I woke up this morning with a sore throat. I thought nothing of it. Perhaps it was too cold last night and the soft membranes of my sinuses dried out and became infected. It’s happened before.
I rolled over and willed myself back to sleep. But it hurt more than it should have. It felt like a genteel hangover – some stiffness, some headache, that sore throat. Was that it? I only had two whiskys the night before, even-tempered pours not heavy-elbowed ones. It couldn’t have been that. Perhaps it was just too early. That must be it.
I set a podcast to play with a fifteen-minute timer, covered my eyes against the light creeping over the dawn-dark horizon and tried once more to fall asleep. The best I could manage was a fitful doze, several hours of fugue-state semi-rest. As noon began to inch up and I lay almost properly awake once more, I began to worry that it might be something more. It was too hard to get up. I felt gritty and beaten, and utterly lacked the will to leave a bed that felt too hot for proper comfort.
It took all my willpower and an hour of faffing about with YouTube videos and social media and to propel myself from bed. It was during that time that I learned the wedding I’d attended on the weekend had been a veritable hotbed of Covid exposure.
There’s a place that does PCR tests just a few doors down, I’d better start my day there. I ordered some lunch – too much, enough to last for a couple of meals so I didn’t have to face the prospect again and went for my test.
The line was blessedly short, but – of course – there was still someone who failed to understand how to fill out a form holding up the two-person line. The test itself was shockingly perfunctory; invasive, over in literal seconds. How many times had she done that over the past few years? I wandered back home, considered my options. I have a lot of work to do, important work to move this house, but there is a lethargy I just can’t shake from my muscles. I figure a coffee and a feed will do it.
I sat in front of my computer, this computer and tried to deal with things. Again, no brain for it. I ate my lunch; punchy Chinese food, and I played an old game for an hour or so. At least – for now – I still have my sense of taste. Knock wood. After a while, I figured the best option might be to go back to bed, to lie down and get some more rest. Perhaps that was all it was, a misunderstanding where I’d somehow not had enough on the long night before. It was as I lay in the bed that I realised that my joints were aching, ankles up to knees, then hips, then back.
Shit, I thought. That means this is definitely something.
I slept for another three hours or so, waking to a muzzy head and an utter lack of ambition to accomplish the tasks that lay before me. Simple things, like clean the stove top and the kettle to make tea and coffee again, take the bins out, clear out the garden waste some. Failing that, try to fix something, take down the broken fly screen on the kitchen window, or at least write something.
It’s taken me until the dark of the night to feel the slightest ability to do any of those things. It’s perverse, but it’s also strangely comforting. It has been my curse all my life to only come awake when everyone else tells me that I should be sleeping. Perhaps my kind was once useful to the pack, the tribe. It would have been people like me, active and alert in the cool dark that watched over the clan while they slept, did my work from dim twilight until early dawn. Now people just assume I’m lazy, that I somehow choose to not be alert with the rising of the sun to be a good and productive member of society.
This is nothing new, but it is frustrating. The sore throat is present, neither waning nor intensifying, but holding steady. The pain in my joints has subsided somewhat since my three-hour slumber. My brain still feels like it’s packed in cotton wool, and I’m running hotter than normal. The paracetamol mostly takes care of that.
Fucking COVID. Six lockdowns, two vaccinations, dozens of cancelled events and missed opportunities, losing my job, spending countless hours in isolation, and for what? I still fucking get it. I have to wonder, would I have dodged the bullet if I’d had my third jab? I’d only recently come due for it and had dragged my feet on getting it. No particular reason. Just had other things on my mind. Perhaps the fear, the imperative to get it had fallen off somewhat as the world started to look somewhat normal again.
Then again, pretty much everyone else I know who had the spicy cough was triple jabbed. Apparently, the boosted immunity wouldn’t have kicked in for me in time anyway, given the timeline. If I don’t get much worse than this, I’ll consider myself lucky.
I don’t want it to kick my arse the way the glandular fever did back in my late twenties. To leave me with a lingering weakness that took months to purge, if indeed it ever did. I write this, intent on heading to bed, forcing myself through a fitful night of sleep, and awakening to the news that we’ve all been dreading to receive for the last two years in the morning.
You have tested positive.
This next day dawns, and I flex my limbs, tentatively. No pain. My throat is still sore and the glands in my neck are as swollen and hard as marbles. Strangely, though, I feel better today than I did yesterday. It takes some time for the sleep to wash away from my mind before I can properly process the health department’s messages, fill out the information they require, and begin sending out messages to contacts, the people I’m working with, my loved ones. I receive a number of sympathetic messages, some offers of help, some competitive counter-declarations of infection or spuriously clean bills of health.
