I SWEAR on all the saints and angels that I did not suspect I had Covid-19 that Sunday after New Year, when I had lunch with four friends in one of their houses. I was tired, but I had been lacking sleep for a while; the holidays had just ended, and even if we were locked up at home and there were no Christmas parties to attend in person, it was still its own kind of hectic. I was also a bit emotionally low, having marked the first turn of the year without my mother, who had passed away in February 2020. But yes, I did look forward to seeing people other than my family.
Let me say this off the bat as my new cardinal rule: When you’re not putting anything in your mouth (read: eating or drinking), keep your mask on if you are with people you don’t live with. Any of you could be bringing something unwanted to the table—which I apparently did.
Anyway, I left the lunch sadder than when I arrived because of what I perceived to be a personal issue with one of my friends in attendance, and I honestly wondered if this friendship was going to survive the pandemic. (More on that in a future essay.) I went home, slept, woke up on Monday morning less tired, and had breakfast with my family.
In the afternoon, a nephew who lived next door called. He had been feeling under the weather, so he had booked a home service RT-PCR test; did I want to be tested, too? Sure, I thought, since they’re there.
I got the very first swab test of my life—it’s not as bad as that, really—and even did a 45-minute walk-at-home workout after that. I didn’t give the swab test a second thought. I was more worried about my mood; still low, I popped a pill that my psychiatrist had prescribed to stop any possible bipolar episode in its tracks. I hadn’t taken one in a few months, but this time I thought I needed it.
In fact, I first suspected an adjustment to the medicine when I woke up the next morning, Tuesday, with a bad headache. I still managed to do some work after lunch, however, and that was what I was doing when the nephew called to tell me that three of us in our family compound of neighboring houses had tested positive for Covid-19, because we did eat meals together frequently—and usually dropped our masks.
I broke the news to friends. I apologized, and repeatedly emphasized that I had no idea. Two of them were living with senior parents
In our chat group I broke the news to the friends I had met up with. I apologized, and repeatedly emphasized that I had no idea. Two of them were living with senior parents, and understandably panicked. In fact, in a private message, one of them said, “I’m sure it was unintentional. But if you had symptoms, you really should have told us so we could have canceled the lunch!” Which was the problem—nothing was happening, so what was I supposed to say? As it turned out, I infected one friend and the househelp of the friend who hosted the get-together.
As soon as I learned I was sick, after messaging my friends, I first called my veterinarian (yup) to ask if I could infect my dogs, who sleep with me. There have been recorded cases of dogs with Covid-19, but none has been recorded locally; in fact, dogs already get a vaccination for a different strain of coronavirus. Whatever the case, I was advised to sanitize my hands, wear a mask around them, refrain from kissing my dogs (a huge sacrifice), and keep our room well-ventilated (open windows with no aircon and just a fan, and the cool weather helped). They refused to leave my side, anyway.
Only then did I call a doctor for myself. Cardiologist Raffy Castillo writes a medical column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Lifestyle, and has written extensively about the positive results of using melatonin on Covid-19 patients during medical trials he has been involved in at his home base, Manila Doctors Hospital.
Dr. C immediately put me on a protocol of 27 mg of melatonin—that’s nine capsules, as the average melatonin capsule is only 3 mg. Plus, I gulped down 2,000 mg of vitamin C, 100 mg of zinc, 2000 i.u. of vitamin D, and copious amounts of fresh salabat. I also checked my temperature and oxygen saturation (with a finger pulse oximeter) every four hours. I isolated completely except for my househelp Dang, who was already on vitamin C; I just upped her dose and added zinc and D, and on her own, she would inhale the steam of hot water with salt (the local practice of suob) every day.
Dang took care of me, wearing a mask, face shield, and gloves, as the symptoms began to appear. My headache persisted, so Dr C also put me on paracetamol every four hours. My body ached all over; in fact, it felt like a bad case of the flu, with one day when I almost completely lost my senses of smell and taste. I could still taste salt and sugar, but little else, and I could smell nothing, even alcohol, unless I put the bottle right under my nose. Dang sterilized our little two-room set-up every day.
