From joyful wedding to weeks of woe

Mrs B contracted Covid-19 at a Bluff wedding last year. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

A year ago, very few people knew what a coronavirus was. Today, after 2371 cases and 26 deaths, we are all too familiar with the word… and with phrases such as “alert levels” and “community transmission”. On the anniversary of Covid-19 arriving into New Zealanders’ lives, reporter Mike Houlahan talks to southerners with first-hand experience of what a global pandemic which has killed 2.5 million worldwide so far entails.

AS a medical professional, Mrs B spent much of March 2020 in meetings discussing how her workplace would handle the arrival of Covid-19 in the south.

On March 21, as she was getting ready to attend a wedding, Mrs B watched Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explain to the nation the new concept of “alert levels”, little knowing that in a few hours she herself would contract Covid-19.

“It was a great wedding,” she recalled.

“It rained the whole weekend, which was a bit of a shame and meant they had to change the venue because they were meant to get married outside in a lovely park-like setting, but that was fine and it was fun.

“It was a good mix of cultures and it was lovely.”

The marriage of Betty and Manoli Tzanoudakis, now known as the Bluff wedding, was conducted in adherence to all the pandemic rules then in place.

However, one guest had contracted Covid-19 while overseas.

They came to the wedding feeling well but, unknowingly, were in an infectious state.

Eventually, 98 cases of Covid-19, including those of Mrs B and her husband, were linked to the wedding.

“We did nothing at all wrong, and the really good thing is that none of the staff at the establishment got it, it was only us, and we didn’t even know that one guy was sick,” Mrs B said.

“He was coughing a little the next day and that was the first that he knew he was sick… some of us got it, some of us didn’t.”

Mrs B’s first inkling all was not well came the following Thursday, when she rose early to cook her husband a birthday breakfast.

“I woke up and didn’t feel 100%.

“I cooked my husband a nice big breakfast, and I love food but I didn’t want to eat it, it tasted awful, so I only had half of it.

“By the afternoon I went and had a lie down… I never sleep during the day, and I slept for three hours.

“I had a headache, started coughing, and thought I had better have a test.”

The results took some time to come back, but by that stage Mrs B was well aware she had Covid-19.

She spent all the fifth day after falling ill in bed, but after getting up the next day to make breakfast she started to feel terrible again.

“I could hardly breath so I said to my husband, ‘you’re going to have to drive me in’, and I rang ED to tell them I was coming.”

Mrs B was admitted to Dunedin Hospital’s dedicated Covid-19 ward, 7a, where she stayed for the next three nights, unable to have visitors.

“My daughter would stand by the liquor store by New World and I would wave a blue blanket from the window and she would wave back and I would cry, it was awful.

“But I could talk to people, and I did need to be in there.

“The staff were great, they were really lovely.

“I think there were only two of us in the ward so I got good attention.”

Mrs B was discharged – “getting home was an adventure” – but it was not until day 12 she started to show substantial improvement.

“By day 22 I was feeling not too bad, so it was a three-week process… I was breathless for a long time, but that’s gone now.

“I’m proud, and grateful, that we didn’t give it to anyone we know.”