The Virus & I
The day had started off quite badly. A friend of mine had tested positive for Covid and was having trouble breathing. The situation all around the City too was bad — no beds — at least not in the desirable hospitals; shortage of oxygen cylinders; shortage of life saving meds. In a time like this, even money and influence is something of little value. Realizing all this, his wife was in an inconsolable state. She wept like something way worse was about to happen. All of us friends were struggling to find him a hospital bed, or try and create an interim home care solution. In all this time, just one thought ran through my mind — “What if it was me in that state?” It just made me feel how we take matters for granted until the shit finally hits the ceiling. We hide the most important aspects — secrets of our lives from our loved ones in the hope there’s never a point reached where the hidden needs to be unraveled. Fortunately, my friend — the pilot landed safely on bed at a hospital that would take good care of him. He was truly lucky.
That evening, while my wife and I were in bed, I don’t recall the exact trigger that made me say say what I did. But right in the middle of an episode of ‘Grace and Frankie’ where Sol was wondering if he really was gay, I said to my wife, “I think we need to sleep separately”. My wife hit ‘pause’ and gave me an amused look. “Yes! I think either you or or I need to move to a separate room right away, we can’t share this bed”. I could see the trillion teraflops of neural exchange going on in her brain right through the windows of her eyes. “Are you…?” she asked. “Yes! I think I am.” Quickly, she jumped out of bed and looked at me accusingly, like I had said the ultimate unthinkable. Was I overreacting or did I really feel something was wrong with me? She stood looking at me, stunned, not knowing what to do or say, like there was a murderer sleeping in her bed.
“My throat is getting worse, and I suspect I am running a mild temperature. It could be nothing, but can’t take a chance. Can we please isolate just in case I have contracted the big C?” She threw a pillow at me. “You scared me. For a moment I thought…” I gave her a questioning look, but she was looking all relieved to know I was just plain sick.
My son’s room being vacant, her moving into that overgrown shoe box to seek refuge was an inconvenience of course, but not such a big deal. Fortunately, we had just upgraded the room’s creature comforts by installing an Amazon firestick there just that morning — on a ‘just-in-case we have a guest stay over basis’. TBAH — I was thinking of the room as the refuge that it would now stand up to be. I was sure my daughter studying for her exams would not be amused at having her mom as her neighbour in a room separated by an almost ‘ryokan’ wall.
I was pretty sure that I was being extra cautious — had taken my first jab just a couple of days back, and could attribute the soreness in throat and mild cough to the fiery tamarind-mint ‘pani-puri’ water consumed is copious quantity earlier that day. I hadn’t gone anywhere unsafe for the last two days in what the State insisted was not a ‘lockdown’. My ‘Arogya Setu’ tracker app showed me as safe, and with those happy conclusions, I went off to sleep, in the hope I would wake up feeling good. The events of the day did play on my mind all night though.
Next morning, I checked my temperature. It was a shade below the normal 98.6. My tongue felt a bit off, the throat hadn’t worsened — nor had the cough. It being a Saturday — a day of full lockdown (whatever that meant), I knew the cook wouldn’t show up. It was also a “half-exercise” day. With wife still asleep — thanks to a new bed and no one to trouble her, I decided to kill two birds with a single stone — that is, take a morning walk to the market and buy some supplies for making my world famous in my family pizzas. As a matter of abundant precaution, thought of maintaining a mask up regimen in and out of the house for the whole day, and kind of a semi isolation. My wife was happy to get access back to her room. She still wasn’t sure if I had just ‘kicked’ her out of her room out for no reason or was there something of genuine concern that I was mentally blocking. Since we are all stuck at home, each member of the household, including the maid, have a room to themselves — so lines weren’t crossed for most of the day. By evening, I had a temperature running a shade below a 100. I had no other symptoms that would or should cause a C level panic:
Body-joint ache: No
Smell-taste: More or less intact.
Even so, “should I get myself tested nevertheless?” With so many cases of false positives, it was quite a nerve wrecking thought. My sister in law told me that my non-symptoms were exactly the symptoms of the new virus strain. Wow! Consulted my aunt, a doc, she took down my symptoms and agreed to my sister-in-law’s assessment. She asked me to send a message to a doctor handling infectious disease cases at a leading hospital to check if I should or should not test. In the interim, she prescribed a heavy duty paracetamol to tame the temperature and a five day antibiotic course to cure the throat infection — just in case it was bacterial and not viral. Vitamin C 1000mu + Zinc to boost immunity as added reinforcement. Unknown to the docs, I had begun taking Cimflox 1.0M (a homeopathic med to increase my antibody count).
