Thank you Sydney, your lockdown sacrifices saved my life

I’d been reluctant to go anywhere near a hospital during a pandemic, but the antibiotics were doing bupkus, and now I couldn’t swallow them anyway. Time to go to emergency.

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The one good thing about COVID-19, at least for me, is that when you present to ER with a sore throat, shortness of breath, a fever of 38.8, profuse sweating, and difficulty breathing, you get the “please sir, come this way sir” treatment.

The COVID clinic at my local hospital was well-appointed. Comfy chairs, lovely staff, TV tuned to SBS. (Well, it was the inner west.) There was just one other patient in there. The staff were relaxed and calm and well-drilled. It didn’t seem that anyone had been working quadruple shifts hoiking the dead into the back of a U-Haul.

I had a battery of tests done. Bloodwork. Chest X-ray. CT workup of my neck. No significant wait for any of them.

Quinsy is one of those old-timey diseases, like dropsy, or ague, or barrel fever, that we hardly remember, and would never dream of catching. Dear reader, I had caught it.

The affliction is now more commonly known as a peritonsillar abscess. Doctors have moved away from wanting diseases to sound like the effect of too many cocktails.

Sydney COVID clinics are not overwhelmed with patients.Credit:Kate Geraghty

An increasingly large reservoir of bacterial infection and pus was building up in the left side of my throat and threatening to terminate my airway and my life. I’m sure we can agree: that would not be the Sunday night I hoped for.

My doctors explained to me they would need to make a small incision in my neck, work around some muscles and nerves and my carotid artery, suction out as much infected material as possible and install a drain to allow the remaining pus to drip out over the course of the next few days. Oh, and that, at least for this pandemic, I was not going to win the isobeard competition.

In order to preserve my airway while they did this, I would need to be intubated and ventilated.

If I was in the US, or Britain, or any one of a bunch of countries that have not been as diligent and effective in keeping COVID-19 infection rates low as we have, the need to be intubated and ventilated could be a very big problem indeed.

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When I got out of the operating theatre there was only one COVID case in ICU in NSW. Today there are none. So there’s plenty of room in ICU for people with quinsy (and dropsy and scarlet fever and all the other diseases from the 1600s). But, more importantly, there’s room for all the people who have 21st-century injuries, like being hit by a Tesla, or drowned in rising oceans, or my mate Tim who snapped his ankle surfing.

If you think that there is no chance that you or a loved one might end up, completely unexpectedly, where I was, then sure – ignore social distancing, refuse a vaccination if and when there is a vaccine, laugh about COVID being “boomer doomer”.

But I am (thankfully, still) living proof that the difficult and economically and socially devastating lockdown did exactly what it needed to. It enabled lives to be saved – not just from COVID, but from every random potentially lethal thing that life throws at us.

After two days in ICU and five in a ward, my immune system has taken a bit of a battering. So it’d be helpful if you could all keep up the social distancing for a little while longer. Not just for me, but for yourself, and your loved ones. Because you just don’t know when a niggly sore throat can lead to intubation, ventilation, and critical, life-saving surgery.

Al Donnelley is an engineering consultant.

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