My late-night spurt of productivity has left me with a usable kettle, stove, moka pot, so it doesn’t take much to get some of those vital fluids back into me. Green tea with roasted rice and a couple of cups of espresso, then orange pekoe and a couple more. I ate the last of the Chinese food – spicy eggplant and mince pork claypot reassuring me that I hadn’t been deprived of the ability to taste. A few Panadol and I felt almost – almost – normal again. If yesterday felt like the onset of the flu, today feels like more of a mild cold. I’m a little surprised, but not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I managed to get a few things done – some emails, more cleaning, more dishes, bring the bins in.
By the afternoon, things have spiralled again. My brain goes loose, and the cold symptoms ramp up ever so slightly. Pressure in the sinuses, sore throat and itchy ears, sneezing, coughing. My nose alternately blocks and runs. I could be a cartoon of ill-health; I feel like a caricature. My mind is as sharp as a watermelon, and I can’t problem solve or go about the tasks before me. Anxiety takes hold. My thoughts become circular, turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold, and mere anarchy is loosed upon my world.
It takes an attempt at a nap and a phone call to a partner with a steady head and an empathetic manner to bring me back to reality. Some kindness, some redistribution of emotional weight, and the turmoil dies back down to a dull keening in the ears. She saved me that afternoon. I manage another nap and order some food. I’m back into minimum output autopilot mode. I play a game to pass the time while waiting for the food to arrive.
When it does, I get my first proper scare of the covid experience. I can’t taste anything. Luckily – or not – it was just that the food was truly awful. Dry, bland, under-seasoned chicken, with unseasoned potatoes. I laugh, to dispel a nervous tension. I’ve heard the anosmia and ageusia that covid brings can linger, becoming permanent if you are unlucky. The Sprite, however, was mother’s milk, and I hit some weird vortex of delivery bargains. They included two free cans of Coke No Sugar, one of Lipton peach ice-tea, two effervescent ‘immunity booster’ tablets, gave me free delivery and 30% off. Normally I don’t really go for these sorts of sugary drinks, but in the depths of a cold, they are welcome indeed. So, despite it being a rather mediocre meal, we’ll call it a wash.
Not long after, a care package arrived from the aforementioned guardian angel. Fresh clothes, and three bags of supplies – soda water, food, medication and a few little treats to stave off the blues. I took to bed not long after, and despite fatigue, couldn’t sleep. I got lost in the written word, reading first some of a French graphic novel and later the chronicles of a fantasy world conman who has been forced into the role of an unwilling pirate. Though it was wonderfully diverting, I found myself wondering what time it was, looking up and seeing that it was nearly five am.
When I wake up the next morning, I have to press some sort of internal snooze, waking up a few times until I finally got up around noon. The cold symptoms have worsened – my sinuses feel full of concrete until they begin to run, and make me sneeze, which makes me cough. Headache and mild fever are managed by willow pills, and the entirety of this next day’s efforts seem to be centred around the making of and consumption of coffee, tea and breakfast. If you ask me what else I did today, I honestly couldn’t really tell you. Dealt with someone hanging around the gate shiftily, answered a phone call from the health department. Played a bit of a computer game. Read a bit. Listened to podcasts or YouTube videos. But it’s still a little hazy.
That said, this is not the worst I’ve felt. It’s not the worst cold I’ve had. The litany of complaints here listed are just a chronicle of what I observe while passing through it. So far, it’s been like having a cold. It sucks, but it could be worse. Has been. Probably will be again.
The lack of taste is just the regular sort that comes with swollen sinuses and a blocked nose. The paracetamol is demonstrably effective. The devouring of cup after cup of tea is not a million miles away from my usual behaviour as the weather begins to cool off again. I could do without the annoyances of illness – the constant, low-grade pain, the thirst and associated need to use the bathroom. Burning through tissues at a rate of knots. The extra effort it takes to accomplish any damn thing at all. Sneezing or coughing until you feel weak. The unreachable itch inside your ears that comes from throat and sinus infection. But ultimately. It’s not really all that bad. So far.
Tell you what, though; the shower was a revelation. Sometimes you forget just how powerfully healing and, well, cleansing a good, long, hot shower can be. Steaming water sluicing over you, carrying away your filth, your sins, purging your aching head. Add those clean clothes into the bargain and you feel like a new person. It’s like hitting a reset button. Doesn’t quite take you back to pre-covid levels, but certainly knocks a few of those monkeys off your back.
