By Malen Catajan
Sept. 17, 2021: I bade goodbye to the tiny house at holding room 4-A. I was taken home last night with tidings of good health by the staff of the Baguio Convention Center Triage who have grown familiar to me.
I will miss my “Nurse Izzy,” who broke the news that I was positive and was there for the duration of my stint. She had the longest lash extensions and I remembered staring at them until I got my composure back.
I packed my things carefully, wrapped all the care packs given so lovingly by friends and family, to be put in good use at home. I made my symbolic final wiping of walls and spraying of Lysol to holding room 4-A, and that was that.
I rode home with a PPE-clad driver tasked to take the sick to where they had to go. I marveled at his courage for this essential but dangerous job and said a silent prayer for his protection.
I felt like a walking mikrobyo.
Now for the bad news. My daughter tested positive too, and that was why the approval for home isolation was easier because we could stay together in this fight to wellness which was more important.
Our symptoms were mild, she had cough and colds while I figured out if my colds wanted to go full blast or remain in the “I don’t have it, but feel it” stage.
It felt better to be at home though we were both sick. It felt good to sleep without being cold, to cook food.
The contact tracers described our case as mild, my symptoms border on non-existent but the doctor said vital signs still had to be monitored as things could change fast. I was reminded to stay calm or else all hell would break loose in my head, but for overthinkers, it was hard.
My daughter and I chatted till late about the nerve-racking days apart. She hated attention and was uncomfortable to be called on and asked how she was. She attended to care packs being brought to her, and coped with having a very “public” mother.
I never knew who gave me the virus. I only knew I gave it to my daughter.
A friend forewarned me not to think of it this way and that we were past blame and guilt. It was better to focus on getting better and stronger as my COVID staycation started.
My contact tracer, Adrianne, passed by to give me papers to sign and informed me of the 14-day home isolation with a possible 10-day extension, depending on symptoms. (Editor: These protocols have since changed.)
I stopped caring on the number of days. He gave me a monitoring sheet to fill up daily with our vitals, for submission on the 14th day when we were again assessed.
Our humble abode has ample air to go around, greenery to keep me busy if I like and two stray dogs which decided to make us their hooman. Porkchop was so happy to see me when I got back that he sat by the door for so long staring at me like it’s been a year of separation. Blue, another one of our “adopteds” named for the color of her eyes, remained aloof and kept away most of the time.
I was tagged as a breakthrough, defined as a person who contracted COVID-19 despite having full vaccine doses. (At that time) I was part of the .49% or less than 1% who are breakthrough cases. Of the 119,589 fully vaccinated persons in the city, only 587 are breakthrough infections.
I was one of the 587.
COVID has messed up Webster.
Being positive means you got it bad and a breakthrough means you got something not for you.
Webster must be pained.
Before I developed an allergy to disinfectant, I used to clean my terrace every day. I am OC like that. So imagine my grief when I got infected.
Washing machine therapy has always calmed me. When I got home, the first thing I wanted was to do my laundry, and after two days, I did. I was dismayed that it did not calm me. I got so tired, my body felt like I hiked Buscalan’s peak to Apo Whang-od.
My COVID-wracked body reminded me to take it slowly so I gave into the sluggishness and slept it off. I went to the terrace to have sunshine and fresh air, and talked to the two dogs who were quite surprised I was home every day.
I was reminded to stay calm or else all hell would break loose in my head, but for overthinkers, it was hard.
Friends and I talked about the hopelessness of this pandemic being on the nth day of offering our condolences to good friends who lost loved ones, like a soul harvest in the most bitter of scenarios. I grieve for those who did not make it. I grieve for those who were not even given a fighting chance, either by neglect or by dissidence.
I grieve for the friends I lost and the family members COVID has taken from countless homes.
I wonder if things were different, would they have made it? Or was this pandemic made to test the best of the best leaders? It seems a cruel test to governance, don’t you think?
I wait for the day I can calm myself again with washing my dirty laundry.
Day 17 since the onset of my symptoms. The 10th day since I was quarantined at the Baguio Convention Center holding facility. They 4th day since I was allowed to go home and be with my daughter who also tested positive for the virus.
It has been the 5th day of taking my drugs of choice in double doses to help me fight the virus.
It has been 62 days after I got my 2nd dose of Sinovac. Do I now owe my life to China?
These are the numbers I have repeated over and over the past days to any Tom, Dick and Harry who asked me how I am.
