As I pause in the middle of organising my self-isolation to acknowledge that I’m finally acquainted with the most famed of viruses, it occurs to me.
Covid is exclusively discussed either in a clinical manner, as a contributor to extreme tragedy, or as some absurd conspiracy. One rarely comes across the term in off-handed commentaries, such as:
‘What did you get up to over the holidays?’
‘Oh well, I had covid, made some sourdough, and did my taxes.’
It’s more common to encounter covid – the verbal instrument – as a heavy character, one which shuffles its weight arduously through a story, knowing full well it cannot be upstaged by a lighter, more fashionable topic.
I have a few thoughts as to why that is.
For people whose job it is to influence the masses, emphasising tragedy and urgency makes public health more effective; this group includes doctors, nurses, community leaders, and politicians that have outgrown their ‘I shake hands with everybody’ phase (also known as the Boris Johnson March 2020 level of idiocy.)
Then, there’s the grief motive. Whether one has experienced bereavement first-hand, or people do not wish to offend the aforementioned, there is a social cost to trivialising the novel coronavirus. At best, you appear insensitive. At worst, you become associated with the ‘it’s just a flu’ crowd and Youtube starts recommending the Bill Gates incriminating evidence that the CIA doesn’t want you to know.
However, on my now fifth symptomatic day of covid-19, I’ve been granted a creative license. I am now up close and personal with the greatest celebrity the medical world has ever seen. I no longer have to insert disclaimers emphasising the realness and seriousness of the disease if I wish to spew anecdotes.
Because I’m covid-positive and possess the disposition to relate my housebound affairs.
Behold my self-isolation chronicles.
The stages of grief
Or: day 1 of knowing I have covid because it was too shy to interact with previous Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) in a positive manner.
I see the T line forming as soon as the strip turns pink on the LFT. The stages of grief commence.
First, deny to self that it’s the T line; it must be the C line. No, it’s the T line.
Next, deny that you’re taking the test; you must be hallucinating. No, you are definitely taking the test.
Then, deny that two lines mean a positive result; after all, it’s one of those weird tests that ask only for a nose swab (I mean, if you’re gonna have a cavity fetish, may as well swab the throat too, am I right?) No, two lines definitely mean positive.
Finally, deny that tests are any good anyway and become a conspiracy theorist. No, we don’t like those people.
Denial took up four stages in itself, so I proceed directly to acceptance.
Out of all the people that covid could have infected, it chose me that day (sometime between December 30th, 2021 and January 4th, 2022, according to gov.uk.)
Notice that I write covid with a non-capital c. Yeah, we’re at that level.
I’ve been chosen.
No one tells you how long it takes to logistically withdraw from public life in order to self-isolate – but I shall.
Firstly, how does one prioritise the people that should know about the illness?
Take, for instance, family and friends: if they’ve not seen me in over two weeks and they already know I have flu-like symptoms, how would they benefit from ascertaining the viral genome? Seems like a meaningless conversation to have, from a rationalistic perspective.
What about the venues I’ve patronised over the past week? They’ll be notified by Test and Trace once my PCR result comes back anyway, and is it even my legal obligation to tell them?
Finally, cancellation emails to shows I was meant to see this week. These hurt the most. Not because I’ve been looking forward to them, but because they were free. And nothing tastes or feels as good. As. Something. That’s. Free.
I reason that I should start with my legal duties and I book a follow-up PCR test. The centre at the end of the road has an opening in 15 minutes. Before I leave, I text my neighbour to ask them to feed the stray cat. I disinfect the box of cat food and leave it in the lobby on my way out.
Nothing to say about the PCR apart from how it’s a disgusting process that makes me gag, sneeze, and weep every time (I retract my statement re: cavity fetishes, above.)
I emotionally prepare myself for self-isolation by whatsapping about 10 different people – only two of whom I’ve recently seen face-to-face. Everyone else should be made aware that I’m hosting a raging serial killer in my saliva, mucus, and other bodily fluids, so I can look forward to messages enquiring about my living status in a couple of weeks’ time.
Cancellation emails get sloppy seconds, even though I’m booked for two back-to-back shows in five hours. This is because writing an email to a box office employee takes more time and effort than an ‘I have covid’ text. Should my chest suddenly tighten and I start gasping for air, it’s more important that those dearest to me are marginally less shocked about my cause of death, than ensuring the local theatre is prepared for an additional empty seat in an audience of 20.
Rescheduling critical life events, such as an exam I’m meant to sit in two days, comes last. Don’t ask me why. If you think things make inherent sense, go back to 2019.
By lunchtime, I head to my stash of ibuprofen and am met with one final tablet. I’m reminded of those early 2020 pandemic days when treating covid symptoms with ibuprofen was a cause for debate. I can’t be bothered to google it, so I make a mental note to seek out paracetamol.
This, and the fact that my food supplies will need replenishing, bring about the subsequent challenge: self-isolation delivery.
Now, a couple of people, somewhat adjacent to my area, have already offered to deliver goods to my front door. However, asking people for help triggers unresolved trauma, so I decide to make things hard for myself. I head to Uber Eats.
Uber Eats does not have any supermarkets that offer medicine. They should flag this on the government website, if you ask me.
Deliveroo’s supermarkets do, but a 55p box of 16 paracetamol tablets costs over 5 pounds including delivery fee, service fee, small order fee, and bag fee.
After some doomscrolling, I eventually order food, using Uber Eats’ 40% discount on groceries. A neighbour who owes me for catsitting services is summoned to drop off medicine with zero delivery fees, which triggers next to no trauma, courtesy of the tit-for-tat principle.
And Schrödinger’s cat
I said I’d tell you how long self-isolation logistics take.
Registering your LFT result, booking and taking a follow-up PCR test, broadcasting your infection status to contacts, and cancelling and rescheduling upcoming events takes about two hours.
Re-stocking food and medical supplies, including the comparative analysis of financial and psychological factors, shouldn’t take more than an hour – or, if you’re like me and like to browse three different Sainsbury’s for the most potent Veganuary section, two to three hours.
Now, by this point, I’ve mostly kept it together. I’ve even snuck in a couple of hours on Zoom with a friend who clearly doesn’t have anything better to do than to hear me dissect my top books, films, and plays of 2021. When they, understandably, go back to their own life, I have my first proper moment alone with covid.
You must understand, it is now a part of me. And I, a part of it. I am its host. Try getting rid of a passed-out guest when your house party finishes at 4 am, I ask you. You can’t. You can’t do it.
And so it is with me and covid.
I have been staring at my own mortality since noticing that, next to the thick, red T line on the LFT, lay the superfluous remainder of my mucus sample, foamed up like a million tiny soap bubbles planning to take over the world.
For four whole days, I thought I had a cold. Life stretched indefinitely, my obsession with unfinished projects felt justified, and the pandemic was something that occurred outside of me.
Now, I am the pandemic.
I carry with me the possibility of rapid deterioration and death in a remote hospital ward without ever seeing my favourite faces in the world again. This is not something I was considering when I woke up in a pool of sweat several nights ago.
But with covid comes a new perspective on mortality. I am simultaneously more alive and closer to death.
I am Schrödinger’s self-isolated cat. If I were to stop replying to messages and calls, and people weren’t allowed to enter my apartment, how would the world know whether I’m dead or alive? (For experiment consistency, I would also be hiding under the bed and the blinds would be drawn.)
When the Uber Eats delivery finally arrives, I realise I forgot to order shower gel and decide to use the regular soap, because delivery fees are absolute shit.
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