything it can to fight this thing and you’re going to be left psychologically and emotionally depleted accordingly. And then, when you realise you are over the worst of it, comes a surprise jolt of elation and hopefulness.
Unless you are one of the unlucky few whose lives really are endangered, the best thing to do if you catch this thing is to stay in bed and do as little as possible. Whatever you do, don’t go to hospital unless as an absolute last resort. When you start coughing and can’t stop you are sending your body into panic mode, but you can counteract this by counting your breaths and concentrating on every sensation running through your body; by meditating, essentially. At the worst moments I found it a lifesaver to count slowly to five while breathing in, to hold my breath for five seconds, and then breathe out, very slowly, for a further ten seconds. It actually stopped the coughing. Tom and I have a father who has devoted much of his life to meditation, soul consciousness and penetrating the inner core of his being via adherence to the tenets of Indian spiritual group the Brahma Kumaris. He always seemed like a religious nut, but after having had coronavirus, frankly I’m wondering if he may be onto something.
You’ll need to drink a lot of water. You’ll lose all sense of taste and smell, you won’t want to eat, and you may have a nasty metallic feeling in your mouth, but it is important that you do keep to regular meals. One evening I was so ill, I even gave up 30 years of vegetarianism to have NJ’s homemade chicken soup, which has been relied upon by generations of Jewish mothers for its remarkable restorative properties, and it really did help. Lots of lots of ginger, honey and lemon tea does a lot of good, as does Barocca, its vitamin C and bicarbonate of soda blend appearing to reduce the symptoms. Painkillers or cold and flu tablets are a total waste of time. And one nice thing about having coronavirus: we all slept incredibly well. The body goes into its own natural lockdown.
Two weeks on, both NJ and I are pretty much recovered. Our government-sanctioned daily walk tends to tire us out more than it should but otherwise we are back to normal, physically at least, and there have been some unexpected joys to this situation. We’ve been talking to friends and parents far more than we usually do. The kids and I have been playing board games. Judge Dredd, the game of crime fighting in Mega City 1 that we used to play on family holidays on the island of Eigg when Tom and I were boys, has been a big hit; Pandemic, where you have to work together to stop a virus that will spread through the globe and ultimately kill millions if you fail, has not proved so popular. We’ve taken an amnesty on guilt, which means we’re getting up at around nine, eating a lot of chocolate and crisps, drinking every evening and making no attempt whatsoever to force the kids to crack on with schoolwork. I’ve been thinking about doing some gardening. We’re talking to each other. We’re digging out all kinds of long forgotten albums, like the cosmic jazz classic Journey To Satchitananda by Alice Coltrane and a gorgeous sunshine pop obscurity from 1969, Genesis by 15-and 18-year old San Francisco sisters Wendy & Bonnie. We’re reading a lot, having long baths in the afternoon, and watching Tiger King, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls and Friday Night Lights. We’re wondering about what kind of world we will return to when all this is over.
Beyond the horrific destruction to livelihoods and the economy, beyond the massive rise in mental illness, dementia and suicide due to enforced isolation, not to mention the death of the hopes and dreams of an entire generation, maybe it won’t be too bad. Maybe the dawn of the robotic age that this virus is heralding will usher in a new era of a standard living wage. Maybe we will start to see the value in the slow life, of no longer defining our self worth through work and money, but in seeing the importance of community, alongside solitude, thoughtfulness, pottering about and other things my brother [Tom Hodgkinson] has been banging on about in the Idler for the last three decades. Maybe we’ll remember that we like hearing the birds singing in the morning, and won’t want to go back to a way of life that stops them from doing that. Who knows? But living is better than dying and after ten days of coronavirus, all I can say is that I’m glad I’m alive.
Will Hodgkinson is author of several books and is Chief Rock Critic at The Times
This piece appears in the May/June 2020 issue of the Idler, available here.