Living with Covid in France

Kerren Hedlund shares her experience of living in a small village in France in 2022 where almost all the residents contracted Covid-19, including her family of four.

Noah, Justin, Kerren and Sophie. Photo: Anna Pearce

Kia ora e te whānau! Kerren, Justin, Noah (18 years) and Sophie (16 years) here. Back from France where guess what!? We got Covid. Actually, pretty much our whole village of 30 households got Covid. Holiday gatherings and rangatahi coming home from college from the ‘city’ meant that the new variant Omicron spread pretty fast.

What was it like? We are all vaccinated, two shots with the last one in November. But day one in January, Noah looked a little more white than usual! And by day two Sophie was a little more tired than usual. But it wasn’t until Justin woke on the day three with a sore throat and cough that we pulled out our Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) and stuck the swab up our noses! The other three tested positive and I held out for a week before testing positive too (day seven).

I did try not to get it. With all of us wearing masks I ate at the other end of the table, washed my hands all the time, and spent most of my day outside of the house. But I guess it was inevitable living together with the windows and doors closed all day (a snowy winter in the northern hemisphere). Noah was asymptomatic and so was I, pretty much. Just felt a little ‘weird’ on day seven and yup! I tested positive.

Justin had it the worst of us. He was a smoker for 30 years and for the last three years has got a chronic lung infection every winter. I admit: I wasn’t worried for the rest of us but I did worry that it would be rough for him. He did have a very productive cough, fatigue, headaches and loss of smell and taste (none of us ever lost our smell or taste thank goodness! What’s the point of being in France if you can’t taste the cheese!?). He’d get these ‘respiratory crises’ where he really felt he couldn’t get air into his lungs. This happened twice at night and once during the day. We’ve been meditating a lot lately and so he used his meditation breath to bring calm to breathe shallow until he could breathe deep and the ‘crisis’ passed. They lasted 5-10 minutes.

Sophie tested negative first. Then Noah. We did a PCR test with the local hospital before we left France to come back to Aotearoa and were negative (day 14) enabling us to come home. But then tested positive when we arrived at MIQ! Different PCR tests have different levels of sensitivity I was told and bits of virus may show up in our test for up to 3 months even though we are no longer infectious.

Today, we feel great. Not least as Sophie and I did lots of yoga, Zumba, and booty exercises while in MIQ! Justin is doing well too, although still pretty tired. But that is probably more due to the fact he is working the frontline in Sudan at the moment, and his health takes second place to peace and justice!

And our village in France? We all went down at different times. So, we took turns doing the shopping for each other. Of the three families that weren’t vaccinated in our village, two went down. (The third doesn’t have children! Go figure!). Anne Kat (50 years) had it hard, was bedridden for two weeks and lost a lot of weight. She has parallel health problems related to her gut. Bruno (72 years) holed up in bed for a couple of weeks as well. They had symptoms more serious and longer than the rest of us but neither had to go to the hospital. My back-country koro, Jean-Manuel (68 years), might have picked it up from us at dinner on day one. On Saturday night (day two) he woke feeling a bit dizzy. Then he decided to take it easy on Sunday. But by Monday he was back to climbing 1000m. He thinks it must have come and gone. He’s vaccinated too.

So, there you go. My advice after having had it? [Declaration of interest here. I am an international public health professional and have raised my children in Africa and Asia, where vaccines save lives!]. If you don’t want to risk it with your health choose to be vaccinated. If you don’t want to spread it to others, choose to get vaccinated. Wear a mask, stay home at the first sign of a scratchy throat. Before you get it, have a plan with nearby friends and family who can bring you what you need when your household needs to isolate. When you do get it, don’t forget to stop and BREATHE.

Happy to chat more if anyone wants to!

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