I have now lived, with one brief exception, in my master bedroom suite for thirteen days. You could argue that for a writer, it is a gift to be able to experience personally this virus that is currently plaguing the globe. I can work with that. However, take it from me: this disease is no joke.
I don’t know where I got it. I had been volunteering at weekends for the Andy Kim Congressional campaign at Willingboro HQ. All the volunteers and staff wore masks, but members of the public were less assiduous. So, maybe there? It doesn’t matter. New Jersey was spiking, the virus was out there, and it found me.
On Wednesday October 28th, I was teaching the second of my two college classes—online, of course, as everything has been this semester—when I surprised myself with a dry little cough. “Ha! Maybe I have the virus!” I laughed with my students, then thought nothing more of it. However, the next morning I awoke feeling hot, clammy and spacey. I coughed before getting out of bed. Downstairs, I located a thermometer and checked for fever while the kettle boiled for tea: 100.5. I packed a bag with essentials—my laptop and charger, notebook and pens, water flask, vitamins, DayQuil and NyQuil—then went to give my husband the bad news that he was moving out of our bedroom space until this situation could be resolved.
Neither of us really thought I had the virus. But we knew what needed to be done. I ordered a test from Pixel Labs and took DayQuil so I could feel relatively normal while teaching my Thursday afternoon Poetry Workshop. Hubby delivered my dinner on a tray outside the door. My cat, Juno, kept trying to break in, and we blocked her access with a laundry basket.
I took the nasal swab test (my second) on Friday morning and hubby dispatched it via FedEx. I still didn’t feel that bad. My fever fluctuated between 99.3 and 100.9, depending on how recently I’d taken the meds. The cough was annoying but not painful. No sore throat. I kept checking my sense of smell was still there. I taught my Friday afternoon Poetry Workshop and my students expressed doubt that I was sick. I told the Andy Kim campaign I couldn’t work my weekend shifts because of quarantine, and they made me promise to keep them updated.
We decided to treat ourselves to takeout curry from our favorite Indian restaurant for Friday dinner. And that’s when things got weird. I love Indian food, and I was hungry, for sure. One of the things about being shut in a room is you just don’t have access to snacks when you want them. But after just a few mouthfuls, my stomach just revolted. “No,” it said in no uncertain terms. “Stop eating now.” That was the end of me having a normal appetite.
I woke up on Saturday morning—Halloween—with the worst stomach cramps of my life, and spent the next four hours running back and forth from the bathroom. It was around this time that I realized I had indeed lost my sense of smell, although this had its upside. That evening I sat by the window watching the neighborhood children Trick Or Treat, feeling wiped. I was in bed by 10:30 p.m., the latest I would be up for a while.
The gastric issues were the last clue I needed—I can google. When my Pixel test results came back positive on Sunday afternoon, I cried for five minutes, told my family, and then prepared myself for the long haul. I had become a statistic in the Coronavirus pandemic.
I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account of the next six days. Besides, every day was similar. I would wake up feeling vaguely okay with a fever of only around 99.5 and eat a normal breakfast. With the help of drugs, I would eat a small bland lunch and teach if I had to in the afternoon. But by each evening my fever would be back over 100.4 and I would struggle to contemplate food. My husband did his best, and served me ever smaller portions which I pushed around the plate. Twice, I went to bed without eating anything. I got used to dosing myself with NyQuil and tucking up about nine o’clock. Three times, I woke at two a.m. in soaked sheets with my hair dripping with sweat. Rinse and repeat.
Meanwhile, Election Day came and went. Mail in ballots were counted at a glacial pace. With the prospect of four days off teaching, I promised my husband (who had tested negative at CVS) that I would do nothing but rest to try to shake the damn virus. I sat on my bed watching the MSNBC pundits and marveling at the stamina of Steve Kornacki.
That’s where I was on Saturday November 7th when they called Pennsylvania—and thus the Presidency—for Joe Biden. With feel good hormones surging, I agreed to join my husband on the deck at five p.m. for a champagne toast. Mask on, I came down the stairs for the first time in nine days, straight out the front door and walked round the house to the deck. We toasted our new president and talked about the future, and I felt almost normal…for about thirty minutes.
By the time I was back in my room I thought I was going to die.
My fever went up to 101.3 and every inch of my skin felt scalding hot. I wanted to watch Biden address the nation at eight, but didn’t know if I would make it. I got a damp washcloth and laid it on my forehead then curled in a fetal position on the bed. In the end I made it through Kamala’s historic speech, then caved in to sleep, again without food. I woke up at four to find that at some point I’d pulled the washcloth off and dropped it on top of my cellphone, which was fortunately none the worse for wear.
That was a low point.
So, where am I now? It’s Tuesday, November 10th and my sense of smell started to come back yesterday, by which I mean that if I put my strongest perfume on I can get a vague whiff of something floral. I still have not managed to make it twenty-four hours without my fever spiking above 100, and I still have a cough, so according to Burlington County Health I’m no closer to leaving my isolation. Having said that, last night I ate what felt like a (small) adult portion of food and stayed up till 10:30 p.m. Today, I felt well enough to sit down and write this.
I want to emphasize that at no point have I felt in fear for my life, or even that I needed to seek medical attention. Hubby bought me a CVS oxygen finger monitor, and it’s never fallen below 96%. DayQuil and NyQuil have done their jobs.
This is still the sickest I’ve been since maybe six years ago when I had a bad case of flu, and it’s the most depressing illness I’ve ever had because of the isolation. I’m a writer, so I can spend long swathes of time alone. I have done so many times productively in writers’ colonies. But this wasn’t productive. I’ve been barely holding on.
Wear a mask.