First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
The phone rings with an impending sense of doom. My husband is calling to say his Covid-19 test has come back positive. He had been feeling ill for a few days and the previous night had had a temperature. As with any illness in these times, all we can think of is the frightening Covid statistics. I try to breathe through the panic.
While he’s on his way home, I race around the house moving things and making small changes so he can isolate in our room – and I try to prepare myself mentally to sleep on the couch while my partner suffers alone. Emails are dispatched to schools; children have to be in quarantine for 10 days. I count off the days till they can return and wonder about missing so much school again.
Messages are sent to everyone we can think of we’ve seen in the past week. We had some friends over for a physically distanced outdoor lunch to celebrate Freedom Day – could we have made them sick too?
I try to breathe through the panic.
And I quietly and fearfully go about the business of delivering food on a tray to the sick room, taking dirty dishes away, wearing masks and gloves in the home, having provisions delivered.
Two days later, I am pummelled by a head cold that does not let up. No Sinutab or Advil CS can relieve the agony in my face.
I opt for the rapid antigen test rather than the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test – the gold standard for testing – because I’m already sick, I’m impatient and I need confirmation. I have no temperature so I am expecting a negative.
The World Health Organization says these tests “offer the possibility of rapid, inexpensive and early detection of the most infectious Covid-19 cases”. You might get a false negative, we read, but you’re unlikely to get a false positive. They work like a pregnancy test, with fluid from your nasal cavity.
A control line pops up. In less than a minute, another red line pops up on my test. I am positive.
Our children, and my elderly mother, who lives with us, are thankfully spared. A panic averted – my mother has every comorbidity you care to mention; my son has chronic asthma. Sometimes there are golden moments of gratitude.
My husband and I isolate in our room together; we’re too sick to get on each other’s nerves. Instead, there is a strange feeling of camaraderie amid the despair and the anger.
I feel like we should put a “plague house” pennant on the gate, as they did in medieval times. The Sixty60 guy has to put the groceries on the pavement and drive off before the children can venture out to get them.
No, I can’t take delivery of my new credit card. In these weird days, taking care of complete strangers becomes a comforting ritual.
Interestingly, our local Clicks pharmacy does not do deliveries. It has totally missed a trick, I think, wondering how one gets the drugs one needs when one is sick and in quarantine. Luckily, pharmacist Nicole offers to deliver the medicine on her way home from work. A friend brings around a lovingly made vegan dinner. There is even dessert. Small acts of kindness make me weep.
I want to hug my children, but I can’t even see them. What happens if one of us gets worse, if one of us has to go to the hospital? What if one of us never comes home? I try to breathe through the panic.
In the morning, the symptoms subside, and each day I wake thinking this will be the end. Two hours in and it’s back to the gruelling headaches, body aches, nausea and a raging sore throat that nothing eases.
I sleep, a lot. My friend messages: maybe this is the universe telling you to get more sleep, to slow down. The universe, I reply, should pick a better messaging service. A WhatsApp would have done the trick.
Days run into nights run into days. It is a blur of agony and anguish – and we don’t even have severe infections.
In the middle of the night I am woken by strange fevered dreams. Dreams of being stuck at impossible heights, the world in miniature below me; dreams of falling, dreams of drowning, dreams of losing control.
I put on three masks and two pairs of latex gloves, and steal around in the dark, checking the doors are locked and the alarm is on, believing in my grief and my fear and my rage that I can keep illness at bay like a thief in the night.
I try to breathe through the panic. It’s been 10 days and my children are safe, my mother is safe. I still sleep, a lot. My head still hurts. We wonder if we will ever feel normal again. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.