Former Clare man, Barney Smith was hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain when COVID-19 first hit.
It forced him into lockdown in a “tiny, dark and cold” one room apartment in Barcelona.
Unbeknown to him, the worst was yet to come for this fit, normally energetic man.
Having grown up in Clare, Barney has spent much of his adult life travelling and working around the world.
In October 2010, he flew to Florida to pursue a job on a yacht.
From working as a deckhand to engineering on luxury boats, learning as he has gone, it is a career that has taken Barney from Florida, to the Bahamas, Spain, France, Italy, Scotland, Greece and Turkey.
His current job is on a 47-metre sailing yacht worth around $20 million Australian, originally built by a Silicone Valley billionaire.
However, as COVID-19 hit the world, not even a job in the middle of the ocean meant Barney was able to escape coronavirus.
As he continues his recovery, and sits out a two-week quarantine in Queensland on his arrival back to Australia to visit family, Barney has agreed to share an honest, first-hand account of what it is really like living with COVID-19.
At the time I didn’t hide the fact I had COVID, but I didn’t tell many people either.
Why? I didn’t have the energy to answer questions.
Eight weeks on, I’m mostly recovered, yet some symptoms remain and may for some time.
In the space of 24 hours life changed from cycling the hills of Spain to feeling like I was hit by a bus. A large bus with an angry driver who reversed over me just for fun.
Headaches, body aches and tiredness quickly took hold.
A low body temperature also took hold. No fever, no sweats. Cold. To the bone cold. Instead of my usual t-shirt and boxers in bed, I wore tracksuit pants, two shirts, thick socks, neck warmer, beanie, an extra blanket, had the heater on and still couldn’t warm up.
My spine ached for days. That bus driver really disliked me!
In just 12 hours the outside of my nose became inflamed and started weeping.
The skin then fell off.
For 10 days, I had an open wound that would crust, try to heal, then dead skin would come off and the process would repeat.
Medicated ointments didn’t help and it took five weeks to heal.
Turns out cold sores seized my body when my immune system was compromised. I haven’t had a cold sore in 25 years, but neither has my body suffered such stress.
Can someone stop that bloody bus?
Fatigue saw me sleeping nine or 10 hours per night (11.5 hours straight was my record), plus multiple hours each day. Not little snoozes, but often two-hour comas, morning and afternoon.
In the later stages it felt like I had Type 1 diabetes. I experienced chronic thirst, frequent urination and blood sugar levels which went up and down faster than the price of Bitcoin.
Yet I ate the cleanest diet ever. One piece of rye bread and two eggs (a breakfast I’ve had dozens of times) would put me in a coma.
Every few days I would collect food from crewmates at ground level.
Walking up three flights of stairs left me breathless and dizzy. A rapid decline from six-hour mountain hikes.
My balance was affected. Thankfully not enough to be dangerous.
COVID brain – it’s a thing. The cupboard refused to microwave my food and words got tangled up as I spoke.
I repeatedly left my fly undone. I fumbled with light switches. Curiously, in weeks three and four my vocabulary of intelligent and appropriate words was on fire like never before.
Sadly, it was only temporary, which is a concentrated accumulation of faecal matter.
Despite only walking to the toilet, fridge and couch each day, my knee ached from the inflammation running throughout my body.
Not everything was inflamed though, as my libido quickly disappeared. Not funny bus driver!
When not sleeping I watched TED Talks, a few docos, a few movies and read books.
I didn’t have the energy to do anything useful like personal admin.
Talking to people, even to family, took considerable effort. I appreciated their concern, but often I felt like hanging up and sleeping.
I coughed occasionally (more so in recent weeks), had a niggly throat (more so in recent weeks) and my chest was wheezy.
Three kilograms of hard-earned muscle disappeared in 10 days.
I also had a rash, weird dreams, elevated heart rate and chronically cold hands and feet. When exactly did I upset the bus driver?
After testing negative, I returned to work.
I was useless and yawned my way through the first week, but I got better at zipping up my fly. COVID brain lingered far too long.
Climbing the stairs left my legs heavy. My usual stamina no longer existed. My lung capacity was reduced.
I couldn’t smell the liquid chlorine we use at work.
A bizarre symptom was that I couldn’t taste or smell cucumber. I despise cucumbers with a passion!
How did I catch COVID? No idea.
I was just unlucky, especially given the minimal number of people I had contact with.
I’m 43, fit and healthy with no medical conditions – yet that bus driver hit me out of nowhere. He dominated the first round, we’re closely matched in the second but I plan to kick his butt in the third round.
However, I will not underestimate his cunning, power, or callous desire to run people over.
Editor’s note: Barney said he’s bouncing back in more ways than one. Also, he is happy to report that on Friday morning he completed his first ‘kneeling-to-handstand sequence’ since being struck down by coronavirus. By his own admission, “it wasn’t pretty like the people on Instagram, but evidence of bouncing back and the silver linings of hotel quarantine.”