Dr Rita Rigg, an Edinburgh-based Catholic GP with 26 years’ experience in NHS Lothian, shares her account of self-isolating after experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.

"On 15 March I was prompted, unprepared but strongly driven by the strength of my concerns, to stand up after Mass to speak to the congregation. I spoke at three Masses that day. I tried to convey to parishioners the importance of taking the situation seriously, to be prepared for what was to come and to learn to follow with confidence and humility the guidance of our experts.

Six days later I sent the following email to a few friends:

I am now unwell with suspected Covid 19. I have consulted my healthcare provider who has confirmed this likelihood. Frustratingly no testing for us as yet. Diagnosis is based on symptoms, as many diagnosis are, without requiring any confirmatory testing. I suspect that I was exposed to heavy viral loads whilst working almost full-time last week when the virus was definitely circulating in the community. We had no protection equipment.


Self-isolation in this context is strict and difficult to put in place. ‘Staying at home’ in this context applies to all close household contacts for 14 days, with no exceptions for going out. This is in contrast to the advice which applies to the rest of the “well” population which allows for outings for two essential reasons. It is more stringent than the measures that apply to the ‘very high risk’, ie the ‘shielding measures’, who are not allowed out for 12 weeks.

Whilst experiencing the symptoms I have to stay alone in my bedroom, with my door closed. Every time I leave my room I put on gloves and a face mask and ensure no one else is around and will stay away from the area I have walked in for as long as possible. The virus is spread in droplets from the respiratory tract which are expelled if you cough or sneeze and can remain in the air for possibly 24 hours. The house is well ventilated and needs to be so. Before I return to my bedroom I wipe clean all the hard surfaces including the handles on the doors. We cannot share phones.”


“The virus can remain on hard surfaces for at least 42, possibly 72 hours. I make sure that I have closed the door behind me. No-one is allowed, by the guidance from NHS Inform (“stay at home“ advice if you have symptoms), from going in that bathroom and in my room. Twice a day I go down into the kitchen, again trying to fit in the logistics of nobody being around for some time and again before and after I leave the kitchen.

I have to eat all my meals in my room. I keep all the dishes, cups, glasses I have used during the day in my room until I can take them down myself, wash them thoroughly, and put them in a different compartment in the dishwasher. Any towels or a dishcloth or oven gloves I use cannot be used by anyone else. All my clothes washing has to be at a high heat. These are essential tasks that only I am allowed to do, and feel exhausted afterwards.

I feel weary and exhausted. I am constantly nervous about my breathing although it is absolutely fine. I imagine that my lungs are tight, I imagine I have got chest pain. I want to communicate with people, but feel too tired to even hold the phone for any length of time.”

Getting better

“Day 10: I am now free from symptoms. I am tired physically but mentally I feel stronger. Mentally I have suffered- indescribably, totally unexpectedly, and in a way I have not experienced before. I have seen and experienced tragedy on several levels yet always found ways of dealing with this, usually through my faith and prayer and through human relationship.

I have been stunned by how my mind seemed completely out of control, unable to focus, unable to rationalise, and unable to pray. The sheer physical impact of the illness paralysed the control I had over my thoughts. I have felt too tired to put into place all my usual grounding techniques.

I realise there will be many who are and will be affected but again pray that by the time they are the virulence will have lessened.”

Read Dr Rigg's full account here