How I did Covid-19 or An Exercise in Self-Awareness
Disclaimer: In this essay, there is mention of things that I count as privilege, such as having a job during the pandemic, having space to isolate, not needing to go out to buy stuff, affording healthcare and entertainment. I apologise in advance for the way it excludes some people and wish everybody the best during these trying times. This is my experience and mine alone.
I’m in my fourth week since the day I was found to have symptoms of Covid-19. Even though I’m unclear on the details, tomorrow will be the fourth week to the day that I fell ill. Well, actually, I had had a week long bout of stomach flu (or food poisoning, I’m not sure). And I didn’t think much of it because I fall sick like this twice every year when the seasons change. It’s awful and totally destroys my inner strength but I’m also used to it.
But three Sundays ago, when I woke up at 2 am shivering from chills and high fever, my mind instantly went to Covid. I informed my family the next morning and they asked me to isolate in my room. I got tested the same day (Monday) and so did the rest of my family. The results all came back negative so even though I went out of my room for a brief walk of relief and a quick nip up to the terrace, I went right back in because my brother reminded me that there are multiple false negatives being reported in Delhi currently and that my symptoms pointed to an infection and I should not endanger the others. I quietly, if begrudgingly, went back inside. The same evening, I lost my sense of smell (and taste) while eating my dinner, so it was confirmed. This is the story of what happened during that time. I thought of writing this out for two main reasons: one, it would serve as a nice closure to my recent tete-a-tete with the virus and two, it might have some little nugget of information that helps someone reading. Think of it as equal parts self-serving retrospective writing and unsolicited advice. (will try to keep the latter to a minimum, though). There are no twists, no sudden deaths, no triggering information, so you can read on safely, albeit with a bit of boredom, and perhaps you will find in here a modicum of resonance and failing that, some late-at-night-waiting-to-fall-asleep drivel. I’m happy to provide either.
How I got ‘it’
I work as a full time volunteer with my local animal shelter. My paid work is all online so the pandemic did not affect me much and in a way I found myself having more time and energy to devote to cat rescue. Last year March and April I did quarantine strictly, including a complete halt on my visits to the shelter. That impacted my mental health so much that I started having really bad low days (I’m a high-functioning depressive and my low days dip really low) and when my family saw this, they arranged for me to be taken to the shelter for an hour or so every week. It was stressful but totally worth it. I got to hug cats. Then in May, I sort of resumed my community rescue work very gradually and went back to regularly going to the shelter. I was extremely cautious at all times, and even my animal selfies were with my mask on. I did face shields, went through tonnes of sanitiser and hand wash, installed new taps and sinks within the cattery so I could stay clean, and washed my helmet and shoes daily and changed my bag weekly to avoid any residual infection from sticking to me or my stuff lest I become an unthinking carrier.
Till three weeks ago, that’s how I was living my life. Safely and mindfully trying to help stop the spread of the virus that is ravaging my country while rescuing cats and kittens and helping abandoned dogs find new homes. Little did I know that some of the younger generation residents in my building did not find this necessary. Our young neighbours from downstairs contracted it and didn’t tell anyone. We are supposed to announce any positive cases on the local residents’ WhatsApp group so others can stay safe and informed. These kids did not do so. They have also done other things since moving in that would be questionable if life were normal, but this was inexcusable. I suffer from upper respiratory issues and my case could have gone bad very easily. Anyway, so, that’s how I got it. I know this for a fact because nobody else at the shelter fell ill and I was going up and down our shared stairway, touching handrails and moving their bins out of the way at least twice daily so it is the most likely thing to have happened.
What happened when ‘it’ began
So, barring my short burst of freedom on Wednesday morning when I got my (false) negative result, I quarantined for two whole weeks Sunday-Sunday. When I had the fever and chills Saturday night, I felt like I was going to die. Scared. Alone. I didn’t want to wake my family up so late at night and worry them. They had had so much bad news (we all did, but I’m distancing myself from them here for emotional clarity) and I didn’t want to raise needless alarms. Incidentally, just the previous evening my sister-in-law (hereinafter referred to as my sister, because that’s what she is to me) and her cousin and I were on a video call and I was jokingly talking about what I have written in my ‘I’m Dead, Now What?’ journal. Having to revisit it in those very real circumstances just a few hours later was the kind of fear I had not felt before. I have, of course, since updated it.
On Monday, when I gave the test sample, I had a bad case of diarrhoea, along with weakness, headache and general malaise. While the test came back negative, the next two days were hellish. Telling people I might have it sounds like such an excuse, but my advice here: believe people if they haven’t given you a reason not to.
