Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Virus leaves healthy NZ woman, 36, struggling for breath

Hannah Mettner is 36, fit and healthy. She’s never caught the flu or been to hospital.

And she’s never been so sick as she was in the past week after catching Covid – despite it likely being the Omicron variant, which many people think is mild.

The Wellington policy analyst thought she had a cold when she came down with a sore throat on Wednesday.

But she did the responsible thing and got tested. Before her GP called with the results the next day, she knew she had the virus – her taste and smell had gone haywire.

“My kid cooked himself pizza for lunch and I thought he was baking gingerbread. Water tasted weird … it tasted like light cheese and then like rock.”

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One of Mettner’s first symptoms was “terrible heartburn”, which her GP told her was a common gastrointestinal side-effect of Covid.

By the second day she was exhausted, with full-body aches. “I couldn’t really taste anything properly; it felt like everything was far away.”

As well as the sore throat, she began coughing so hard she had to bend over or hold on to something, bringing up “gunky plug in my throat”.

The next day she developed chills and fever. For the first time in her life, she lost her appetite. And while the cough was improving, she became increasingly short of breath.

“It felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I would get really breathless doing basic stuff like getting up to go to the bathroom.”

She had a persistent headache and spent days lying on her bed with her eyes shut. Brain fog left her forgetful and struggling to formulate thoughts.

“I would write something down and look later and be like, what does this mean? It was really stupid.”

By Monday, Mettner thought she had turned a corner – but then she got a pulse oximeter from her GP. It read her oxygen level at somewhere between 77 and 90 per cent, well below the ideal of 97 per cent. She was sent to hospital immediately.

Staff in full PPE wheeled her down a deserted corridor; a person scurried behind disinfecting everything. Once on the ward her oxygen measured at 98 per cent so staff told her she could go home – but she had to wait four hours for the corridor to be evacuated so she could leave.

Mettner probably has the Omicron variant, which is much more widespread than Delta, but without genome sequencing she can’t be sure. She’s pretty sure she knows where she caught the virus too.

Two weekends ago Mettner attended a delayed funeral in the Waikato for her grandfather, who had died last August aged 97.

Everyone scanned in, wore masks and had vaccine passes, but 12 of the attendees have since tested positive.

Four were young kids who have had mild symptoms while her father, who’s in his 70s, is asymptomatic. Everyone else is in their 20s and 30s and have had similar experiences to Mettner.

Mettner’s two teens are vaccinated and her husband is boosted, and all three have tested negative for Covid. Mettner herself hasn’t been boosted – her third jab was booked for the day she tested positive.

The Ministry of Health says that with Omicron spreading rapidly, “it is important everyone who is eligible gets a booster dose, which greatly reduces your chances of getting severely ill and requiring hospital care if you test positive for Covid-19”.

Nearly a week after her positive test, Mettner was still frequently coughing while speaking to the Herald. She said her symptoms had been bad, but manageable with cough syrup and Panadol. She had also used her daughter’s asthma inhaler on advice from her GP, who has been phoning every day.

Asked if she had a message for the protesters at Parliament, Mettner said she felt “very grateful we have managed to hold out as a country until we have got this supposedly mild variant”.

But she warned that even for a double-vaccinated person, Covid felt much worse than a cold.

“I’ve never had the flu so I don’t know if it’s worse than flu. But it’s scary, feeling like you can’t breathe especially. I’ve never had that feeling before.”

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