By the third morning I was sitting by the door to the veranda sunning myself, wearing just a pair of dark glasses and not much else. There were a few leaves that may have shielded me. Or not.
“I lost my taste,” I texted a friend.
“Wow, you finally went to bed with someone, just anyone?” she asked.
Four people sent me several kilos of bananas. “So many pilings of saging. I can now have a piging of saging,” I thought. “May piging ng piling ng saging,” I sang.
I can look back at the funny moments and smile now, but it wasn’t funny being a single person battling COVID-19.
I have had my two jabs, courtesy of my office. But on September 7, I tested positive for COVID-19. I usually have my light bulb moments in the shower, but this time it was an alert to a sign that I may have the virus: I was not smelling the scent of the hot oil wax in my hair. I grabbed the bath soap and realized I could smell it very faintly. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the strongest smell, it was only a 2.
Honesty is the best policy, always
I was just starting a two-week break from work. I planned to drive out of town, be near the sea. I work from home and usually leave the house just once a week, either to meet a friend or to go to church. The last time I went out was when I went to the office to get my flu vaccine, followed by a brief side trip to a grocery store.
I called the office and informed the clinic and a few of my colleagues. Next, I called the manager of the condo where I live.
I am a single person living in Manila; my friends and officemates are my family. Despite this, I kept the number of people in the know to a minimum since almost every family was already dealing with COVID death and stress. Being alone has never been this solitary, I thought.
Love thy neighbor
In a matter of hours, an office friend got me an appointment for a swab test at home. But first, a rapid test confirmed—in minutes—that I was COVID positive. The swab test, also positive, arrived the following morning.
I called my neighbor to inform her and her family. One of the things I have learned from decades of living alone was to always be on good terms with neighbors. I have something for them every now and then, like fruits or vegetables from out-of-town trips.
The condo guards and staff, I have managed to stay on their good side by having warm food delivered to them during rainy days and halo-halo when summer heat was harshest. During the two weeks COVID-19 had me in isolation, they handled the deliveries and my garbage.
I was miserable, yet it felt like Christmas. On the first day my front door had three bags of fruits and vitamins and medicines, an oximeter, and a thermometer. Another friend sent me an Amazon gift card so I could download books to my Kindle.
Save for a few years, I have been on my own since I was a kid. I was sent to live temporarily with a godmother when I was five. After that, it was a succession of relatives’ homes until I dropped out of college in my freshman year and began working as a production assistant in a radio station.
But nothing kicked me in the gut with alone-ness like COVID.
The night after testing positive, I woke up at 2:45 a.m. with my heart racing, my body trembling. I left my bed and went to the veranda where Typhoon Jolina was busy showing off the power of her wind and rain.
My cats Hidey and Toothless were awake and wary, sensing something was off. The thought of being taken to the hospital and leaving them alone—possibly unfed for days—made my mind panic. They are rescues and are skittish around other people. They are notorious patients to their vets. I thought, I need to be alive to care for them as long as I can, I can’t leave them just yet.
Amid the trembling, I decided to be mentally strong to survive. I needed to devise a battle plan, a routine, that would take me to the finish line, alive.
I turned on my meditation app to calm myself, to bring my heart rate down. I did back-to-back-to-back meditation sessions. I prayed and surrendered. I was calmed and fell asleep.
Lessons from Flavier
The office doctor prescribed medicines via Zoom. I made a schedule for the medicines and vitamins I needed to take and followed it to the minute. I had no appetite and could not bring myself to cook the first three days so I ate two or three bananas or a slice of bread whenever I needed to take my medicines.
I knew my body was developing a cough, so I did what the late Senator Juan Flavier always told us Senate reporters: just drink plenty of warm water. I downed a tall mug almost every hour.
The sun shone faintly one morning. I stripped to soak up but remembered my eyes were light-sensitive. I grabbed my shades and sat by the door near the veranda. A naked woman with shades. I apologize to whoever saw me; I swear I was fighting for my life. Peace!
My body was telling me what it needed. I craved basil and spinach, so I ordered salad every day. The past few weeks, I have been eating mostly food that did not previously have a pulse.
By the fourth day, I was devoting time to breathing exercises to expel phlegm and help strengthen my lungs. Cats hate sneezing and coughing humans, and Hidey and Toothless are no exceptions. They glared at me, meowed, then hid under the bed.
I meditated frequently every day. My reading and television menu were all fluffy. I read light articles. I watched “Wheel of Fortune,” Studio Ghibli movies, “Big Bang Theory,” “How I Met Your Mother.”
Arrogance and humility
I am an Ilocana and we, as you know, must clean the house every morning. I could not sweep in one sweep. My unit is not big, but I had to section my cleaning. One bedroom. Rest. The other bedroom. Rest. The clean house and small tasks I finished boosted my courage.
Since last year, I have been meeting my quota of 10,000 steps a day by doing various exercises. I think this helped me a lot. I was doing jumping jacks the day before I tested positive.
Two days after testing positive, the condo manager called and tried to persuade me to have someone stay with me. His concern was grounded on a recent case where a patient, living alone, was found unconscious due to having a low oxygen level. I told him I will give him an update every morning, the same update I send the office.
Hours later, I did what I dreaded to do: pack a bag for a possible hospital stay. Typing that sentence brings back the mind-numbing fear of that moment. But there was also that resolve, that decision, that I would do the best I can to fight.
“You are lucky you have mild symptoms,” a friend told me. That sentence has no value to a patient still in the beginning or in the middle of the fight, unsure how one’s health will fare. COVID is unkind, we do not know how it will progress. I only felt confident after I got my negative test result 17 days after testing positive.
But there was also gratefulness and humility when, a week after testing positive and the cough being mild and already dissipating, I unpacked the bag I readied for that possible trip to the hospital. I thought having it sitting around did not embrace the gift of healing I was being given, and it made me cry. It still does.
I thank my friends and everyone who were part of the journey. The experience made me realize that as a single person, I should put my affairs in order and be at the ready. It made me reevaluate my life and what I want to do, or be, next.
It also made me believe that we all benefit from the kindness we give and even more from the kindness we do not deserve.
Jaileen F. Jimeno is a journalist with GMA Network. She tested negative for COVID-19 on September 24. She went to church and went biking that same day.