I got a baaaad headache that went somewhere between cluster and aura and my senses were so compromised that I couldn’t tell. I was on meds for my stomach flu anyway, so I hoped that the paracetamol would ease it but it didn’t. So then I took 2 Disprin and one ibuprofen. No change. It kept raging in my temples going from side to side, down my neck, my jaw and behind my ears. I repeated my dose. Twenty minutes of relief then throbbing pain. I was starting to feel more and more out of it. By this time, my sister who works with a French bank had called in her in-house medical helpline and gotten me in touch with a fantastic and kind doctor based in Bombay, who had put me on a Covid-19-centred medical routine already. My symptoms — fever, loss of taste and smell, fatigue, throat pain and patches of runny nose, and occasional backache — were being managed with these meds. Well, all but the damned headache.
I texted my doctor if I could take an NSAID such as Naproxen, and he said yes. I took Naxdom 650. Still nothing. Very much against my better instincts, desperate for some relief, I took another Naxdom 650 5 hours later, all the while freaking out about the amount of pills I was putting into my system. But it still didn’t help! Meanwhile, to aid my digestion, I had stopped eating everything but the B.R.A.T. diet. (I know some people might have different opinions on this and I would like to hear them in the comments. I am always looking to learn from others’ experience) I allowed myself no coffee. That really fixed my stomach in a day. But I kept it light the next two days just to make sure. I only started eating more solid foods once my body started to crave food again.
For my migraine, I finally found peace in the following: Sarah Beth’s headache yoga three times a day, followed by acupressure on thumb crest and forehead, some Headspace meditation (which I literally discovered the same day on Netflix, so someone is listening), some binaural and isotropic music and sleeping. For two days the headache launched a ruinous campaign inside my head and for two days I kept doing this routine of alternative treatment and getting myself to feel better. I haven’t had that headache back and now I feel stronger and more able to deal with it if it does.
The morning of the test results I was just sitting in my room weeping. The two days of abruptly forced isolation had gotten to me. I checked my period calendar and all this was almost coinciding with my ovulation but for some reason I took it lightly, and today I know I shouldn’t have. So that morning, I was just howling I my room, and as soon as I got the results I went out, still crying. I then made some tea, picked up my kitten, and ran up to the terrace to spend some time meditating. That felt so great. I of course was called down half an hour later and made to go back to my room. But, little things. I got my period one week into the infection. That was early per my time table but also explained the diarrhoea and the headache or at least the severity of the two ailments.
How I handled ‘it’ the best I could
I was having what are being termed as mild to severe symptoms, where some symptoms are manageable or barely noticeable and others kick your ass. I was determined to make the most of what I could and not let it turn ugly. I had a kitten to care for. I had work to do. And I had nearly two weeks of complete isolation to face. And I have chronic mental health issues that need constant managing. I cannot afford therapy right now. So, I need to take care of myself more than just for the illness. For starters, for the first week or so, I cleaned my entire space (I live in somewhat of a studio adjoining my main house), every day, sweeping and mopping with Dettol water. I did not dust. Don’t want to risk it with my allergies. I washed all my utensils daily and cleaned my kitten’s dishes and litter daily too. I changed my bed covers and sheets on the third day and soaked them all in Dettol before putting them into the machine. I line-dried them in an area away from the family house.
Most of the time, my family gave me food in disposables (bio-degradable and the ones cows can safely chew on). They also bought any meds I needed and disinfected them before handing them over. I was equipped with a couple of oxygen cans, sanitisers, some snacks, a steamer, an oxymeter and a thermometer. Having these things on hand made me feel more together.
Day five I felt awful all day — high fever up to 103.4, severe body ache and by this time I had lost my smell and thus, taste. So I asked my doc for help and he told me to start another medicine, a steroid this time. My brother found it for me at 11 pm and literally at 11.45pm, I was fever free, ache-free and ready to go to sleep for the entire night only to be woken up by my kitten crying for breakfast. By Day seven, I was doing mostly good except for the smell. I was trying to eat every meal as if I could taste it. I did miss everything about not being able to smell or taste but I was trying to remain positive and hopeful and mindful of how I could help myself.
I also got some boils on my body which I initially thought were flea bites. So in the middle of managing my own Covid, I spent an entire morning and afternoon bagging up all my clothes and sheets, dusting every surface with anti-flea powder, washing the other fabrics around my space, and replacing my mattress and yoga mat, all while itching like mad and freaking out about this god damn infestation and what it might mean for my Minki since vet visit was a no go for another week. Thankfully I’m always over-prepared and managed to curtail the issue for the time being. It ultimately wasn’t flea bites nor termites but another weird symptom associated with Covid-19.
