Rare. In an unusual departure from music I’m writing about an experience that fits snugly into the life-altering mould. It also explains that the gap between my last post and this next one is not on account of the inconsistency that I had amply displayed in the past.
I tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks back. What seemed a mild infection – a soon-demolished, lulling fallacy that had been bolstered by the fact that I had taken my first dose of the vaccine a few weeks before that – turned in a few days to something more desperate with oxygen saturation dropping quickly in concert with an increase in fever. I had to be hospitalised. I have spent long stints in hospitals since I was very young but in caring for others. This was the first time that I had to be admitted, and that with a disease that ensures none of my people could be with me. A rather telling commentary and one that hasn’t failed to break my face with laughter.
Life is colourful for sure but even then red must be dominant considering the rich vein of irony that runs through it.
The few people who have some idea of how I lead my life are at a loss to understand how I came down with this, as I am too. Mine has for long been a life that is for the most part asocial, almost reclusive. I’m more likely to be found watching foxes and snakes and owls at a distance than in the company of people. Obviously something slipped through and there’s not anything to be done about that. If someone like that can get it, then no one is exempt from it. Being careful cannot be stressed enough; not just for yourself but for those around you, strangers and friends alike. But there’s a far more important thing. I did not dwell on the question of how I got it; the key for me has been how to get out of it. For all my brooding moodiness I am possessed by a sharp sense of humour the blade of which doesn’t spare even me in carving a wide grin. And that is an essential tool in fighting back a disease that takes perhaps an even greater toll on your mind than on your body. You let your mind down, it is sure to drop your body down in turn.
An year back, I had volunteered over 3 days of long hours in crowded, high-risk localities working with those communities in providing supplies but most importantly, information at a time when panic, confusion, ignorance ran rampant apace with the spread of the virus. One year later, I’ve had my first dose of vaccination, kept myself mostly isolated, indiscriminately sprayed everything in sight with sanitiser and boom! I land in hospital with the infection 😂 I can’t help but laugh at the edgy humour of it.
It is not as if I was divested of my hours of bleakness. One night and the following morning had me mired in extreme despair. A day that had started with significant improvement suddenly spiralled down rapidly to extreme fever and breathlessness with not even a few minutes of sleep’s oblivion granted. I found my upliftment and salvation then in the other patient with whom I shared the room.
Illness is not a crime. And a person with illness is not abhorrent.
One can understand the misery of it. My roomie in the hospital was an elderly lady who was in quite bad condition; she had had lung damage before she was admitted to the hospital and was on oxygen support. She seemed a tough bird, understood her situation, did all that was required with diligence and will. She had a mind of her own but that did not make her a difficult, uncooperative person; she just was firm with what needed to be done and that’s a good thing. She was a catalyst in my getting better with her actions and her words. Whenever I had a terrible coughing bout, she would ring for the nurse to come by me even if it was way late in the night. She was not annoyed by my coughing; she only showed me kindness and concern. She did tell me that I needed to be firm in seeking help from the nurses; I was not asking for a favour when I did that. Yet despite her obvious resilience, she was coming apart at one point. She broke down with tiredness both physical and mental one day, the same day that saw me reach the depth of my own plunge. She was talking to a kind doctor who had finished examining her about the sense of guilt that had been built up in her, that somehow this illness was all her doing. “Sickness is not a crime” she cried. Guilt! Guilt at falling prey to a rampant virus causing havoc without discrimination! This is something that I have seen and heard right through the pandemic; people not afflicted by the disease either overtly or subtly instilling a corrosive sense of guilt into those who have fallen to it, that they are lesser people as a result. It’s the kind of sick thoughtlessness that places blame on others by mean-mindedly calling this the China virus, the UK variant, the India strain. The greater sickness afflicting us is the lack of empathy. This particular incident brought home the fact to me with greater intensity. Her misery shook me out of my own. After the doctor left, I talked to her through the screen separating our beds. I told her how her kindness, words and considerate action had helped me cope. This illness affects the mind as much as the body. She seemed a strong person and so I coaxed her to draw on that and think of the good things that are part of her life. I think that talk helped her as much as what she had done did for me. I think both of us learnt from each other. At times like these, while the love of our friends keeps us afloat, it is perhaps the empathy and caring of strangers that impacts us more because it is unaffected and unexpected; that gives us the sharp boost to get to shore. We were discharged from hospital the same day, she a few hours earlier than I. What I felt to see her go then with a smile on her face was a rare, unfettered joy. I fervently hope she never has to visit a hospital again in what remains of her life.
There’s such a thing as a COVID smell.
It is the smell of misery and despair and it is distinct. Honestly I do not know if it is the disease itself or the medication that brings it on. It insidiously penetrates the air, the blanket, the food, even the water you drink. COVID supposedly suspends your sense of smell and taste, at least in most cases. If it spares you the sickening smell that pervaded my nose, then it’s perhaps not a bad thing. The most definitive sign that I was coming out of the disease was the reduction and final disappearance of that indescribably wretched smell. Then again, it might just have been just in my mind because this disease does as much damage to your mind as it does to your body.
I have travelled extensively and indefatigably. But this is one BAD TRIP.
There were long periods of time when I was ill that I was hallucinating; strange images that without being corporeally present were yet strangely imbued with a realness that was disconcerting. Blurred lack of distinction between my very reassuringly stable bed and a bobbing boat all out at sea. I’ve had many experiences, many surreal, in my 51 years of living but nothing quite like this. No seconds please; I’ll pass.
Hey Brother! Where You Bound?Supertramp
It happened. There’s nothing I could do to change that. There was a real fear at a point in time that I was in deep trouble with my fever shooting up to a rage and oxygen saturation plummeting dangerously. All I can do is be grateful that it wasn’t worse than what it turned out to be. And move forward. I’m fortunate for the excellent care that I received, the words and help that I got from my wife and the very few other friends that I had let know, and the warmth and kindness of a stranger. I’m also unabashedly thankful to myself for staying positive and for dealing with this the way I’ve relished living my life, dispatching problems – a problem can go away only by its solving, not by brooding and wishing it away. I still have some way and time to go before I get back to normal; for now I struggle even with walking a bit. But I know that I will get there. In an year that I’ve had to shut down my cherished music record label and have struggled with dealing with its aftermath, this has put the fight back into me and returned me to valuing the things that I have going for me, that are the best part of me. I feel rather like Van Gogh in Irving Stone’s book on him; filled up with lust for life.