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Regular version of the site

‘I Have No Idea Where I Caught This Thing’

Stories of HSE employees who had COVID-19

© Daniil Prokofyev

The second wave of coronavirus is gathering momentum. Employees and students are advised to wear masks at all times and some classes have now switched back online. To remind everyone that coronavirus is no joke, four HSE employees shared their experiences with COVID-19.

‘When they say it makes food taste like paper, they’re wrong: even paper has some flavour’

Elena Kakabadze

Director of Social Benefits

I have to admit that I was a ‘COVID skeptic.’ I dismissed information about the coronavirus. What’s more, I almost never get colds and thought I couldn’t get sick.

I was very careless, even though some of my friends, including several at HSE, had caught the virus by early April. I did not switch to working from home and went to the office through a city that was practically empty without a care in the world, not wearing a mask or gloves, not worried about anything and even glad that the metro was empty.

I fell ill on April 26. My temperature rose and I began coughing. Two days later, I was in the hospital, where I stayed for 16 days. I had COVID-induced double pneumonia, but my overall condition was not very bad. Less than 25% of my lungs was affected and my oxygen saturation level and pulse quickly returned to normal, which even surprised the doctors.

But it was still very unpleasant to be sick. First, I’m not used to getting sick, much less staying in a hospital. It was very difficult psychologically. What saved me were the amazing doctors and hospital staff (I even wrote them a thank you note when I got out). But the main thing was the support of my HSE co-workers: I still can’t get over the number of messages and calls I received during that time. It was so important—everyone was so supportive. And secondly, this is a very nasty disease. Fever, weakness, an exhausting dry cough—as if someone is yanking on you with strings—not to mention losing your sense of smell and taste! When they say that food tastes like paper, they’re wrong: everything has a flavor, even paper, plastic and iron. If you were to eat with your eyes closed, you could only determine two things—whether you were eating a liquid or a solid, whether it was cold or hot. With your eyes closed, you could only tell the difference between macaroni and buckwheat by their shape. This uniformity drives you crazy. In the hospital, people were chewing lemons and sniffing strong menthol rubs to try to break through that barrier! I was so happy when my sense of taste and smell began to return…especially the smell and taste of coffee, my favourite!

‘COVID is very unpleasant’

Pavel Aptekar

Columnist, HSE News Service

I have no idea where I caught this thing. If I had known, I would definitely have given that place a wide berth, wearing three masks at once and two pairs of gloves just in case.

In the first weeks after restrictions were imposed, I probably should have gone out less, gone to the store less often and cut back on using public transport. However, I sometimes had to go into work at the editorial office and made regular visits to the Leroy Merlin store to buy stuff for home repairs.

I first felt that ‘something’s not right’ on Wednesday morning, April 1. By Thursday, I had a fever and on Friday, the doctor came. However, the doctors refused to administer the coronavirus test based on my private insurance plan, saying they don’t offer that service in general, or based on my compulsory health insurance, confiding with me that they were told not to diagnose everyone with the virus so as not to cause a panic. When my fever climbed to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) on Saturday, I went to a private clinic and paid out of pocket to be tested. But even before I received the results on Monday, I was checked in to the Pirogov Medical Centre in Izmailovo with a temperature of 39 degree Celsius (102.2 Fahrenheit).

There, I got a surprise: I had mentally prepared myself for having to stay in the corridor or else in a room with three other patients. But I was given a room of my own that came equipped with a fridge, a shower and an electric teapot. The staff were very attentive and the food was just fine.

My condition improved slowly: the whole first week, my temperature never dropped below 37.8 degrees Celsius (100.04 Fahrenheit), I was on an IV and slept most of the day. My recovery came in spurts: all in all, I was hospitalized for three and a half weeks, and by the end of the first week, I had stopped coughing and my morning temperature had fallen to 37.3 - 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.14 – 98.6 Fahrenheit). By the end of the second week, my laptop had turned from a home movie theatre back into an ordinary tool for work. But at the beginning of the third week, my leg swelled up so much that, although I could walk, I couldn’t stand on it. That prompted a change in my IV and medications.

I was finally discharged on April 30, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital on my own. I was put in an ambulance with several other patients who lived in the same part of town and we were all driven home.

In summary, I will say that COVID is very unpleasant, even for a middle-aged person with no chronic health problems or excess bodyweight. It is better to avoid catching this.

‘During the second wave, it’s better to switch into “no more parties” mode’

Ivan Chernyavsky

Assistant to the Rector

The first wave seemed like it was ‘out there somewhere,’ but the second one is ‘right here and now.’

A lot of my friends — HSE graduates working in completely different fields — have gotten sick. I think this is because we are the most hooked on media and were really scared back in spring. We did everything we could to stay safe and not be caught by that first wave. But by the second wave, we let our guard down. Now, we fill whole chats talking about the No. 1 illness of 2020.

My COVID infection is still very mild: a couple of days of fever, a week of coughing and two weeks of constant fatigue and loss of smell. At the same time, one of my friends has had a fever for a week and was diagnosed with pneumonia. It is impossible to say why one person gets it worse than another does. 

I only missed a few days of life at HSE, and then I was back to teaching online and administrative work. I apparently isolated myself in time because I managed not to infect any colleagues or students. I feel as though we have all learned how to switch quickly to online mode. When I informed my colleagues that I had tested positive, I received very clear instructions on what to do next and a great deal of support — although I feel a little bad for those students who, because of me, had to isolate and study online. But they don’t seem too upset about it and they can already return to normal now.

I think that during the second wave, it’s better to switch to ‘no more parties’ mode, even though everything remains open. Take care of yourself.

‘I had COVID for one day’

Marina Nichiporenko

Head of the Department of Personnel Development and Motivation

It was not until I tested positive for antibodies that I knew for sure I had had COVID a month before. On that day, April 27, I was making borscht. I like to make this killer borscht using sauerkraut, garlic and ketchup. It can knock a foreigner out cold and some people can’t handle the smell it gives off in the kitchen. And so, while I was cooking it that day, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t smell anything. I sniffed again — nothing. I tried some — it was like water. Then I got sick. I had a fever, took some cold medicine and lay down. And that was about it. The next day, I still couldn’t smell anything and had some body aches, but it gradually passed. My family still doesn’t believe that I had it: even my test results didn’t convince them.

Author: Ekaterina Drankina, October 09