Rebekah Baird, a 22-year-old from Hamilton, has been living in Paris for the last three years. As a young, healthy person with no pre-existing medical conditions, she contracted Covid-19 twice and was hospitalised for five days when she first caught the virus. Baird spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times about her experience of getting Covid-19 and why she decided to get vaccinated.
"Am I about to die?"
This was a fleeting thought Rebekah Baird had while she was sick with Covid-19 when the pandemic first began in March 2020.
She felt like she had been running upstairs or doing sport, but all she was doing was lying on her bed.
Baird initially struggled to get treatment and was turned away from the hospital twice before finally being admitted.
She eventually recovered but it wasn't over yet — 10 months later, she contracted the virus again and faced a rough second bout with Covid-19.
Her experience with the virus was one of the reasons she got vaccinated as soon as she could. It also illustrates how severe Covid-19 can be even for young and healthy people with no pre-existing medical conditions.
What Paris was like when the pandemic started
When the pandemic first started and France was put into lockdown, Baird said there was a lot of confusion among the population.
"No one really [knew] what was going on. Panic was rising."
Within two days, Baird started coughing and getting "typical" Covid-19 symptoms of loss of taste and smell.
She put it down to "cold season" but on day five of experiencing worsening symptoms, she reported having trouble breathing.
"It felt like I had just run up six flights of stairs. It felt like I was doing sport but I was lying on my bed.
"I started getting pins and needles in my hands and face. My hands were turning purple."
Barely able to breathe, she called an ambulance but was put on hold.
"I felt like I was about to pass out. I thought, 'am I about to die?'"
Baird arrived at an overbooked hospital and was sent home.
"[The doctors] said...you're young, you're healthy, you don't have any pre-existing medical conditions, so we can't admit you even though this is obviously serious."
The next day, she went to a different hospital which was also overbooked. She was turned away again.
"It's like exactly what you see on the news. There were no rooms available.
"People were on beds down the hall. Looking at them, I don't know if they'd last the night. They were very elderly people, they were in bad shape."
On the third attempt, Baird was taken to a private hospital and put in a ward where she was kept on oxygen for five days until she got better.
"Most of that time I just slept – I was completely exhausted."
Baird said "pretty much everyone had Covid-19" one year into the pandemic.
Kiwi in France gets the virus a second time
In January 2021, Baird started feeling sick again. She went to her local pharmacy and did a 15-minute antigen test for Covid-19.
"As soon as [I got home] I got a phone call from the pharmacy saying 'you're positive'."
Here we go again, she thought.
While Baird had similar symptoms, she said it was "nowhere near as dramatic" as the first time, and she isolated at home for two weeks.
"I was fine - I must have still had some antibodies."
Getting the Covid-19 vaccine
In June 2021, Baird got the jab "as soon as it was available for everyone".
Baird said she got vaccinated for several reasons, including for life to return to normal.
A health pass (le pass sanitaire) was introduced in France in September 2021, she said.
"You can't go into any cinema, cafe, restaurant, museum, pool, gym – you pretty much can't do anything, you can't travel… without this pass.
"I want to still have a life... so I think this is the best way to do it."
Having had Covid-19 twice, Baird thought she may be "a bit more vulnerable" to the virus.
"If I pass it on to someone who lives with their grandparents, even just an elderly person who touches the Metro door after me… that was my reasoning behind me getting the vaccine."
With the health pass being in full swing for a month now, Baird said it was "definitely worth" getting vaccinated.
"It's almost been two years at this point. A lot of people have died," she said.
"I think we need to trust science on this one.
"We really just need to take it upon ourselves and get this whole thing over with... we just want to move on with life."
Upon hearing Baird's story, University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said getting Covid-19 twice was a "recurrent infection".
"That's the nature of coronaviruses - you seem to get waning immunity."
While antibodies would drop off, the immune system had "other ways of protecting you", he said.
"You may also get a milder infection next time.
"It's also why people who have had the infection are still advised to get vaccinated – to improve your protection."
Back in New Zealand, Baker said everyone should plan on encountering Covid-19 before Christmas.
"Don't take the chance - and that means [get] double-vaccinated by Christmas."
Who is Rebekah Baird?
Rebekah Baird is the youngest of five siblings. Her older sister was a secondary teacher in Tauranga who she would often visit on the weekend. She studies international relations and Arabic at Sorbonne university and works part-time as a nanny. She plans to see out her studies in Paris and will likely be there for at least another three years.