It started on Wednesday evening. The worrying.
The same worry we've all felt, countless times since last February.
It was just a sore throat. But was it just that? Or was it, you know, the other thing?
Any decent apocalypse movie opens with those harbingers of doom, a series of events in the opening 20 minutes to get you warmed up for what's to come: a TV report in the background about overwhelmed hospitals, a local councillor telling city residents they have no need to panic, nose-to-tail traffic jams as the same residents try to flee the city.
My omens were less dramatic, but still there. National Spanish press were reporting the incident rate for the under-40s—still waiting for their first round of vaccines—was rising dramatically. Bodhi's nursery closed because a carer tested positive. A friend's restaurant closed too, after one of their chefs called in sick.
So on Thursday afternoon, as I lay down in a quiet room to escape the cacophony of the outside world and to seek relief—from muscle pains, headaches, a sensitivity to light—I realised that yes, this might be Covid.
I tried to get a test at the local doctors on Friday. No dice. The public testing system was beginning to collapse under the pressure: a rickety wooden shed, finally overwhelmed by a relentless storm. They told me they could see me on Monday, and to expect a result 24 hours after that. Too long to wait. I went to a private clinic, paid to get the 8 hour turnaround. Sent home with a piece of paper and a QR code to scan for results. Still hoping for the best.
The best was not forthcoming. Presence detected. Positive.
Fuck. I retraced my steps. Who had I seen? Who did we need to tell?
One immediate task was to cancel our holiday. We were due to fly out to Mallorca in 5 days. Our first vacation in almost 20 months. That dream was over, at least for now. We cancelled old plans and began making new, confined ones. I would self-isolate in the spare bedroom. Wearing a mask whenever I needed to use the bathroom. My wife would leave food on a plastic yellow IKEA stool outside the room, knocking the door to let me know it was there to eat, and asking if I needed anything, before heading back to other side of the apartment.
She went for her test. We anxiously waited for results. If she was positive too, the whole house would need to lock down. If not—and if the kids got the all clear—they'd be able to go on with life a little more normal than I would.
Thankfully, it’s only me.
We told Padme that Friday night. She was scared. How could she not be? She'd spent a quarter of her life being told to do everything she can to stop this thing: by her parents, her teachers, by the dozens of signs she sees on buses and in shop windows everyday.
And now, here it was. In her home. And in her dad.
"I don't want you to have coronavirus" she told me, through tears.
We grow up believing our parents are invincible. We assert the relative power of our fathers to other kids in the playground: “my dad is stronger that your dad.” But as you get older, you realise it isn't the case. They're as vulnerable as we are. And there's a line that gets crossed, somewhere in your future—or a line that might already be in your past—where you start caring for them more than they're caring for you.
Thankfully, that line is far away for Padme.
I told her it'd be OK. That I was feeling fine.
Tired, and in pain. But fine.
This morning I woke with a pain in my lower back that won't shift, forcing me to hunch over like an old man, a reminder of an operation I had in my twenties. Yesterday it was my calves, reigniting memories of a rare blood disorder from my teens—when my legs blew up to twice their size, and the trainee doctors of Manchester Royal Infirmary would come by with their clipboards and inquisitive looks, finally seeing it outside of a textbook.
It feels like this virus knows me—my medical history, each one of my aches, every mishap I’ve had. It's in there, a silent cartographer, mapping out my weak points. Every day I wake to a different set of symptoms, a roll of the Covid dice, as it decides where it wants to hurt me today. My friend Katie, self-isolating herself, said "It's like those velociraptors, stuck in their pen, systematically testing me for weaknesses".
My only defences now are water, ibuprofren and rest.
So here I am. Resting. But trying to keep my mind occupied. Dividing my time between reading, watching, listening and writing—when I can muster up the energy. I'm working my way through David Sedaris' Masterclass, finding solace as one of my favourite writers tells me "anytime something bad happens I think 'I'm so glad I'm a writer, because I can use this.'" How very Stoic.
As I’m watching, David’s lesson is interrupted by a FaceTime call from the other side of the house. It’s Sejal, calling to show me that Bodhi has christened his new whale-shaped potty. “I did a wee-wee!” he bellowed.
I experience this moment the same way so many of our extended family members have done over the last 18 months. Through a screen. Together, but apart. Over the last few days Padme's pink cat-shaped walkie-talkies—a Christmas present from her Masi—have started to come into their own. She keeps me updated with what's happening, what's for lunch, whether her little brother is behaving or not. I’m sure I’ll be getting regular potty updates through them soon.
Every day there’s stream of messages from friends. "How are you feeling?" they ask.
"Feeling like a big ol' motherfucking duffel bag of shit," I consider replying.
Instead I tell them "I'm not great, but could be a lot worse."
Honestly? I'm exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. To get Covid 5 days after my first vaccination. After a year and a half of being so careful. Tripping over my own shoelace on the final stretch of an ultra marathon.
In the fog of those early pandemic days a video did the rounds. It explained most soldiers killed on the frontlines of World War 2 didn't die heroically going over the top, or attacked by planes from above. They died because of boredom. Complacency. They'd been stuck in the trenches for months, and let their concentration lapse—for just a moment—lighting a cigarette and popping their head a fraction too far above the parapet.
That's what I did. Got used to the way things are. Got comfortable reading about increasing vaccination percentages, reduced number of hospitalisations, all those signs that we're coming to the end of this whole thing.
And now I'm stuck in this room. My wife has 3 of us to look after, carrying the weight of it all, while I lie here and hope this is a week-long affair and the spectre of long Covid won't linger for months to come. 10 days of isolation isn't a long time, in the light of eternity. Last February we were locked down for seven weeks—and kids weren't allowed to leave the house. At all. FOR SEVEN WEEKS. We did everything we could to keep them busy. Padme learned to skateboard up and down the hallway. Bodhi became insanely proficient on the Micro scooter: to this day people stop us in the street to ask how old he is, flabbergasted at the skills of a 2 year old: “que rapido” and in such control.
One thing that kept us going back then was painting our windows. Sejal ordered a set of glass-friendly markers and we went to work making murals. There was the stained glass one that kept Padme busy for the best part of a week. In the spare room where I currently reside, she painted a rainbow triptic. Last year, watching an outside world that we could see, but not touch, you'd see all kinds of rainbows—people made banners, drew posters, or, like us, painted their windows—as a sign of solidarity.
"Todo irá bien" they would write alongside it.
“Everything is going to be OK.”
This was a good way to keep my mind busy, but the Covid brain fog is real, and I’m tired, so that’s it for this week. I like to sneak some cultural easter eggs in every essay, this week contains probably the geekiest one yet. Let me know if you spot it.
And let me know what you thought of this week’s issue:
Branding—as always—by Selman Design. Tony Johnson’s illustration this week cheered me up no end. Hopefully I’ll be back to fighting fit by next Tuesday. I’ll be allowed outside by then, at the very least. Stay safe, get vaccinated and enjoy the football. I’ll see you all on the other side.