HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: 23 days of being COVID-19 positive - it's lonely in here
There’s no illness worse than coronoavirus that I have ever experienced in my life. That's a lot for me who has had what we finally came to know was Japanese encephilits. With this brain infection, glands you don’t even know you have in your body swell up and you have to work with sunglasses on because the screen is too bright and everything hurts. Your fever is constant, so sometimes you forget you even have one. With all of that, I still worked for at least two months straight before giving up and checking into a hospital where I found out I’d lost at least 8kgs without knowing because I was constantly in la-la land.
But I’d still take that over coronavirus.
This is something else, and I’m not even sick enough to go to the hospital. There isn’t a single day that’s gone by in the past 23 where I have not shivered at the thought of how all those who are hospitalised must be feeling and what they must be going through. I had a selfish thought, too (I’m only human): I have been constantly paranoid that I would end up in hospital too. Was I getting better? Was I getting worse? Who knew?
I was lucky enough to have seen a doctor who guided me along the way, but I’ve been in isolation for 23 days now.
Wednesday was the first day I felt like a human being, where brushing my teeth or slipping on shoes didn’t leave me out of breath. Where I could send a text message in under 10 minutes because I could actually focus and was able to spell simple words in a feat that before Wednesday felt like it took hours. It was also when I finally had enough energy to play with my son for more than 10 minutes (he has already had it and is asymptomatic and safe). And here’s how I definitely knew I was progressing: I cleaned everything. I repacked cupboards, organised rooms etc. My wife (she, too, has also already had it in the form of a cold) woke up, looked around and said, "You are feeling better". So, am I better now? Is it safe? Am I safe?
On Wednesday night I was able to stay up until about 9pm before the sleep slapped me back into a coma. When I first became ill, I would sleep most of the day, wake up for an hour, and then be back in bed at 6pm until the next day because of the inexplicable exhaustion, fatigue, malaise or whatever the World Health Organization is calling it these days. The closest I have come to defining it for anyone is feeling like a concrete zombie. Like all of a sudden, out of nowhere, your bones are made of cement, your mind is a bowl of soup, your body hurts while your legs feel like jelly. And it doesn’t matter what you do or how hard you try to, but you cannot keep your eyes open. But even if you could, it would be of no use because your brain doesn’t work. It can’t concentrate, and you feel delirious. I couldn’t watch anything while lying down ill, or even read. Everything was too much and too hard - and all while having our new baby in the house. If you’ve never had a baby before and you’re lucky enough to have a partner who can assist when a pandemic hits you, become religious. Honestly. That kind of support is the only thing that will make you believe there is in fact a god.
Aside from the above and developing a cough that turned out to be a secondary bacterial infection, I had no other symptoms. No sore throat. No nausea. None of it. I had felt out of breath constantly when I was busy being a zombie and had to do breathing exercises every single time I dared to sleep or else I would have suffered for oxygen a bit. But other than that, nothing.
But what’s been the most difficult part of it all is the loss of community. I don’t know how many people are obeying these government regulations properly, who is still seeing friends and are doing social things. I know some of these are allowed, but even before we contracted COVID-19, my family and I were exceptionally careful. We’re not part of that crowd that cycles on a Saturday and Sunday and meets at Bootleggers for coffee while the rest of the economy suffers and people lose their lives. We were careful. But we would bolt out for the occasional grocery or chronic medication. But I've done none of that now. I haven’t seen another adult other than my wife in I don’t know how long. I haven’t had a conversation other than “how are you feeling” – and that’s not for lack of trying. I just haven’t had the energy to go much further, and any kind of exercise seems like a myth to me that perhaps existed in a different world - the stuff of legends and what the human body was once capable of.
I’m an introvert and I suffer from social anxiety, but wow, I miss people. I miss watching them and thinking about what they’re thinking and making up stories about their lives as they go about their days. I miss my family more than I ever have. And I miss the handful of my nearest and dearest friends who make up my community. And my wife misses it too. It’s lonely in here. I know it’s a lonely time for everyone at the moment - for some more than others. COVID-19-positive loneliness becomes very depressing, and besides the kid who loves to babble about his day, it is very, very quiet. There is no real laughter, no liveliness, and very little energy to wholeheartedly laugh.
I take about 13 pills a day - three of them are chronic so I guess they don’t count. Some of them are over-the-counter flu meds and Panado, and the rest are vitamins. I feel slightly better in the morning, 4am to about 9am are my peak times where I can help out with the baby, get some work done, help with emails regarding my late dad’s estate and other admin. So I tend to stay away from my anxiety medication and cough syrup at that time and find other times to take those because they make me drowsy. Because I don’t have any other symptoms besides lying down like a cold heavy slab with only a moderate fever, it’s really the least I could do to not feel guilty, it all it looking like laziness to me. All these thoughts and emotions lead to more anxiety, which lead to numerous panic attacks, which leads to being out of breath, until finally you don’t know what’s what anymore, and that maybe you’re going mental and what you need is not a doctor but a good few days in a sanatorium.
Even now, sitting here, writing this at 5am in the morning I feel a bit crazy – because if I feel all day the way I do right now while doing this, then I’m healed, right? No more COVID-19? I'm no longer dangerous to anyone, right? What? What is the answer, and when can I leave this place of madness?
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.