I thought that seven months between lockdown and bombardment from the media were enough to prepare me for the inevitable message from the Medical College of Kolkata on October 6 to inform me that I tested positive for COVID. I was wrong! I am a 55 year old European male living in Kolkata. The first wave in my country of origin was not that bad. But I was still worried for my 83-year old mother who lives on her own, my sister and her family. It sounds absurd to say that I thank God that my father died 3 years earlier because most probably he would have been one of the first patients to die since he had lung and heart problems.
I am lucky enough to live in a big open spaced compound with a lot of trees in the middle of Kolkata, very close to Sealdah Station. It is really a blessing to have such space. On top of that I work from home. So a full lockdown was not a burden on me. I did not need to go out, because since I live in an ashram I am not the one who had to do the daily and weekly marketing. But then I ran out of coffee! I tried to do without it and managed for a couple of months, and even though I reduced a lot of coffee intake because of a kidney stone some years ago, I still love my mocha coffee prepared in my small portable espresso machine. So on September 19, I ventured out by bus—made sure the bus was fairly empty and that social distance was respected—and off I went to Dharamtala. Back home I was surprised that the bus was again empty.
It was around September 30, that I started feeling strange headaches: at times around my forehead, at times at the back and other times on top of my head. For the past 15 years I have been taking medicine for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A year ago I was also diagnosed with osteoarthritis. So I started checking my blood pressure, and oxygen levels on a daily basis. I started suspecting the obvious but in a way I tried to deny the fact but not for long. Five days later there was a dry cough. It was then that I decided to take the swab test.
On October 5, I went to the Medical College in Kolkata for the swab test. When, like me, you do not master the language of the place everything seems to be chaotic. But, (the same as the traffic in Kolkata), there was an order in the midst of the apparent chaos. Doctor’s check-up, registering for COVID, the test, and the immediate SMS on my mobile informing me that the lab had just received my specimen. It was really very efficient. Two hours and I was out!
The SMS with the result arrived at 4.00 p.m. the next day. Before I clicked on it, I prayed that it might be negative. But no, it was positive. I broke down and silently cried. Shock soon turned in denial. It can’t be true, I was so careful, how can it be? Was it the bus? No idea. Let me check again, P-O-S-I-T-I-V-E. Will I have to be admitted in hospital? Will I be able to communicate with my family? What if . . . . I had seen so many news clips from Ecuador and Peru where I was working before I came to India, that I was scared of the possible outcome. I immediately phoned home, talked to my mother and sister to let them know of the result, I don’t like hiding things.
A few hours later, I packed up some things and I moved to a more secluded part of the house with access to a separate bathroom and to a big terrace. As much as I love Indian food, I was more than happy to ask for boiled potatoes, different vegetables to prepare my own salads, a lot of fruits and if chicken was available I asked the cook to boil it. Luckily enough I never lost the sense of taste or smell. So between the vitamins I was taking and the boiled food which I love, I was eating very well. Now what was strange was the fact that whenever I had even a simple common cold, I would not want to smell coffee let alone drink it, this time it was different. Corona is really strange. I still could enjoy my coffee first thing in the morning. But this time with a difference—morning rise in the ashram is at 4.30 a.m. but not for me! I tried to keep a regular schedule of getting up at the same hour (6.30 a.m.), do some light walking on the terrace, pray, have breakfast, read, draw (I am an artist), talk to friends and family (thanks to social media!). But I soon realised that I did not need to be hard on myself. After all, I was sick and could take a nap at 11.00 a.m. I just did it. If I could not sleep in the night, there was no anxiety, just take a book and read!
Days passed, I kept a journal, I monitored my blood pressure, oxygen levels, temperature. Two weeks passed, it was not a big deal. I even enjoyed quarantine watching old British comedies online. October 23 after testing negative, I came out of quarantine back to my normal schedule. Or that’s what I thought. I was wrong. Very wrong. After three weeks, my headaches are worse than when I was positive, my chest feels as if I had just come out of a very bad chest infection, I am fatigued easily, and cannot even climb two flights of steps without feeling light-headed and short of breath. Pain killers for my headaches have now been incorporated with my breakfast, lunch and supper—otherwise I cannot function. A few days ago, I started writing something and stopped in mid-sentence—I had forgotten what I was going to write. When I shared this in the ashram, some of the members shrugged it off as “old age,” but I am scared!
If I say I am not afraid I would be lying. If I share that I am frightened I am told to trust in God!! I am scared for the same reason other people are scared—we do not know what the long-term effects are going to be. I try not to read too many articles about the virus but at the same time I feel that I need to be informed about what is happening and the developments. I am realising that I am not the only one who had it “mildly” and that the after effects are being worse than the sickness—I now have a new name—“long-hauler.” I am worried because my country of origin is passing through a worse second wave after it’s government decided to open up everything and defying the doctors by telling them that, “waves are in the sea!”
I am trying not to fight it but to learn how to live with it.
Carmelo Duca (“Shanti Bhavan”), Kolkata
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