Living with post-COVID prejudice
It’s cost him A$100,000 in lost fees and flattened him for three weeks, but COVID-19 still isn’t done with this accountant.
- One Australian accountant shares his experience with COVID-19 and its aftermath.
- Even though he has been cleared twice of having the virus, he still deals with people not wanting to be around him.
- Very little has been said about what’s appropriate behaviour for people who’ve had COVID-19 and recovered.
Fully cleared by his doctors as recovered from COVID-19, yet still weak and exhausted, Australian accountant Sam* is attempting to get his business going again (and his employees, several of whom he unknowingly infected, back to work).
But he’s facing a coronavirus side effect he never expected – prejudice from people who flee from him in fear.
“Honestly, I think I know now how people with HIV must have felt in the ’80s, not that I’m comparing. But you do feel like you’re being treated like a leper. People around you are frightened of you, they think you’re contagious even though you’re not. I’ve had two clearances from my doctors,” Sam explains.
“If I so much as cough, people freak out that I’ve got it again. I had one person who just jumped up and ran straight out of my office. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“If I so much as cough, people freak out that I’ve got it again. I had one person who just jumped up and ran straight out of my office.”
“People still think you’re contagious. People don’t believe you can’t give it to them, and it reminded me of this documentary I’d seen about HIV sufferers dealing with that same fears. It’s got to affect you mentally.
“But I felt like I had to get back to work, and not just because of the financial strain. (It cost me A$100,000 in fees, the time I was off work.) But I feel for my clients, some of them are really struggling, losing their business and losing their homes. It affects me emotionally, too.
“I’ve known some of these people for 30 years, and sometimes I feel like a psychologist for them. It’s exhausting.”
The experience of having coronavirus
Sam, who is in his 50s and usually as full of energy as a fiercely shaken can of Coke, now knows he caught the virus from his personal trainer back in March. At the time, the fact that his instructor was coughing and unwell didn’t frighten him enough.
What he finds alarming now is that there were nine days after he contracted the virus where he didn’t feel ill, and yet he now realises he was contagious. He was passing on COVID-19 to his staff, and his wife, who tested positive but was fortunate enough not to suffer any ill effects, allowing her to look after Sam when he collapsed.
“I was locked in my bedroom, suffering, really horrible suffering, alone, for 21 days,” Sam recalls.
“I was breathless, I had night sweats and I’d get fatigued just walking to the bathroom, which is five steps.
“My daughter, she’s 18, was texting me from the other side of the door, asking if I was OK, and I had to write back and tell her, ‘I’m worried I’m never going to see you again.’
“It was depressing. I couldn’t see my wife or my daughters, and I was frightened, really terrified, that I was going to deteriorate. But I was also scared to go to the hospital, because I thought that would be it.”
Blaming the COVID-19 victim
Health officials stayed in touch with him by phone, monitoring his condition and advising him to stay isolated, until he finally, joyfully, came out the other side.
The relief at being able to re-enter the world has been tempered, however, by other people’s reactions to his recovery.
“There was a lot of blame, people saying ‘you should have locked down earlier, you should have known.’ And I was angry at first, too, with my trainer. I blamed him, but he didn’t mean for this to happen,” Sam says.
“And then I had people coming in to my office and saying, ‘why are you meeting with me?’ And I’m saying I’m allowed to work, my doctor has said I’m in the clear. But the way people look at you. Even some of my family, I would start coughing and they’d run off, telling me I should go and get tested again.”
Dr Richard Bryant, Scientia Professor of Psychology at the University of NSW, says while we’ve been given a lot of advice about containing the virus and social distancing, very little has been said about what’s appropriate behaviour for people who’ve had COVID-19 and recovered.
“Having the virus is an accumulative stress for people. They’ve been sick, they’ve been isolated from their loved ones, and then on top of all that to have people shunning you really compounds that stress,” Bryant explains.
“And as we head into winter and flu season here in Australia, a lot of people are going to find out what it’s like. Even though it’s illogical and it’s more likely just to be a common cold, every time someone sneezes or sniffles, someone else is going to look at them with great suspicion.”
At the time of writing, almost 6000 Australians have recovered from COVID-19, many of whom have joined a global Facebook page – Survivor Corps – set up for those who are dealing with the aftermath.
* Sam did not want to reveal his identity for this story, and Acuity has respected his wishes.
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