Life

I Survived Coronavirus But I Still Can’t Smell Anything Months Later

"I used to think I had a pretty good sense of smell. Now, I'll try and smell some flowers or some stinky shoes and I'm not getting any information."
16 June 2020, 8:45am
Are Loss of Taste and Smell Coronavirus Symptoms?
Photos courtesy Julian Morgans. 

Julian Morgans is a VICE Senior Editor, based in Melbourne. Here, he talks to Ruby Lott-Lavigna about his experience contracting coronavirus at the start of the pandemic in Australia.

I think I got coronavirus when I was flying from the UK. I was in London on the 20th of March, just for a few days before my girlfriend and I flew back to Australia.

I remember being at the airport and kind of being over it. We were standing in so many lines, and at one point I rubbed my eye and thought, "Ugh, I shouldn't have done that." A couple of hours later on the plane, there was this guy sitting one row over from me, just coughing the whole time. He was coughing so brazenly that I was like, "Well, surely he's got asthma or something because you wouldn't cough that non-self-consciously during a pandemic."

Eight days later, I got coronavirus.

When we got back to Australia, we were quarantined and weren't allowed to leave an Airbnb for at least two weeks. I felt fine. They talk about how the virus has an incubation process and I felt totally fine. I was getting up and exercising every morning.

Then, it was weird. One day, I was listening to a podcast and the health reporter was talking about how coronavirus was spreading so quickly because it usually takes a week or ten days to emerge. It's funny because at that very moment, I thought, "Fuck, I don't feel great, actually. I feel off." I thought, "That's ridiculous. I cannot believe that. Surely I've just talked myself into it."

So I tried to ignore it, and then I very successfully ignored it. Then, I went to bed. During the night I felt really, really hot. Fucking hot. My first concern was like, "I can't be bothered. I just want it to go away."

The next morning, I woke up and I was just worse. Really achy and tingly and hot. I wasn't coughing and I didn't cough for the first week, but I was just achy and stingy. And then, pretty much three days went past feeling the same. I wasn't getting any better, just feeling hotter and hotter and achy and more tingly.

Finally, one day, I was like, "This isn’t going away, this is just getting worse and worse," so I went and got a test. By this point, I felt so tired. I thought, "If this is on, let's just do it. Let's just get it on." So, it almost felt like a relief when I was diagnosed positive for COVID-19. Three days of intense denial and trying to draft myself out of bed and get on with my life had really worn me out. In the end, it was much easier to find out.

In the first week, the symptoms stabilised. It wasn't too bad. I could still sit up in bed and work and stuff. The doctors said that it's the second week you need to look out for. And I was like, "Really? What's going to happen in the second week?!" They were like, "We don't know what's going to happen. This is a brand new virus, we don't know much about it." A few doctors said, “Just strap in. You're young, you'll probably be fine.” The ambiguity was freaky.

There were a few nights where I was alone and awake and feverish where I started to feel really scared.

The second week was much worse. Almost exactly one week afterwards, I was feeling really depressed, so I thought, "I'm just gonna have three or four beers. I'm just gonna cheer myself up." It was the worst decision. I immediately felt so much worse. It just felt like my body was on a Gravitron – a fairground ride where it spins and you stick to the walls. I felt like my body was made of lead and getting pulled back into the bed. It was really unpleasant. That lasted 24 hours and it was definitely the worst bit.

After that, very slowly but surely, I started to feel better. By the end of the second week, I was up and talking about how I’d been cured, although realistically it was probably a month before I was 100-percent again. I went jogging a few times in that first month and I was just so breathless. Completely cooked.

My sense of taste has come back, but the smell has not come back. That's definitely been the most frustrating, lingering thing. I used to think I had a pretty good sense of smell. Now, I'll lean over and try and smell some flowers or some stinky shoes or even self-diagnosing how much I need a shower. It used to be really handy and now I'm like, "I don't know." I'm not getting information.

I still get out of breath a little bit quicker if I got jogging hard. There's a noticeable difference in my chest. It's a bit sharper and a bit rattly. I'm hoping my smell recovers, but I don't know. There's been no sign of improvement.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

@RubyJLL / @morgansjulian