HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Long-COVID, day 65: Am I counting down or up?
As I type this, my right hand is both numb and sore at the same time. It’s hard to explain. There are intermittent moments of feeling, which is seriously painful and uncomfortable and moments of, well, feeling absolutely nothing.
Am I sounding like a whiner, or am I merely documenting? It’s hard to draw those lines anymore, but I like to convince myself it’s documenting – fellow South African long-haulers, where are you?
Am I tired of writing about long-COVID? 100% yes. Am I tired of living with long-COVID? Exponentially more than 100%, and I’m not a mathematician so I have no idea if that even exists. But while we’re on the subject of mathematics, let me share a little anecdote with you.
For 64 nights I have not slept without disturbance. These disruptions come in many forms, sometimes rapidly in a variety and sometimes in just one long interference of the singular kind. I am woken by these every night because they include hearing people calling me, answering my phone when it’s not ringing, asking my wife random and mundane questions, stroking my pillow because I believe my son is sleeping next to me and the pillow is he, hallucinations, and waking up and not remembering where I am, and talking. Lots and lots of talking absolute rubbish.
And here’s where the arithmetic comes in – I woke myself up last night – and also with the assistance of my wife because I had my arms flailing about in my sleep as I gave an intricate lecture on prime numbers as though I was a math professor at MIT with patched jacket sleeves and all.
It must have been a wondrous moment to observe. This wasn’t your basic prime-number lesson in grade 8, it was A Beautiful Mind stuff. I scribbled on blackboards, and talked passionately to a lecture hall full of students and when I ran out of chalk, I started using a marker pen on the walls. It was inspired and also complete nonsense. I know nothing about math, but my wife, out of pure kindness, admitted that my speech was very interesting, even though she could not repeat a work of my gobbledygook. Was it nonsense? Or do I have a genius mathematician inside me waiting to change the formula of the world and all its operations?
The other morning I woke up and she asked me: Who’s Allison? I had the very same thought as soon as I put my feet on the floor. Who is Allison? I have never known an Allison. I have never come across one and never met someone called that in my life, yet the night before I was frantically trying to contact Allison in my sleep. When all my unconscious attempts failed and Allison wasn’t answering her phone, I pressed my wife to urgently send her an email and tell her we need the information now! “We don’t have time to wait anymore,” I said. “Wait for what?” “What information?” “And for god's sake, who is Allison?”.
Sixty-four nights of this type of stuff. Waking me up on the hour, every hour. Either because I hear myself talking and wake myself up, or my wife tries to still my hands and then I wake up, or I just pop up because I hear something or someone urgently calling me. This does not make for restful sleep when you’ve lived through a long day believing you’re getting better, only to find yourself with numb hands all of a sudden, a stiff neck and spine and feet with pins and needles that just won’t work, catch you by surprise and make you fall over – this by the way happened this week as well. Just a stroll and a fall in the passage. No reason. Just because long-COVID felt like it.
Oh, before I forget, I’ve also developed a spelling problem and a bit of a reading problem – again, these are unpredictable and settle in whenever they want.
I read as though I am dyslexic and swap words around or just see them as they aren’t. Yesterday while reading a kids book, I swapped the word satin for spiritual or something like that and my wife corrected me. The same thing happens with my speech at times. I swap words around. Instead of saying: For example. I might say: Example for. Luckily my wife speaks Haji so she knows what I mean, but as a master of linguistics she finds it quite fascinating. There was one time I did something with my vocabulary that particularly intrigued her, but I can’t remember what it was because I also can’t remember things very well. Like if I’ve made coffee or not, when I literally take a sip from a cup, forget I have done that seconds ago and take myself off to make coffee.
There’s a part of me that’s learned to just take it day by day and live with this by putting my life first. When I feel good, I do the most that I possibly can with that time like a mad woman on crystal meth. This is not a good solution because it catches up with me eventually, but hey, a person’s gotta live right? And all the times I squawk and reverse words and write in muddled paragraphs and read words that aren’t there, we just laugh it off. It’s the only way to get through a day.
And taking it one day at a time is how you get through it and how you get better, right? But here’s the thing, am I going to get better? Like better-better? Is long-COVID going to leave a lasting impact on something, one of the things, everything? Am I counting down the days to a full recovery, or am I counting up to when hundreds and thousands of us have an answer to this? It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Are we going to get hurt? And how bad is it going to be?
People are always saying hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I am doing neither at the moment. I’m just getting on with it when I can get on with and stopping when I absolutely cannot push through anymore and have to stop and listen to lots of podcasts in preparation for my next midnight lecture because that guarantees one thing we can count on every day, and that’s a good laugh.
And if laughter is the best medicine, which in this case I hope it is, then my body better have a cure. Until then, I’ll wonder and wait about until I become a medical marvel… or a Nobel prize winning mathematician.
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.