On August 7, a headache had me knocked out for almost three days. At first I thought it was a migraine or a consequence of the anger that filled me when the washing machine and the kitchen sink broke down at the same time. On the fourth day, I went to (drug-store chain) Farmatodo in search of a painkiller.
“Miss, you can’t go in, you have a 100.5-degree fever,” yelled the woman at the door with her little temperature-measuring pistol at hand.
The people in the queue, who never respect the suggested distancing even with floor signs, jumped away and cursed me. I left upset, shaken, embarrassed and with no pain killers. “Fever? What fever?” I thought over and over on my way back.
I got back home and took my temperature with an old mercury thermometer under my tongue, like the proper old lady who in her despair thinks that “these digital things are useless.” But alas, I got the same 100.5 degrees. I told a couple of people and shut myself home.
Three more days of fever followed, the pain extended to all my muscles (even those little body parts one doesn’t know exists until they start hurting) and then all of a sudden came the bombshell: I couldn’t smell my Harmony soap (the cheapest one in the market, with its traditional Kool-Aid scent) nor the tiny 212 Carolina Herrera perfume I had been stretching for years.
Taste also vanished. Drinking coffee was like drinking hot water. Life is certainly less meaningful under these circumstances. At some point this troubled me more than the discomfort itself. I felt completely defenseless.
“How come I can’t even tell that my arepas (corn flour patties) are burning?” I would chastise myself, like someone who doesn’t value her senses until they’re gone and there is no way of bringing them back.
The mandatory medical appointment confirmed the diagnosis: COVID-19. And the appropriate #StayAtHome recommendation set firmly in place.
“If you live by yourself and have no respiratory issues, stay there. The situation at the hospitals will be worse for you,” the doctor told me.
Medicines (which I got for free through a public institution), chicken soup, lemon tea, lots of fruit juices, gargling with salt water, inhaling the vapor from eucalyptus water, and especially staying calm, this became my routine.
I traced back my steps in previous weeks: I had only gone out to buy food once (to a couple of nearby stores) and one other time to fill subsidized gasoline, according to my license plate number. I kept my mask on at all times and threw alcohol everywhere like a proper madwoman.
I was careful, very careful. But it happened, and I would not wish it upon my worst enemy. I thought about the people I’d run into… I feared having infected a neighbor in the elevator or the hallway. I couldn’t sleep thinking about the technician who came on that first day, when my headache was still tolerable, to fix my washing machine. In fact, the old man must think I’m after him or something, given that I have not stopped writing to ask how he feels, how his life is going, how that body temperature feels, and if by chance anything hurts.
I felt irresponsible even though I hadn’t been. I had several panic attacks, due to my situation but mostly thinking about my parents and other loved ones who can be struck by the virus at any time.
“How are you, dear? How do you feel?” my mother would ask every few hours on the phone.
“I’m ok, mom, just a big drowsy,” I would reply, even though I felt like shit and thought I was dying. But I wanted to avoid at all costs a scenario in which her motherly despair would bring her to my doorstep with two fistfuls of herbs, one to make magical potions to cure me and the other to submerge me in the largest tub she could find at the block’s cheapest supermarket.
During phone calls, the doctor would specifically ask about my breathing, to determine whether I would need an oxygen pump or not. The mere idea gave me chills. My lungs did not fail me, fortunately. “Some good had to come out of all this physical activity, dammit,” I would tell myself happily, though minutes later I would be cursing “so much healthy food, so much yoga, so much bullshit, and here I am feeling awful. What a fraud.” Having coronavirus is also an emotional rollercoaster.
During my absolute confinement, which lasted more than three weeks, I missed the sun a whole lot. I would perch myself on my largest window, half my body outside. I would see my building’s courtyard where six little happy mask-less kids would play football and I would envy and hate them at the same time. “There they are, being irresponsible, and here I am despite taking every precaution.” Meanwhile, scores are at the intensive care units throughout the country. Everyone measures, acts and complains according to their own barometer of personal experiences. “No one learns through someone else’s head,” my mother is fond of saying. And, like it or not, she’s right.
On that same window, I would also think that without my family (literally) throwing me weekly bags of groceries in my building’s hallway I would not have survived either. Or at least I would not have managed such an extreme and responsible quarantine, since in one way or another I would have had to go out to at least buy food.
At the end of the day my body is healthy and in good shape, and even amidst adversity, compared to many people, I am a privileged gal. I won… and I wish that all the positive cases also had a happy ending. More than ever, at the bottom of my heart, I feel the pain of every Covid-19 report I listen to. I promise that in a couple of months or maybe in a few years, I will write about the end of this global nightmare that the pandemic has meant. You shall continue to read me!
Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig'Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.