Early night tonight, I think, but then – I thought that last night too. Let’s see how we go.
When I woke up on the fourth morning, I couldn’t quite make out how I felt. There were no immediate, pressing symptoms, just a general feeling of yuck. If my sinuses yesterday felt solid, today they felt as if someone had filled the cavities in my head with superglue. I was so dry, my lips, my mouth, my tongue. Everything had turned to paste and seized up solid. I lay in bed for a while, trying to force myself to go back to sleep. But no, I’d had something resembling eight hours last night and my body revolted against the idea of going back to sleep. It wasn’t yet 9 AM when I finally forced myself up to go to the toilet. When I returned and guzzled the half-bottle of soda water next to the bed, things started moving in my head again.
The glaciers of mucus melted and ran, and I spent a significant portion of my dwindling box of tissues to staunch them. My cracked lips began to develop some semblance of elasticity, the film coating the inside of my mouth begrudgingly yielded and dissolved. It was a mercy I couldn’t taste anything.
I hadn’t been able to drive myself from the bed and down the stairs to get some food, nor did I really want to. But a friend had offered a grocery drop, so I came down to make sure I could open the gate for him and collect things. We had a bit of a chat too, through a door and a pair of masks and a distance of several metres. One of very few people I’d chatted with over the previous four days. He’s a good friend.
When he left, I opened the door and brought the supplies in – I now had almost two dozen bottles of soda water. At the rate I was going through them, that would be enough for approximately another week. I was going through something like three bottles a day, in addition to my morning espresso and the endless cups of tea I drank all day long.
Breakfast was simple, yet theoretically delicious. Bread, eggs, mushrooms, hummus and tomatoes. I couldn’t taste any of it. I tried blowing my nose to see if it was the pressure of overfilled sinuses that robbed me of flavour, but it did little to alleviate. I could tell that the eggs were cooked how I like them, scrambled to just the other side of runny in big curds, the bread was only a day old, and the mushrooms were their usual, delightfully flabby selves.
And even though I couldn’t taste anything, I could pick up sensations from the food. The hummus, a brand with which I am not familiar, was very tangy, zingy and acidic. The tomatoes, fresh not fried, were over-salted, as were the mushrooms. I knew they would be – I over-salted them to see if I would be able to taste if it were so. But no.
I ate in front of the computer, sipping bitter black coffee and almost savoury green tea, the heat of which stood in place for its usual flavour. I update this covid journal, played a game to pass some time. Fielded a call from the friend with whom I’d spent the entirety of the past Saturday – presumably the day after I’d been infected, and before I’d become infectious. He had dodged the lurgy, luckily. We chatted. Another friend made a surprise food drop – unannounced, didn’t stick around for a chat. Just doing a good deed, not seeking recognition, just being a good soul. I almost missed her entirely.
In her package were some genius-tier food choices – things that would provide texture, crunch, pop, sweetness, freshness and variety; even if no actual flavour per se for someone so afflicted. She had been in my place previously, and seemed to know what would be welcome, bless her. A mix of cherry tomatoes, snow peas, mandarins, grapes, capsicum, celery; textural things that would feel wholesome and prove stimulating to a significantly dulled palate. On top of this were carby treats: apple and cinnamon hot cross buns, cheesy baked goods, veggie chips and a block of antioxidants in the form of dark chocolate. Amazing.
The rest of the afternoon passed in steady blur. I can’t quite do much productive, and I can’t quite sit still, and I can’t quite sleep. I attempted – and failed – a nap. I snacked, and serially abused hot tea and bubbly water to scour the build-up of ague from the inside of my head. I’ve watched that many woodworking, British comedy, hobby crafting, D’n’D actual play and old school cooking show videos that I don’t even know what I’ve watched any more. Minor exotica keeps me entertained – the surprising wild denizens of South Yarra pay me an occasional visit; kookaburras and fairy wrens alongside more common thornbirds, mynahs and pigeons. There’s a mantis caught in the web of an odd-looking spider on one of the windows, and at least two separate cats come to stalk about in the tall grass outside my window and provide something approaching companionship.
It’s only 8 o’clock, but I’m already thinking of heading to bed. My eyes feel itchy and hot, and the rest of me feels cold. I stick around for a little while longer – I don’t want to resent the idea of going to bed, breeding contempt through familiarity by spending too much time there. While I snack on some of the veggie chips included in the supply drop, I have a pleasant surprise in the form of a bloom of flavour – the first thing I’ve tasted all day. This gives me renewed hope.
