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I am tired and extremely disoriented: How I got the Chinese virus and lived to tell the tale

Surviving Chinese coronavirus on a cocktail of guilt, panic, nightmares and hope.

Disclaimer: Below is my personal experience with COVID. Your symptoms, diagnosis could be different. Please consult a doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. Do not self-medicate. Also, most of this is light-hearted and people mentioned in this post, my family, friends, colleagues and doctors have been nothing but absolutely sweet and supportive as I lost my mind bit by bit through two weeks of torture.

On April 3, 2021, I woke up with slight headache and sore throat. I had just come back from Patna to Ahmedabad on 30th March and attributed it to season change and seasonal flu. People do tend to fall ill during this time as we transition from winter to summer (hello, in Gujarat we do not have spring as a season in reality).

When I travelled to Patna, there were fewer active cases in Bihar than there were in Ahmedabad alone. The ‘second wave’ was yet to hit. It was there only in Maharashtra, where even ‘first wave’ hadn’t gone away and in Kerala, which has had multiple such ‘waves’. Rest of the country was happily oblivious to the monster mutating in our backyard.

Anyway, on 3rd April, at around 1 PM, my mom accidentally touched my elbow and I felt her fingers were very cold. Hmm, that’s odd, I thought. I checked my temperature. It showed 100 degrees fever.

Usually when I get even slight fever, I start feeling uneasy. You know, the general ‘I don’t think I feel too good’ feeling one has with fever. Here, I felt nothing. I wouldn’t have checked my temperature if I didn’t feel my mom’s fingers cold. I took a Crocin.

Two hours later, I checked my temperature again. Not only I had not broken my fever but I now had 101 fever. I was slightly alarmed. I popped in another paracetamol. After three hours, my fever still hadn’t broken. As morbid humour aficionado, I messaged my boss, Rahul Roushan that I have COVID-like symptoms and whether he thinks I am going to die. He replied in affirmation. (please note, this is regular banter and we are not really that hateful towards each other.)

By 4 PM, I was still at 101 fever. Mom got me an old dupatta which I soaked in water and put on my forehead like a triple-layered hijab. I knew something wasn’t right. I informed my team that I will log in to work the next day but I have fever and sore throat and may take longer breaks. By 7 PM my fever came down to 100. I again took one paracetamol before sleeping. I slept like a log and had to struggle to wake up on time on Sunday.

All this while, I never ‘felt’ like I had fever. Even with 101 fever, I felt absolutely normal. Under normal circumstances I would not have bothered checking my temperature, I felt that normal.

Except, any kind of physical movement would make me want to take deep breaths. Walking 5 steps would make me breath heavily.

I have a rare neurological disorder. Hemifacial spasms. Every time a blood vessel forms a loop and touches my fifth cranial nerve, I get a facial spasm which pulls my face on one side (right side) and goes all loopy. It appears like I have a paralysis stroke, but in about 30-40 seconds it becomes normal. It is not life threatening but only ‘cure’ is mood stabilisers which are prescribed for bipolar disorders. Or botox (or surgery).

Mood stabilisers made me want to act on my impulses and I often thought of acting upon risky behaviour like jumping off the roof to see ‘how it feels’ or how would I feel if I let the burning matchstick burn all the way to my fingers. Yea, so I panicked and stopped those medicines. I’d rather live with spasms than go insane.

So, the thing is, many times when I yawn or laugh loudly or I have strong emotions, I get a spasm. COVID increased my spasms because I was constantly taking very deep breaths, triggering my spasms. More on this later.

Sunday, April 4, 2021 I again woke up with 101 fever. By this time I had a feeling I had COVID. I was too tired to type and it was only 8 AM. I could not write quick article that morning. I spent most of the morning just making sure things are ok till my colleagues log in later in the day. I was hoping that by then, the fever would have subsided and it will be just a false alarm.

By 1, I still had 101 fever and I knew something was colossally wrong. I asked my father we should get me tested. My dad, the king of denials, told me everyone is testing positive (as if that is not a cause of concern) and I should start with primary medicine of paracetamol immediately. Now, my dad means well, but in times of such crisis, he tends to get into denial and get slightly dismissive. He had lost some of his closest friends to COVID just few months back, so it was not as if he was a COVID-denier. He just thought we’d sail through without catching the virus.

Anyway. We went to get the antigen test done at one of these booths set up by corporation. Except, it was Sunday and by that time, all booths had closed. Note that second wave crisis was yet to hit Gujarat. Not saying corporation got complacent, but the tests were down because cases were down.

