By Malen Catajan

It took me some time to finish this account of my days in isolation after I tested positive for COVID-19 and up to my bittersweet homecoming to recover together with my daughter whom I infected with the virus. I recalled the despair and hopelessness when I knew I was infected but I remember more the compassion which was showered on us the entire time.

September 13, 2021: the day I tested positive at the Baguio Convention Center Triage. I was told I could not leave. At that time, panic over the delta strain of COVID-19 was high, with cases escalating all over the country. I was part of the surge statistics.

As I waited for four hours for a clean room at the isolation facility, my bags were being packed at home. The positive result signaled the start of my COVID journey.  My room had a window, a square porthole which was visible from the Baguio Convention Center parking lot, and this is where I later received regular window visits from friends.

The COVID-19 triage at the Baguio Convention Center.

 Waiting as virtue

I learned the virtue of waiting during my quarantine. I waited for my RT-PCR results and, when released from isolation, I waited for the home evaluation visit to assess if I could quarantine at home. I wait for food rations, for people to check my vital signs, for the water jar to be kindly  refilled, and for deliveries of food and other things from relatives and friends.

Not everyone has the patience for waiting. When my antigen results came back positive, I was with this 20-somethning guy who was so flustered, worried, and scared that he’ll turn in positive because he would not be able to work.  He was afraid  that there would not be enough food at the facility, no bed perhaps, no space for him.

After a few minutes, he just quietly ran away that when everyone realized that he slipped out, it was too late.

September 14, 2021: I had visitors in the morning and was in tears when I saw my friends who came by my window to give small talk, mundane stuff to ease my anxiety.  When I was about to cry some more, more friends and well-wishers arrived and they, who did not let the moment go by without photos of me in “jail” posted these on social media. Proof of life.

The author, behind bars, buoyed by window visits from friends.

Container Room

I have accepted my fate and settled into my room which is a small container van. Well-meaning friends peeped through the window and gave encouraging words laced with smirks because they seldom see me helpless and confined. The room has two plastic chairs, a lone electrical outlet and a bathroom with a showerhead installed too low that only imps can shower standing up. There were no pail, no bucket in that Middle-earth inspired shower.

The medical staff would wake me up at 6:30 a.m. either to take my vital signs or give me breakfast. Then they let me out of the room to sit on a chair to take my blood pressure, blood oxygen level and temperature. They reminded me of my condition and gave some updates on the possibility of a home quarantine which would depend on the evaluation and my RT-PCR result.

It had been three days but I am not complaining.

With no word on my release, I decided to clean the room.

It looked clean enough, but the more I stared at the walls, the more I saw dirt, grime, mold and dust. I asked my friend, my partner-in-crime since high school, to get me plenty of wet wipes.

I wiped the walls, parts of the ceiling, the bathroom walls, the doorknobs, the windows, the bed rails. I sprayed alcohol on the bathroom floor then wiped it clean as well. Two packs of disposable towels and two spray bottles of alcohol did the job.

When I leave holding room 4A, I wanted it to be spotless.


My ten unit-mates and I kept to ourselves. With two police trainees guarding the entrance of the quarantine center, it was difficult to be neighborly.

They say the anxiety of waiting will get you. It’s the 11th day since the onset of symptoms but only my 4th in the quarantine facility. How do you count that? I hate counting so I simply stopped because I knew the health providers were keeping tabs on my days as a patient.

Somber and sober, I turned to work, despite choppy connections, bad weather, fleeting thoughts and a tempered impatience.

I looked out of the window most of the time. It was nice to observe people from afar going in and out of Baguio Convention Center without them seeing me. I now know how a stalker feels.

Police trainees guard the entrance to the quarantine center discouraging neighborly chitchats among those in the container rooms.

The container van isolation room was very cold at night and hot during midday. My room froze  when it rained a bit in the afternoons cooling things down . I mulled on asking for a comforter from home, but stopped myself because it seemed opulent to ask for one, amidst Purgatorio. I was gifted with a heating pad and with my double blankets, socks and bonnet, I kept myself warm.

Remember that 20-something guy who ran away? He was found and then taken to one of the isolation rooms. The group of policemen and medical personnel easily located him at his house because he left all his papers on the table.

I am COVID-positive

I have reported on COVID-19 for the past year and I know the drill. The symptoms, the protocols, the system. I know the city’s response to the pandemic is top notch, the attack rate, recovery, attrition. I have stared at the contact tracing czar in the face and survived to tell the story. I spoke to survivors and marveled at their resolve to get better. I wrote of their success and made the entire world celebrate their life.

There is a difference in perspective when you get to live the life

you only hear about.

I know the power the vaccine has and why it is important to get jabbed. I also understand the hesitancy of people to get inoculated. I don’t question them.

I know of the mental strain the virus caused.

I know all of these but when I tested positive, the small and big things I thought I understood, changed. There is a difference in perspective when you get to live the life you only hear about.

And now I realize…I know nothing.

I cried when they told me I was positive for COVID-19. It was a likely outcome but still it hit home.  I was reminded of how lucky I was to have milder symptoms, to have my tiny quarantine room and to be able to simply breathe. Some are having a more difficult time.

The girl who cried COVID

I received a healing crystal with instructions to place it beside my window to summon my ancestors for healing.

The quartz crystal that helped the author invoke healing from her ancestors.

We used to be spirit questors many moons ago, local ghostbusters for easier understanding, a group of six who did not exactly fit in, but tried. As I stared at the crystal, I remembered the tower of light we would imagine enveloping us in protection, and channeling its healing powers for our esoteric tasks of setting the spirits free.

The crystal reminded me of my ties with the underworld of questing and wondered what happens to the COVID spirits now, do they know what hit them, were they able to say goodbye? Do they roam?

Read PART 2: Dear Covid-19 diary