I wake early on Friday, the fifth day, somewhere before 7 o’clock. The sky is just beginning to brighten as I lay in bed, processing the incomplete information my body is sending me. I’m still exhausted – so, back to sleep then. How am I feeling otherwise? Largely… ok? The one bit of data that keeps insistently pushing itself to the fore is my sore throat – it’s worse than before. At least the other symptoms have died down a little in the quiet of the morning. Once I’d gone to the bathroom and returned to bed, finished the bottle beside me but not yet opened the next one, things started to look a little clearer. My head didn’t throb from the sinuses, nor from the headaches. The filmy paste I’d woken up with on previous days was diminished. My limbs didn’t hurt. Just that bit of broken glass in my throat, and a nagging insistence on returning to sleep.
It took over an hour to get back to sleep, and several podcasts. When I resurfaced into consciousness later, somewhere around 11 am, I felt disoriented, muggy. The sore throat was as insistent as before, the rest of me felt like I was pushing through haze, and after an unknown period of time, I forced myself up. I knew how improving the coffee and tea were each morning, how the scalding liquid helped soothe and revitalise me from the inside out. I knew that breakfast too would lend some vigour, so I forced myself downstairs and put together a plate of peppered toasted cheese sandwiches, a big dollop of that tangy hummus, a few sticks of celery and a few cherry tomatoes, sliced, peppered and salted.
The espresso was wonderful, the tea was nourishing, and the breakfast was genuinely enjoyable – all the textures and mouthfeels, the hinted at presences of flavour, the freshness, crustiness, juiciness, zip and zing, but sadly, none of the savour.
By the afternoon, the pain in my throat has died down, and the rest of my symptoms have remained at bay. Sure, I’m still rocking a fairly respectable Tom Waits voice while burning through tissues, but it isn’t a patch on what it has been. I’m not coughing as much, I’m not sneezing as much. Feels like – knock wood – I may have turned a corner. Hopefully it isn’t just another misleading little dead-cat bounce like on that second day.
I manage to get a little done – paying some bills, organising some trades, dealing with a wildly tangled and unpruned inbox. I’m contemplating a little more cleaning too, before the evening is out. Let’s see if the flesh is as willing as the spirit.
Saturday comes without fanfare. It is no different to the other days of the week. All times are one, and none. I am feeling lonely today. Same as yesterday. I still awoke with a scalpel in my throat, but otherwise feel almost normal again. On the other end of the cold, as it were. Coming out of it always feels better than going in. You don’t have the fear of the unknown – how bad is it going to get? You have the optimism of the upswing – it’s all smooth sailing from here! And you have the benediction of the memento mori behind you.
I have a text exchange with another friend who has come up positive – or at least, has covid in her household. I commiserate but am still a little too numbed to offer proper condolences. My breakfast of the past few days – toasties, hummus, celery and tomatoes, plenty of pepper and salt – sets me almost right again, alongside the genuinely life-giving coffee and green tea. The weather has been an inverse reflection of my inner world this past week – beautiful sunny days as I descend into my own morbid cave of infirmity, and grey, drizzly chill as I make my way back out of. Nature underscoring the guilt I feel about not doing what I need to do.
Today more than any other day of the week is when I feel the most like I am missing out. I can’t work outside, I can’t go for a beer, I can’t go for a coffee. I can’t run to the shops to buy, say, some fresh bread. I can’t go out to a pub for a big, dirty burger. I can’t see people. I honestly don’t have the strength or wherewithal to do much of use here. Simple things, sure – dishes (there’s always more dishes) but not much more. The cold, the drizzle, the melancholy, the weakness all hold me to my chair. I am wearing two layers of thermals and two jumpers – it’s getting cold again.
The distractions are running out. My book – so engaging at first – has become mired in fumbling attempts at romance. Why are fantasy authors so shockingly bad at writing nuanced romance or realistic relationships? The tedium of neckbeard repartee has dulled the otherwise glinting edge of a perfectly good pirate-based fantasy world heist story. Example: a bloke is shy with a woman, and reveals he’s been practicing what to say to her on barrels in the hold. Just so you don’t get confused, he’s buff, a great fighter and super smart, and his real name isn’t Jerome, it’s Jean. Scene is set.
“Have you really been practicing on barrels, Jerome?”
They’d laid claim to a bottle of Black Pomegranate brandy from one of the crates broken open amidst the revellers, and taken it back to their spot by the rail.