We some how managed to find some place where the tests were being conducted and I finally got tested. 15 agonising minutes later, the corporation fellow told me I’m COVID positive.

Wow. Like a carousel all images flashed in my head trying to think where I might have caught the virus and sense of panic spread over. I informed my team that now that my antigen test has come positive, I’ve to get my RTPCR test done and well, I’m unavailable through the day mostly.

I informed my husband also, who took three hours to read my messages because he was napping. You see, even he had reached Delhi from Patna on 3rd April and was also tired.

That is when the panic set in. I must inform family in Patna that I got the virus so that they could monitor their symptoms (since we don’t know where I caught it) and that is yet another stressor as by this time the ‘second wave’ news are spreading and everyone is reading about only the worst. So now I am about to put dozens of people under stress and have possibly brought the virus home and put them on risk.

I also informed Rahul and Nupur about my testing positive and Rahul was excited that I was the first in team to catch it.

I went to the lab to get my RTPCR done and was told my results could come in 24 hours.

That night, despite incredible stress, I slept like a log. By 9, I was so sleepy I could crash on the sofa.

Monday, April 5, I woke up with my RTPCR results. COVID positive. Ct level 19. I don’t even know what that means. So I look up and start crying that it is I who put my parents at risk of catching the virus. I isolated myself in my room and locked myself.

I again logged in to work thinking it’ll help me from losing my mind. Once my colleague Sanghamitra logged in, I started taking it slow and after more colleagues like K Kashyap logged in I took an extended lunch break where I napped. I just did not have the strength.

Later in the day I informed Rahul and Nupur that I am taking rest of the week off. My fever was still not breaking and I was not sure if things are going to get worse with me.

I also suggested my husband that he should totally get married again if the virus takes me. I also sent recommendations which he immediately rejected with multiple angry emoji faces.

I started binge-watching ISIS-related videos. I know a lot more about ISIS bride Shamima Begum than perhaps her Bangladeshi father also knows about her. I also rewatched Caliphate on Netflix and consoled myself that at least I caught the virus in India and not in Syria where perhaps a bomb would’ve killed me first. I laughed internally at my morbid jokes.

By this time, the ‘second wave’ situation had started worsening across India. Devastating news from across India had started pouring in. I stuck to binge-watching ISIS brides. I was in isolation in my room, locked up. I got curious if you could put oxymeter on your toes and if it detects oxygen levels. It doesn’t.

Next day, I read news how in some place some ventilators or such medical equipments were being transported in vehicles which pick up trash. So that night, I dreamt I have 109 fever and I am being taken to civil hospital in one such vans. I woke up sweating at 3 AM and could not believe I am not in hospital.

This was also the first time I broke into a sweat after getting fever. After this, my fever did not cross 100 but I still had consistent fever for a week more.

On Wednesday, April 7, 4 days after initial symptoms showed up in me, I heard my mom coughing from downstairs. She had a cold too. My worst fears were about to get real. I put my parents at risk by bringing home the virus. The guilt was making me insane. I could not concentrate on anything. Mom dismissed her cold and cough with her usual spring allergies as she did not show fever over 100 for two days. However, she did start taking the medicines which were prescribed to me, without really letting me know. I must reiterate here that do not self-medicate. You are not a doctor, unless you are one.

I am in isolation, unaware of what is happening in the house and on day 5, I lost my sense of smell and taste. I could not taste the coffee in the morning. It was just sweet warm liquid. My food tasted extremely salty. No other taste I could register. And smell, obviously gone.

I thought my condition is worsening and sent more prospective bride options to my husband. I also thought maybe he could rehabilitate some former ISIS bride like Shamima Begum and sent him the suggestion. He finally told me that if the virus takes me, he will not marry again because one has been enough. Too bad, I thought.

Now, a deo I had ordered the previous week got delivered at this time and imagine spraying a deo but not being able to register the smell and you are not sure if you like it or you smell like chameli ka tel. The loss of smell and taste was most disorienting. We then got blood tests done to see if my condition has worsened. Thankfully it had not. I was just showing normal symptoms. Many people lost their sense of smell on 4th-5th day of initial symptoms.

No one tells you this otherwise. Most say that loss of smell is a symptom, but that it sets in on later part of infection, no one says.