The doctor I contacted messaged back that I should urgently test and preferably continue isolation. It was a task getting a test booked for next morning, but managed it eventually. Guess, wife was out of the room again. The important discussion between us that evening — which show to watch independently, so that the ones being watched together would not be touched. It does sound childish, but I have known couples to seek permanent separation over smaller issues.
Good morning Sunday! The first Casualty of the day — my thermometer. It fell off my mouth and obviously broke. Now who was going to clean up the mess? On the SpO2 front, my finger reader was showing something like 94. Bad! But, I didn’t really trust it. So I checked the same on the Samsung phone app. Lo and behold 96. That looked right as I wasn’t really feeling any symptoms of Covid in the morning. A replacement thermometer showed my temperature a shade below normal. My throat hurt a bit, but not as bad as the day earlier. Clearly the meds were doing the job. Since, the test was still 30 minutes away, and I did feel fine, I isolated myself on the balcony of my room, to allow the masked women to enter and tidy up the room. I so hoped that I would not have to isolate for longer than a day.
Test done, result would come in 24 hours. During the day, I was called out of the room to fix the washing machine, the Wi-Fi router, and install ‘Disney-Hotstar’ in my wife’s new room. Very silly of me to have agreed, even though I was masked, and I did make sure no one was in my proximity. The silliness turned into a grave “what have I done?” when my report came in the same evening, it showed, I was truly ‘Positive’. I prayed with all sincerity that in my bravado, I had not put anyone else in the house at risk. I guess it would eat away at my conscience for the next couple of days.
By next morning (lets call it official day 2 of C) my whole little universe knew that I was infected. My whatsapp went berserk with best wishes to a fast recovery, pep talk, jokes and multiple ways I could cure myself using remedies like eating onions with pink salt to putting lemon juice up my nostrils. There were suggestions on how I could bump up my O2 levels — ones that were not too far from some very intricate poses in the Kama Sutra. I thought of telling a friend in the plastic industry to patent sex dolls and sell them as breathing assist apparatus. There was another suggestion that suggested I use a sachet filled with herbs and oils to lubricate the air passage and cleanse the lungs. Another telling me how harmful that treatment was. There was a point I thought of taking a retest since my CT value was 24, but then I thought to myself, “what the heck, let me see what does a person go through in self isolation?” Better to be safe than sorry. The most sensible suggestion came from my sister, she had just gone through a war with Covid until a few days earlier in Bangalore. She put me on to her doctor friend, one an expert at treating infectious diseases. I told her the medication I was following, and she found no reason to change it. Other than adding a dose of Vitamin D3 to be taken once a week for 8 weeks, I was good for now. Her protocol:
Take plenty of rest.
Light exercises every couple of hours.
Plenty of fresh foods and fluids.
Steam and gargle no more than 3 times a day.
My wife handed me a broom, cleaning mop, dishwashing soap, garbage bags. My incarceration at home was truly in order. I got a call from BMC. While there may be absolute chaos in terms of managing other aspects of the City and the logistics of the pandemic management, the BMC has this aspect of monitoring and offering a help line totally under control. The lady confirmed my details. Based on the fact that I am over 50, I would have had to undergo mandatory institutional quarantine. However, being vaccinated and living in a large family home ensured that I would stay at home. Thank God for that.
Day 3 was one of figuring out my life in the room. Just like one eventually settles in a train compartment or airline seat, I too made peace with my known surroundings. Day 4 and 5 fell into a kind of routine. Check oxygen and temperature — take medication — fight fever with paracetamol. Whereas on day 2 I had no temperature, for the next 3 days I switched to a milder dose of paracetamol, and that could only curb it for a few hours. In all these days, my Arogya Setu app showed me “Safe”. I began to take my O2 levels on the phone as it delivered 2% points higher than the finger unit (despite change in batteries). Was I cheating myself? My friends who had gone through Covid kept encouraging me — saying that the worst was over. According to most of them I was already on day 7 on day 5 for some strange rationale of theirs. By day 5, the throat was fine but a dry cough — not a serious one — began to set in. “Should I be concerned?” I thought. The night would decide. I felt like an old jalopy, something fixed — something else falling apart.
