You don’t normally pack a bag or record a video for your loved ones before going for medical tests.
But that’s exactly what City of London councillor Tijs Broeke did when he was referred to a coronavirus test centre after feeling very unwell for weeks.
He said that whilst he had what’s described as mild symptoms, they knocked him for six. And whilst he has been improving over the last eight weeks he said: “I’m still not over it. It was scary at the time.”
He felt so bad that he took a bag with him to the testing centre in case he was sent to hospital.
Councillor Broeke represents the business ward of Cheap and also sits on the City of London Police Authority Board and is deputy chairman of the corporation’s homelessness committee.
He said: “You start to panic a bit if after 10 days it does not get better and you end up in hospital like Boris Johnson.”
He contacted his GP who was concerned that he was not improving and he had a video conference before referring him to a test centre in South London.
“It was a bit scary as the lady in front of me was taken to hospital by ambulance. I packed a bag and was trying to be really upbeat and strong but you wonder ‘what if you end up in hospital and you can’t see or speak to your family’.
“Normally when you go to hospital people can come and see you. I recorded a video being upbeat for my boy. You think of others at this time.”
Test results from that visit earlier this month showed that councillor Broeke had a viral infection and it probably was coronavirus. In hindsight he thinks his husband and son who has just turned five may also have had it.
He has no underlying health conditions and was told it can take six to eight weeks to recover.
“It is terrifying in the end the not knowing. For me it’s a slow process, I am a bit more energetic and the pain in my chest is going away. I consider myself lucky.”
He took paracetamol and lots of water as advised and said: “I have never had such a long period of chest pain, cough, sore throat and feeling extremely tired that takes weeks to clear.
“I went to the doctor because it was getting worse. You feel like after two weeks you should feel better.”
He said the illness has been exhausting but he was able to get up each day and was inspired by the NHS heroes and carers working to help the public.
In a series of Tweets which serve as a mini coronavirus diary, the 44-year-old noted on day 13 “big push back. Chest painful, weird taste and extremely tired again. It seems to be up and down.”
He tweeted in March how he’d been feeling rotten: “End of Feb started with bad cold, sinus infection and mouth ulcers. Just seasonal? Very tired. Then slight cough not continuous so fine right? Sore throat. Funny taste in mouth. Time to self isolate…”
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And he reported later: “Lingering chest pain and feeling of total misery. It would be good if there was more advice for those at home with ‘mild symptoms’. All I can do is try rest (tricky with 4yo in the house) & stay positive. Hope it remains mild and I fight it back. Please everyone #StayHomeSaveLives.”
Mr Broeke and family self isolated at home and were supported by friends and neighbours.
And when it was his son’s fifth birthday, those neighbours – including some the family had never met before, sang Happy Birthday from their homes and gardens to give him a boost.
And his son enjoyed a virtual birthday party with his friends.
Mr Broeke said their kindness and the way communities are coming together has been heartening.
He served as a Special Constable for five years in Soho so has seen the work of the emergency services at first hand.
“I loved it helping people as a Special,” he said.
“For me what keeps me going especially when I wasn’t feeling well, is a sense of purpose, making sure I am there for my son, and with my work and the council trying to do the right thing supporting local and national efforts to overcome this pandemic. I am also grateful that my employer is very supportive and flexible in these extraordinary times.
“It is inspiring to see everyone pulling together in the City and across London, local residents, businesses, volunteers and frontline workers.”
And he added: “My reflection over the last few weeks trying to balance work and looking after our five-year-old son is that you should be kind to yourself. We went into lockdown thinking we would be super parents balancing amazing home schooling and full time jobs. Reality is more challenging, especially as I wasn’t feeling 100% of course.”
And he said it was important when home schooling a young child “to try and have some fun”.
“Sure do a little bit of reading, writing or maths each day, but don’t beat yourself up if you cannot recreate a full school day. Keep a routine – our son wears his uniform and we pretend to go to school each day.
“Stay connected, virtual Zoom play date with our son’s school friends works really well. Try and keep active even if it’s setting up a mini obstacle course in your living room”.
And as he recovers he is getting used to virtual council discussions as well as at his job in government relations.
“The immediate focus at the City Corporation has has been on continuity of essential services and support for the pan-London emergency response, well being of our Corporation employees and contractors, and support for our residents and businesses – 98% of businesses in the Square Mile are small and medium sized.
“There’s also the vital work of the City Police, helping rough sleepers together with St Mungo’s, or looking after our pupils and staff in the schools the Corporation supports across London.
“Looking ahead when we come out of immediate lockdown measures I think we need to focus on further strengthening the resilience of the City, support businesses in the Square Mile and restart local democracy through virtual committee and council meetings.”
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