The guards asked me to park the car, and later asked me where the patient was. I said, “Ako,” which surprised them
When my fever stayed at 38.1 after a whole day, by Thursday, Dr. C asked me to get a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia, and a blood test. My sister-in-law’s niece, a doctor in residence, waited for me in the nearby public hospital, where I drove myself (because I could). I was expected, but I guess the Emergency Room guards didn’t expect a patient to drive herself up; they asked me to park the car, and later asked me where the patient was. I said, “Ako,” which surprised them. I knew I wasn’t in the pink of health when walking the 150 meters from my parking slot to the ER left me slightly winded. Thank God my x-ray was clear, and the blood test, Dr C said, indicated that I needed more liquids, but my immune cells were putting up a good fight.
Dr C also kicked up my melatonin to a daunting 24 capsules (72 mg) a day for a week, which drove me to do some research (when I wasn’t sleeping nine-hour stretches). It turns out this substance, which the body naturally generates, may have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, other than setting your Circadian rhythm straight. Still, as I told my infected friends as a caveat after I shared my medication, it’s not standard treatment, but it wouldn’t hurt to try it.
I also pushed myself to do some yoga poses, since I’m a long-time practitioner and used the practice to help me recover faster from another C, cancer, eight years ago. I had also seen an American Covid nurse demonstrate a modified version of Adho Mukha Svanasana or downward dog (because he didn’t know what it was) in a YouTube video, because you don’t want the phlegm to settle at the bottom of your lungs, he said.
I did that pose, plus another called Viparita Dandasana (inverted staff pose) on a chair, and sitting poses that pushed my chest forward and opened the lungs on all sides. And I also did Pranayama (breathwork) twice a day, often while sitting in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes. Amazingly, my dear Yaya Dang remained healthy and still tested negative, even after the ordeal.
I didn’t worry too much about not recovering, actually; I survived chemotherapy, and I knew I was strong enough for this. For good measure, for a few days, I popped the much-vaunted Chinese Covid medicine, Lianhua Qingwek Jiaonang, which a Chinese friend sent me, as supervised by my acupuncturist, Dr. Ed Concepcion—to regulate any residual heat, as he said.
What gave me sleepless nights and a few crying fits, however, was waiting for my friends’ test results. It’s the guilt that can kill you, really. Cancer and depression are illnesses you can bear yourself. Unfortunately, a virus is also a social problem, something deniers and idiots who refuse to wear masks tend to forget. You can give the virus to other people, as I did.
Even if everybody else was not wearing a mask that Sunday, I still bear the burden of the offense, simply because I brought Covid-19 there. How do you argue with the friend who thinks you should have said something? And if anything happened to her senior parents, how was I supposed to live with myself?
It didn’t end there. After we were more or less out of the woods, the other friend living with a senior parent asked if she could ask some honest questions about some of my decisions, which caught me off-guard. Why did I not tell them earlier, when I just had the test, for example? It could have bought them a little more time to isolate, and thus expose less people. She was right; the problem was, like many others, I never thought it would happen to me. And because of my assumptions, my actions were scrutinized, and I came out looking negligent—which saddened me.
I was aghast; it felt like the bubonic plague, when sick people were literally driven out of town
The two friends with senior housemates tested negative, as did the father of one friend. The friend who tested positive and the househelp of the hostess got better. I made my own request: I asked to lie low for a while, because frankly, I’m still traumatized by the mental strain of having potentially endangered a few older people—and the apparently very real possibility that I would not have been forgiven if that happened. I can’t blame them; who knows how I would have reacted in their shoes?
Am I putting the cart before the horse? Like I’ve realized more and more, that’s one double-edged product of the quarantine life: a whole lot more honesty, really. So, I hope this friendship survives this pandemic.
As a last word: I posted about being sick on Facebook and recovering fully, because I don’t like hiding things—and got the shock of my life when friends and relatives messaged me about having been ill themselves, and the deplorable treatment they got from people because of it.
I was aghast; it felt like the bubonic plague, or the leprosy of biblical times, when sick people were literally driven out of town. One friend wrote about how her neighbors literally shut their doors whenever they walked past. Another weepily recounted on the phone how her husband’s kin refused even to call when he was in the hospital, like the virus could travel through the phone.
As much as Filipinos pride themselves in being modern and cosmopolitan, as we like to say more pointedly in Tagalog, marami pa rin tanga—the small-minded and parochial for whom social good is an alien concept. Educating and protecting yourself is not the same as being inhumane and lacking compassion. I would understand someone taking seemingly anti-social precautions if they live with seniors or children, and telling you so; dead silence, however, is what the cruel and the pea-brained resort to.
Getting Covid-19 doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Discriminating against the sick means you most certainly, absolutely are.