“Barrels. Yes.” Jean took a sip of the stuff, dark as distilled night, with a sting like nettles beneath the sweetness. He passed the bottle back to her. “they never laugh, they never ridicule you, and they offer no distractions.”
“Barrels don’t have breasts.”
*Swoon* Bravo. Slow fucking clap, you smooth devil. All the ladies reading this will have positively slid off their chairs.
Besides that, I’ve finished YouTube. I’ve already conquered the known world a number of times in my game, and I can’t write this until I have something to report. Hence the boredom snacking, perhaps. There’s a lottery element to it – sometimes I can taste, and that’s a wonderful little ray of sunshine. Be it salty chips or homely banana, the one or two mouthfuls I can actually appreciate are worth their weight in gold. I must admit, I gamed the system for dinner though – a vindaloo with fresh sliced green chilli and punchy garlic naan proved powerful enough to cut through even covid’s oppressive dampening of my palate. Gotta love a curry. Cures all ills.
It’s just gone midnight, and I think I am ready for bed. Rinse and repeat, rise and retrace my steps. The longest actual isolation I’ve experienced is about two weeks. It was the fortnight before uni exams, I got dropped in the country with my Discman and my CDs (remember those?), my books, and enough food to see me through. I spent my days bushwalking, or in a hammock slung between two trees in a valley, revising notes, actually reading some of the coursework I’d dodged through the semester, listening to tunes and dozing in the sun. Evenings were spent in the darkness, in front of the fire. In some ways, it was really idyllic. But even after four days or so without seeing another human, without hearing a real human voice, things got weird. I got weird; my dreams got really weird. Isolation isn’t great for the human animal, even the ambiverts like myself who positively thrive off the stuff from time to time. In reasonable amounts.
And this is only six days in – light is at the end of the tunnel, I’m out the day after tomorrow. I don’t think I’d fare amazingly well in prison, or some other situation where I was truly cut off from everyone and everything. Under other circumstances, this would feel like a bit of a holiday, but I’m genuinely just ready for it to be over now. I want a cuddle. I want a pint. I want conversation. I want my cat. I want purpose. I want vigour.
Sunday dawns grey and drizzly once more. The screw has been fished out of my throat, and I can practically breathe normally again. For all intents and purposes, I feel fit again. Let’s call it… 60 percent? But able to function again. Only two Panadol today, only a few tissues, no intense fits of sneezing or coughing. The coughs are less dry and irritating, and more… shall we say, fruitful? Yes, that is appropriately gross. However, I know that it’s a rookie error to try and get right back into things the second you feel capable, that’s just gonna cause a backslide that drags the whole process out for an extra few weeks. I’ll take it easy today too, though I’m pretty bloody sick of it.
Coffee, tea, breakfast. I’m out of bread, but I have leftover curry, so that feels like a win. I make a plain omelette and shred it into sort of noodles to make the best use of the extra curry sauce. And the flavour is as rich and full as I could hope for. My tastebuds, having taken a brief sabbatical, are now mostly back at their posts. Garlicky naan and vinegary rich vindaloo are a bold and flavourful start to the day. And studded with the emerald jewels of freshly sliced chillies that don’t so much have a flavour as the sensation of an electrical burn, my palate is welcomed back to the world in the most spectacular way imaginable.
My resolution to simply get through has numbed me a little to the passing of time. I woke up at 8:16 this morning, and it’s now 7:30pm precisely, and I don’t truly know where the day went. Taskmaster, Medieval II, anxious overthought of what I need to do once the weather clears up some. Chats on the phone avec la Francaise. Dishes. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow. Functionally, it won’t be that different. But mentally, it will be the most exotic thing in the world. I intend to wake up, catch a train and a tram home, cuddles with the missus, cuddles with the cat, hang out there, catch a train and a tram back, sleep. That’s about it. Might fit in some chores along the way, some shopping, maybe a cheeky beer. My local won’t be open on a Monday, so that’s a pity, but there’s plenty of options nonetheless. Hell, I can taste beer again – maybe just a cheeky stop at the bottle-o for a nice can of something fresh to drink on the balcony, if it’s a nice day… Who knows?
All in all, I can’t say that I recommend coronavirus. It has its upsides – enforced downtime may help you to slow your pace a little bit, may give your body time to rest to heal up some other ailment that never got the opportunity because you never got off your feet. It gives you a chance to catch up on your shows. If you’ve found the outside world a bit too people-y of late, then this might be the solution for you, but otherwise, I’d say avoid it.