My contact tracers, doctors and barangay officials who have extended help know this. My life story can now be summarized with the numbers pertaining to my infection and its complications boxed into cohesive statistics. I have filled out forms, submitted paperwork, talked to doctors about my health and relayed my fears to strangers.
I am now a statistic. The road to recovery is long and I was warned not to be frustrated when I tired easily. A COVID survivor told me it took three months before he regained his strength and advised me to start doing brisk walks when I recover.
Not a day had gone by without a kind word, an encouraging phone call, an act of kindness and a package sent. I sometimes felt I was dying as everyone was kind to me. A friend scolded me for being morbid.
The house that COVID built is full of kindness, and that is what counts.
Food for thought
The sun rose without power, owing to a citywide blackout forcing most households to a standstill. With no technology to while away the time, our recovering mother-daughter tandem slept off the day rather than battle with the erratic mobile data and get on each other’s nerves.
I was saved from thinking about what to cook, when I saw a care pack consisting of igado and dinengdeng, two dishes I cannot cook. They came from a friend who opened her social media and saw the news of my affliction.
The igado recipe came from the late journalist, Willy Cacdac, which Baguio media folk crave for every summer. At the Burnham Park media camp, Willy commanded the younger ones to help him put the dish together and cooked in a kawa huge enough to feed hungry journalists working during the Holy Week.
Dessert was homemade turon, homemade cheese sticks and a tub of ice cream also from a dear friend who said I deserved “unhealthy” snacks, and he was correct!
The other day, it was pinapaitan, also brought by the beloved.
At the Baguio Convention Center Holding area, it was laing, sent in haste by a friend I have not seen in a long time who knew it was my favorite and hoped I had the sense of taste to savor it.
Friends really got me through this, and I am extra lucky most of them know how to cook. I received supplies to last me a while and am grateful for the gesture of those who thought of these, to take that burden away from me until I can battle the world anew.
Cotton candy thoughts
When life brings me down, I escape into my “Cotton Candy Thoughts” and these can be food, a favorite place, a person, a fun activity or simply going away from the stressor.
Isolation is defined as “the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others.” The condition of being isolated can only be fully understood in the time of COVID. In our case, my daughter and I were isolated together.
I hear a lot of sad stories about people forgoing testing, in fear of being isolated or quarantined in one of the facilities. I hear sob stories too, of death, of pain, of a progression of symptoms and sadly, a nonchalance about protocol. I hear of people doing self-medication, stressing that what they had were simple coughs or cold, and are not because of COVID, over thinking and then not thinking anymore.
It was tiring to battle the angels and demons of COVID which couldn’t really be described until someone positive is caught in the push and pull of a lonely decision in isolation. Today, I decided to indulge on ice cream, my “Cotton Candy Thought.”
I am officially COVID-free
Clearance from the barangay and the health unit did not dampen the need to pacify my paranoia and undergo another RT-PCR test with the gentle warning that I might still test positive but with a lower viral load which makes me non-contagious.
The urge to know overpowered the likely result and lo and behold, the test came out negative.
But recovery has been slow. Sometimes I wondered if it is the sloth in me or the much publicized after effects of the virus.
After more than a month, I went back to the office midweek, which fortified my bid to normalcy, armed with the clearances and negative results, hoping it would make me less of a germ.
I was greeted by our security personnel, who got wind of my absence and jokingly jumped a few steps away. I wanted to sneeze just to piss her off but smiled under my facemask and recited a prayer for patience.
So, what happens after COVID? Do I get paranoid? Yes, I do. I cringe at the thought of crowds.
Do I avoid people? Oh yes. It made life easier as I now have a ready excuse not to mingle especially with those I do not want to see. I go with small groups.
Did my faith in humanity return? Yes, it did. Strangers, friends, acquaintances, long lost friends, relatives, people from other places, healing groups, news sources, workmates and even frenemies came together to help me. I felt I was a living eulogy.
My phone buzzed with non-stop kindness, not a bad vibe infiltrated the weeks of uncertainty, all rooting for my healing and that of my daughter.
Do I hate my vaccine? No, I think it saved me, I got Sinovac, and people debated that I should not have gotten infected in the first place. I agree. But I did. And I cannot change that.
Do I think we need booster shots? Yes, I do.
Do I think we lack the will to follow health protocols? I do. But I cannot impose on others to be careful even if I am. And as I told our contact tracing czar who helped me overcome this, I will continue to advocate for safety.
I know it will take a while before I regain my strength but what is important is that I am given the chance to regain it.
This COVID journal ends today as I found strength to close it after a few days of official freedom. Let the breakthrough journey begin. WWW