Covid 19 coronavirus: Whanganui survivor tells of nightmare ordeal

A Whanganui man has described the horrors of suffering with Covid-19 while overseas in a bid to warn New Zealanders of the dangers of letting our guard down.

Covid-19 survivors Paul Jeffrey and his Venezuelan partner, Claudia Cedeño Machado, moved from Spain to Jeffrey’s hometown of Whanganui after both had recovered from the virus.

They spent two weeks in a managed isolation facility in Auckland before coming to Whanganui last October.

Jeffrey’s illness, which he described as having someone “shove plastic bags” into his lungs, resulted in Cedeño Machado rushing him from their home, 60km out of Barcelona, to a local hospital.

The couple had been living “back and forth” between Spain and New Zealand for a number of years.

Now, a year on, Jeffrey, who is 67, said he was still feeling the health effects of the virus, and he wanted to use his experience as a reminder of what could happen if New Zealand let its guard down in the face of the global pandemic.

As of March 8, there had been more than 2.5 million Covid-19 related deaths worldwide, including more than 71,000 in Spain alone.

The couple had decided to stock up on food and self-isolate when talk of lockdown began in Spain, Jeffrey said.

“This was in early March [2020], and we were lucky that we had a small lifestyle block. We just said, ‘Right, let’s shut ourselves at home’.

“We got infected some time in the last few days before we went into isolation. It could well have been at the supermarket during our very last ‘stocking up’.

“We were so meticulous too, and we washed ourselves and all the food, we were really careful.

“Unfortunately, the virus caught up with us over the next couple of weeks.”

Jeffrey said his condition quickly deteriorated, and he suffered two seizures in their home.

“The first time I thought, ‘I can deal with this, I’m a tough Kiwi’, but after the second seizure the next morning I nearly died in the home.”

Cedeño Machado, herself struggling with a temperature of around 40C, then rushed him to a local hospital, and Jeffrey said his only visitors for the following seven days were strangers in protective clothing.

“The way it affected me was incredible pain through my sinuses into my brain, it was like someone was poking needles into my brain. I’d push the button for pain relief and it might be four hours before somebody came.

“You find yourself semi-conscious, surrounded by people in Hazmat suits, and you don’t know who they are.

“There are just these eyes looking at you, and you don’t know if it’s the undertaker measuring you up or the doctor trying to save you.

“It must have been horrible for the hospital workers. I felt so sorry for the nurses, and we actually made a small donation to them when I was discharged.

“They are still going now, and the psychological damage to the staff must be incredible.”

His experience with the virus had further emphasised to him the importance of self-isolating, wearing masks and taking the vaccine when the opportunity arrived, Jeffrey said.

“There are a couple of people I know here who are anti-vaccine, and a part of me wants to shake them and say, ‘How could you be so ignorant?’

“It’s not ignorance though, that’s too heavy a word, they just don’t know, or they haven’t experienced the damage this thing can do.”

Spain had a health system that was at least the equal of New Zealand’s, Jeffrey said, but the swiftness with which the virus broke out meant it was overloaded in a very short time.

He said a similar outbreak in New Zealand could have catastrophic consequences.

“Spain has a good public health service, it’s a very good system, but in that moment everything was breaking down.

“I don’t think we in New Zealand can comprehend the trail of this. When there are that many people dying every day, it’s not just one person dead, that’s 30 people in that family that are directly affected.

“That’s the problem for New Zealanders right now, we haven’t seen that. Maybe we have a bit on TV, but it’s not the same as having experienced it firsthand.”

Jeffrey said his good friend’s father had died in hospital as a result of Covid, and the family never had contact with him after he was admitted.

“They were told that he had passed away, and that his body was on the way to the crematorium. It was most likely in a truck somewhere between the hospital and the ice rink where they kept the bodies.

“The sadness in Europe is just incomprehensible, it really is.

“Everybody in Spain knows somebody that’s lost somebody. If you’re in the city in an apartment, then you know many.

“You see those big refrigerated trucks with bodies in them on TV, and maybe you think ‘That’s not real’, but I can assure you, it is. I saw them when I looked out of the little window in my hospital room.”

Taking a Covid-19 vaccine would not only protect yourself, but your loved ones, Jeffrey said.

“When you hear of people in New Zealand who are fleeing lockdown to go hunting or churching,or breaking out of managed isolation to go and buy alcohol, the mind just boggles.

“Again, it’s because they haven’t seen the damage for themselves, they haven’t felt that pain of losing someone. It’s not just the ‘flu, and it won’t just go away. We as a country have to take it very, very seriously.

“I’m quite worried for some of family and friends who are anti-vaccinators. I’m from this community and I care about this community.

“Even those who are pro-vaccine, we’ve still got a long way to go. I don’t think we have a safety margin in New Zealand until at least October.”

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