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Infected vicar: ‘I thought I had been careful’

02 October 2020

Kate Massey writes of the surprises she encountered when diagnosed

Kate Massey

The Revd Kate Massey is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Stockingford, and Coventry Diocesan Dean of Women’s Ministry

The Revd Kate Massey is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Stockingford, and Coventry Diocesan Dean of Women’s Ministry

THE first indication that things weren’t quite right was when I was walking my dog on Monday evening last week. I was aware that my muscles were aching, but, as I was otherwise fine, I thought no more of it. However, at three the next morning, I woke shivering all over. An hour later, I was drenched in sweat. My temperature was 38.4º. I knew I needed to self-isolate and get a test. Feeling so grim that I couldn’t sleep, I curled up on the sofa, and at 6 a.m. started trying to book a test online.

Four and a half frustrating hours later, I got a drive-through appointment for later that afternoon. I wasn’t that worried. I had been careful, and I didn’t know anyone else locally who had been ill; so I thought that I had one of the colds that seemed to be doing the rounds. I had a horrid sore throat and congested sinuses, which seemed to support my assumption. It was just irritating having to self-isolate until the test came back.

The test centre were friendly and efficient, and told me I would probably have the result within 24 hours; so we started planning what we would do when I got the all-clear. My husband had a list for the supermarket. I was going to walk the rather bored dog.

I spent most of the next 24 hours in bed, dosed up on paracetamol to hold the fever and aches at bay (although I did lead a brief online midweek service from my living room). Then, on Wednesday afternoon, I woke up from yet another nap to find a text on my phone. I had tested positive for Covid.

There have been many surprises about this diagnosis. The first is the sheer amount of Covid-related admin there is. I had to contact my senior staff colleagues, my curate, and my churchwardens. We had to make decisions about the Sunday service, and agree a form of words for the weekly church email. The track-and-trace form took some time and energy to complete, and there were repeated phone calls to my daughters’ worried schools. And then there were all the messages from well-wishers, family, and friends who had heard the news.

One of the hardest things has been the consequence of my diagnosis on others. As I mentioned, I thought I had been very careful, but a colleague still needed to self-isolate, as we had had a one-metre-plus outdoor meeting the day I became unwell (track-and-trace’s form does not recognise mitigations such as being outside, or wearing a face covering).

We had had dealings with self-employed tradespeople, and I was terrified that they would have to isolate and suffer loss of earnings. Thankfully, they were outside the contact window.

The implications for my daughters’ schools were immense: we had the potential to affect three different year groups if the girls had it (so far, they haven’t). It was a source of huge comfort to me that my curate had presided at our in-building worship the previous Sunday. Despite the robust safety procedures we had in place, I would have tortured myself with the possibility of accidentally infecting my beloved congregation.

Psychologically, being diagnosed with Covid was rather strange. On the one hand, I knew that there was at least an 80-per-cent chance that I wouldn’t become significantly unwell. I was under 50, healthy, and didn’t have any of the risk factors. But I had seen one of my best clergy friends experience long-tail Covid, and didn’t relish the prospect of that. I had also conducted the funerals of three men in their forties who had died of Covid during lockdown.

As a priest, I had seen firsthand the tragedy that this virus could cause. It didn’t help, either, that the main narratives in the media have either been of Covid deaths or of long-tail cases, understandable though that might be. I ended up messaging a clergy friend from another diocese who, I knew, had had Covid and got better. “Tell me some normal Covid stories,” I begged. Her reassurance was a lifeline.

Ministry-wise, it is so frustrating. After the rollercoaster of the past six months, I finally felt like I was getting my head around being a church for our parish in the midst of a pandemic. We had great plans for building relationship, community, and hope in safe ways over the coming months. Of course, that is still happening, but I don’t have the energy to be in the middle of it where I like to be, and I don’t know when I will. Currently, even a brief phone call wipes me out.

Instead, as a staunchly independent type, I am having to let others minister to me. My curate has taken over my priestly responsibilities. My pastoral-care team are praying for me. My churchwardens are organising parish practicalities. My diocesan colleagues are picking up other roles that I fulfil. Friends are shopping and walking the dog, and sending cheering things through the mail. I have been deluged with love and care from all over the place. I am humbled and blessed.

I think, longer-term, this experience will keep me from any complacency. I thought I was doing everything according to the book, and was really unlikely to get Covid. I still got it, and I thank God that I didn’t put more people at risk in the days before my symptoms started.

It will be hard keeping all the restrictions over the winter, especially as everything in us longs for a bit of “normal”, but we need to remain strict about hand-washing, mask-wearing, and, above all, distancing. We need our churches to be places of hope, not risk, especially for those more vulnerable to Covid’s effects than ourselves.

The Revd Kate Massey is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Stockingford, and Coventry Diocesan Dean of Women’s Ministry.

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