0200 hours — Day 6, both temperature and oxy levels bad. My phone app was reading 94/95 and thermometer 102.8. The paracetamol at 2200 hours the previous evening had failed to rein in the fever. Frequent urination all through the night that had to be countered with constant hydration. Fortunately, I had asked for some grapes the previous evening to serve as my early morning snack. I guess, I used them as pills to keep my sugar and salt levels in tact. Since I had taken only 2 Crocins the day before, I thought I had earned the right to pop the 3rd, and at 0400 hours did just that. By 0700 hours I had changed 3 very sweaty night tee-shirts. The fever was down — but it was still around 100+ and oxy levels 93/94, and cough a bit more vigorous. No body ache or real difficulty in breathing. My taste and smell were restoring. No throat ache at all. Was I fooling myself? Just to make sure I checked the finger (oxy) meter and the reading was 91/92. I was in some kind of trouble. Sent a SOS call to my doctor. She advised I get some blood tests done — real fast. In the meantime, she asked me to switch back to Dolo650 and call her as soon as I got my reports. A strong cough syrup was added to my medicinal diet. I wondered if I would be able to get an appointment that fast. Luckily, I did. It also meant I would have to have no breakfast until the test as my fasting sugar needed to be checked. Last grape eaten at 3 am? I would just about scrape through the 8 hours limit. Since the lab guys were at home, my wife decided to get everyone in the house tested for Covid.
I took my meal and tab soon after my blood tests. By then my whole universe including my neighbourhood chemist knew that I had worsened and in came all forms of advice including arranging an oxygen cylinder, concentrator, Remdesivir injection, Fabi-flu 800mg, taking a CT scan and what not. I think I was more shaken by this psychological warfare than the actual symptoms. As long as I could deep breathe and push my oxy levels back to 94/95 I was still okay if not good. The reports came in at 8pm. The good news — all house members barring me tested negative. The bad news — my doctor wasn’t happy. Her view, this strain of the Indian virus very deceptive, and it could take a dive for the worse very fast. Her suggestion, I book a hospital bed fast and take whatever is allotted. She would rather see me under medical care than trying to build a home hospital when I told her that I could arrange a concentrator, cylinder and any med that was needed. Reluctantly, she gave me 24 hours. Actually, being a weekend, there was no way I was going to get a hospital bed of my choice. Strange, I thought — entering a night club or a favourite restaurant on weekends had the same story as hospitals now. Jokes apart, I was asked to go on steroids by her — not her choice but my insisting. The dose, to be monitored on a daily basis — a tablet and a steroid inhalation nebulizing pump. As a precaution, and her suggestion, I called up the helpline for a hospital bed on Monday — just in case my case worsened.
Maybe the news I had received and the thought of spending 7 nights minimum at a hospital were enough to scare the shit out of my immune system, my parameters improved by morning. Best part, I hadn’t taken the steroids as yet. But then I did take it in the morning. By evening, I was a happy camper. Fever down to 99, oxy up to 95/96 and even 97 with a little bit of pushing myself. I still felt that my finger oxymeter was all wrong, and I decided to call for a new one. I made everyone check and when I was satisfied that it was giving the right reading, checked myself. What? Readings were 96/97 without effort. Vindicated that I should have trusted my Samsung phone app all along. But the real moral of the story, make sure to invest in a good oxymeter. It’s critical to have one in the house.
Next day, my steroid dose was cut by 25% for 2 days, and go off the pump as I felt I did not need it. My cough was already down as was my fever below normal. By the next day I had no need for paracetamol, and next two, off the steroid as well. The real test, what happens now? Fortunately, no fever, restoration of smell-taste-appetite, no aches, lethargy or soreness. No fever and oxy levels 97/98, and it kept up for 3 days past no meds. Blood test came back cleaner. I guess I had beaten my virus. I still isolated for a full 17 days.
It’s been over a week since I ended self-isolation. Even though I feel fine, there is a hint of cough left over. I don’t have the same stamina as before, and am still not comfortable being in close proximity to anyone. During my isolation, I re-wrote my will — and recorded a live one too. I can say, my tryst was a mild one, but I wouldn’t want anyone getting even a mild form of this infection. This strain is not a joke, and besides the physical one — there is a mental play that is much worse. I have lost a cousin, a dear friend, and heard of many more deaths in my 3 degrees of connections.
So here is a suggestion, vaccinated or not — try and move out as little and stay safe. Do your bit in avoiding it, and then if you do — you will not feel regret.