COVID as a foreigner in Spain


Here we are, more than a year after the pandemic started and months into the vaccination process and Spain is still having a difficult time managing COVID outbreaks, especially in the Catalonia region. Although we have made strides in our recovery, COVID numbers once again started to soar as summer approached. Being a teacher in Barcelona and having my students back in the classroom, I was lucky enough to be a part of an academy that had strict protocols. I was able to stay safe and avoid contracting the virus… that is, until summer school started. I have had lots of questions about how I got COVID how I managed my symptoms and what kind of healthcare I was able to receive as a foreigner in Spain. 

How did I get it?

I had the unfortunate experience of contracting the virus due to someone else’s irresponsibility. We had a student who was sent to summer school despite the parent knowing she was experiencing symptoms. Within a day of confirming the parent was positive, the student was also confirmed as positive. Due to the close contact in a classroom setting, and a child being positive, that meant a mandatory 10 day confinement for me and the rest of my class. 

If you have anxiety, the way I do, then you know that on hearing of my student’s positive results, I immediately felt that I had COVID. I was feeling all kinds of things. Let me not forget to mention that I had taken my first vaccine June 27 and was due for my second vaccine on July 18. To break down the timeline… My student came to school for the first time on Monday, July 5, we got news of the parent’s positive results on Tuesday evening. The student was taken to be tested and by Wednesday evening, we had his positive results. My first COVID test was taken on Thursday. I was sure I would get a positive result, however my antigen test came back negative. However, I still felt ‘off’. Anxiety can make you think all kinds of things and so I didn’t really have a sense of relief. I went on Amazon and ordered a bunch of vitamins that had been suggested to take. 

The beginning

Waking up Friday morning, I was still feeling ‘off’ and was worried that I may have taken the test too early. By Friday night, I had a fever, along with flu-like symptoms of body aches and congestion. At this point, I started to panic. Grateful to know a neighbor who I do private English lessons with, I asked if she might have any medication to reduce my fever (here it is recommended to take Paracetamol). Thankfully she did and I was able to take the meds. Between the medication and ice packs I was able to reduce my fever. 

COVID it is…

I consider myself lucky to work with a supportive boss and told him what was happening. By Saturday morning he was at my door with a care package which included an at home antigen test. Well, what do you know… I took the test and it was positive, all fears confirmed. I had COVID, and just like that, strangely, instead of increasing, all my anxiety disappeared. The last thing I wanted was for this to escalate to the point of needing medical care. With my anxiety and my terrible Spanish, that would not have been good. 

Being Jamaican, we come with a list of home remedies for anything. Along with the fever reducer every 4-6 hours, the vitamins I got from Amazon (zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin C and melatonin), I was also taking a mixture of honey, ginger, garlic, lime and a touch of white rum. I made myself a pot of chicken soup to last for a couple of days and stayed well hydrated. 

My fever lasted, on and off, for about four days. The paracetamol seemed to have controlled it and appeared to have also helped the body aches. Overall, my entire experience felt like a bad flu. I did have a slight relapse at the beginning of week two with the fever. I did also have the extreme tiredness and difficulty sleeping. That seems to be the only symptom that lingered past the 14 days. 

The Spanish Health System

Even though, being on a student visa you are required to have private health insurance, you are also considered a resident here and the public insurance is available to you. Through the public health insurance you can apply for your health card (CAT Salut)  and can receive services at the public clinic in your neighborhood (CAP). Some of the services include seeing a doctor, being able to get a ‘Baixa’ (a sick note that allows you to be out of work) and an ‘Alta’ (an authorization to return to work), and free COVID testing if you have symptoms or have been in close contact with someone with COVID.  You can also get testing done at private clinics for a fee. Once I started having symptoms and got the positive result from my home test, I went to the public clinic to get retested.  

Testing positive at the clinic,  it was entered into an electronic system which automatically cancelled my second vaccination appointment. I now have to wait six months before I can get my second shot. 

Here in the EU, we have an EU COVID passport which includes our vaccine information. This COVID passport is available through the electronic public health system, along with all your other medical documentation. 

An issue which we are facing here in Spain, is that the clinics are only giving antigen tests instead of PCR tests and so positive tests are not being recorded in the EU COVID passport (requires PCR test for it to be recorded) and therefore those that need to travel cannot get a letter of recovery, ultimately making the EU COVID passport useless for us. Hopefully they can rectify this issue soon.  

In the end…

I am grateful that my symptoms were not more severe and that I was able to manage them on my own. I am grateful for the support I received from the services at in the Catalonia public health system and without a doubt the support from my job. My family and friends back home definitely helped me feel less alone during my recovery.

Do you or did you have COVID in a foreign country? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments.

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