I will admit, however, that this perfect routine of cleanliness and hygiene did not carry over into the last few days of my sickness. I gave up picking up after myself around Day nine or so, having no energy and no motivation to do anything and constantly fantasizing about the food I will eat and the things I will do once I’m out. My mental health had deteriorated as well. My brother and his wife were being very strict with me and I now understand that they were projecting some of their own fears and sadness onto me because they were getting heart-rending news of deaths and hospitalisations from every corner, something I was keeping mindfully away from.
But this strictness was weighing on me in a different way. Being told no to everything, being scolded for doing something that wasn’t entirely safe for the family (such as keeping a dish out in the common area for them to pick up, even though I had washed it), being asked to maybe extend the isolation because we couldn’t find any tests and without it would not know if I were safe to come out…it was just all too much to bear by myself. And to top it all off, they weren’t talking to me. They were talking at me all the time — take your temperature, tell us your oxygen levels, don’t order in food right now, take your tea and biscuits — it felt very impersonal and loneliness-inducing and it showed in the way I texted them back too.
Getting out of ‘it’ and later steps
I spent the rest of my isolation completing my medicinal course. I stopped taking PCM on Day ten, but continued taking the steroid for another three days since I had started that later. I also take some multivitamins still, and cetirizine for my skin thing. Every night even after isolation ended, I felt feverish and very tired by 10 pm but couldn’t get to sleep till 1.30 am, resulting in my waking time being pushed out to 11 am which isn’t only horrifying to me personally but also absolutely shite when it comes to catching up with work. Work is something I had to take a break from, because of what is given below.
Breathlessness is low but definitely present. When I do my morning Yoga after cleaning my room etc., I have to spend some twenty minutes gently wheezing and coughing. It’s not enough to warrant a pill, but it does make me pause. I have brain fog now and I have to say, it took its time reaching me. When I came out of isolation on Monday, I felt weak but fine overall. But lately I feel hazy and slightly sluggish most of the day. The lack of energy is real too. The fatigue I experience is getting better day by day. Initially, it made me feel like I would faint if I stood up too quickly or if I was standing for more than five minutes. It was very disorienting to feel this incapable when I looked just fine. I’m a singer, have been all my life. Now, I am unable to sing. My breath gives out, that’s the first thing that happens when I try to sing along with the radio. If I am able to sing a few lines, they are most definitely out of key because sticking to notes or too much vibrato or ups and downs take effort that I don’t have in me. Even while speaking, in my head I sound like myself and then I get a call and say hello and it sounds like a distant, off-pitched version of myself.
I have gone back to cleaning daily, washing dishes, doing laundry and working a little bit every day. But I’m still on sabbatical and will remain that way till I feel confident I can actually return to work full time. I do not visit the shelter as I am trying to keep my family safe, and I miss it every day. I am working on a couple of new miniature models but I am finding them to be less satisfying right now, and I am unsure whether that is because of my ongoing fatigue or because I feel the weight of all the things I should be doing instead of indulging in a hobby. For now, I honestly don’t have the energy to care.
A couple of things that helped me stay clear in my head
I use WhatsApp Business for my rescue work and I put an ‘away’ message on as soon as I knew I was going to isolate. I get calls from adopters who ‘want a kitten 1.5 months or less’ and people who want to abandon their pets or dump cats at the shelter all day and sometimes all night. People who do this kind of thing don’t really give a shit about human decency and will in fact get offended if you tell them to call during office hours.
Also, people who aren’t down with ‘it’ will just not get how it feels to be sick and will keep calling or texting you. It’s on you to control that on your phone. I also turned off floating notifications and vibration. I really found some solid peace of mind after the second day when the ghost vibration slowly diminished and I didn’t have to look at the phone unless I chose to.
I did not try to read or write. I did not attempt to first test and then fail at doing something that I inevitably wouldn’t be able to, hence achieving a greater state of acceptance of what I was going through. I also watched not an iota of news, nor did I read newspapers or online stuff and stayed studiedly away from anyone who tried to tell me that I was having it easy and that mild symptoms were ‘nothing’. They could fuck right off and stay there.
Today, I participated briefly in a webinar about Grief, and I found myself energised by the act. That’s also why I was able to write this out tonight.
All in all, I feel very, very lucky to have had the slightly milder version of Covid-19 and to have been able to deal with it with my family around me and my kitten near me. It made a world of difference. Thank you for reading.