The old joke goes, “I want to die like my grandad, peacefully in my sleep, not screaming in terror like the people in the car he was driving.” Having written a fair bit about Covid, I want to present an episode that was not peaceful, another perspective, a patient’s. Mine.
Just so we are on the same page, when humans are exposed to an infectious agent, if they survive the initial assault the immune system is induced to be ready for a future infection. That is how vaccines work; they effectively educate the immune system to respond to a virus they have not seen before, like the one causing Covid-19. I had taken three doses of coronavirus vaccine and, on December 13, 2021, my birthday incidentally, a blood test showed I was positively packed with immune readiness as part of a surveillance project here in the UK.
On Christmas Eve, I started to feel not quite right so cancelled my plans to attend a party. The next day, nothing specific, but I felt unwell and also cancelled my plans for a fun day with friends. A lateral flow test that day was negative. The next day the fever, myalgia (muscle pain), headache and cough started, and worsened step by step. And did not stop. At all. A lateral flow and then another and another were positive and for one week I was coughing constantly, becoming weaker and more distraught. My trusty pulse oximeter that has flown in the cockpit with me all over the world and at rest usually measures 99/100, was slowly drifting down, as low as 88. At 91 in the hospital, oxygen is usually administered. My resting pulse rate, which usually is 50/minute, was 80–90.
My family doctor was awesome and meds were dispatched promptly but I was a whisper away from being admitted to the hospital, as the coughing wore me out, my strength sapped and I feared for the ability to breathe solo for much longer. Just when I thought things could not get worse, they did. The headache was unremitting, the cough wracking me, hurting my throat and chest. Under normal circumstances I run around 3–5 miles every day and work out. Walking 5 yards was exhausting and I don’t think I have ever felt so ill.
After about ten days of being bedbound and sick, I slowly started to recover and now, over two weeks out, I am still very weak, need to take several naps every day and certainly will not be going anywhere near an airplane any time soon.
In a conversation the other day with a conspiracy-theorist acquaintance, but an otherwise smart and successful man, he told me that my illness was proof positive vaccines don’t work. Once I put my outrage back in the box, my measured response to him was that were it not for the vaccines, instead of feeling very under the weather, I would have been feeling very six feet under the ground. And remember, as pilots we are told to keep the dirty side down!
This is meant as a salutary tale. I was vaccinated, avoided crowds, wore a mask and still caught the darn virus. These measures all work and have doubtless saved millions of lives, but nothing is foolproof and I must have made one slip-up, an error that could have cost me my life. Please be safe out there!
You can send your questions and comments to Dr. Sackier via email: [email protected] and listen to his weekly podcasts at https://www.emg-health.com/omnipresent/?category=podcasts&therapeutic_area=healthcare
Editor's note: Dr. Sackier's opinion as an editorial contributor to our Pilot Protection Services content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of AOPA.