And while I struggle with this, my mother continued to self-medicate with paracetamol and continued to go slightly mental and overdid the house cleaning. Now, she is diabetic. Twice in one week, her blood sugar levels dipped (I was not informed) because she was ‘worried about me’. She did not want to get tested because if she did come back positive, she did not want anyone to blame me for infecting her. The logic of moms.

Few days later we had a war of words where we got more family members involved just to get my parents in denial tested. I had no energy to explain why it is important to know whether you are infected so that we can take correct treatment. By this time I was also on the mend with my fever going and I have started feeling much better.

So finally, on 13th April, 10 days after I showed initial symptoms and about 4-5 days after my mom showed initial symptoms, we got tested again. My parents’ antigen test came back negative. But a day later, they tested positive in RTPCR.

Mom’s symptoms were waning but my dad has no symptoms. He was asymptomatic and continued to believe the test results were incorrect because ‘he did not feel it’. However, he did start taking medicines too in consultation with doctors.

Here, I must inform that both of them had taken their first dose of vaccine and were due with their second dose on the day their positive test results came. So, obviously, they did not get their second dose as advised by doctors.

Now, all three were COVID patients. I touched my mom for the first time in 10 days. That was my first human contact in 10 days. I cried a little. Few days later, my asymptomatic father developed symptoms and eventually lost his sense of smell too. Today, however, he was able to register the smell of sabzi my mom was cooking. So he is also on the mend. Mom’s also out of her 14-day period. We will all get tested again maybe after a week once the labs are less stressed. Or maybe not. Doctors say that you need not get negative certificate if symptoms are gone and it has been beyond 21 days.

Remember I told you about my spasms? Well, by now the spams have been so bad that my right side of face constantly feels heavy.

I am now off medicines because no fever, no other symptoms. I am on the mend. I resumed work from April 14. Sanghamitra, my colleague was extremely excited to know I hadn’t died. As were others. Dibakar, in the team was so nervous with all my morbid jokes I think I sent him down a terrible anxiety spiral. I hope he’s not too worried now that I am back yelling at him.

Some of my colleagues got to know I had covid *AFTER* I rejoined. This when I had been cracking morbid jokes all the time in our internal messaging app. I guess we’ve all seen so much death and destruction in past one year that we’ve just kind of become numb and are processing things as they come without registering most of them.

I still haven’t felt the ‘fatigue’ or ‘tiredness’ COVID patients talked about. I thought I got lucky. My smell was returning, slightly.

First two days were fine. I still had some residual medicine effect and didn’t feel anything out of ordinary.

Then, the fatigue hit. The brain fog everyone talks about, that hit. I am disoriented.

For the last one week, I find it really hard to type after first four hours of starting my work day. So if I start my day at 8, by 12/1, I am extremely tired. My speed comes down (and I have published articles on breaking news in 4 minute flat). And it is terrifying. What if I never gain back my speed, strength?

I take time processing multiple instructions. If there is a lot of information, I get so confused I am just not able to comprehend. By 3/4 PM typos and errors creep in my copies and messages and I am too exhausted to correct them. I am too guilty to admit that I am tired and I continue to work because I feel ashamed to come across as weak.

It is day 19 of my initial symptoms. I have an eye infection on right side. It could also be overstressed because of my spasms. My face gets distorted and my eye closes, lips, mouth gets pulled on one side. Some day if I get over my vulnerability I will share my own image and videos of when I get a spasm. Till then YouTube/Google, that’s a pretty accurate representation of my contorted face.

So my eye has constant discharges, my arms are tired, I take too long to process multiple complicated instructions and I can’t sleep. I am awake till 12:30/1 (I usually sleep by 10:30) and force myself to sleep because otherwise I will be up all night and not have mental agility to work the next day.

I again had dry cough in morning with slightly painful throat (like I had on 3rd April) and went into total panic mode. Apparently, this is normal ‘post-COVID recovery symptom’. Like, seriously, what a monster that country has created.

While me and my parents all had similar symptoms, we all have had them differently. I had 101 fever, mom had 100 while dad got fever 2 days after testing positive for COVID. My smell is still returning, mom’s returned in a day and dad’s is now returning after a week of no smell. Most people I know have had similar symptoms at different times in infection, thereby there is no clear-cut way how this virus affects us.

I am terrified that I will not be able to be normal again. What if I am not able to focus or concentrate again? Will I continue to have problems comprehending instructions forever? When will I sleep normally, wake up at regular time, not be tired all the time? AND WHEN WILL RAHUL ROUSHAN BUY ME THE KINDLE UNLIMITED SUBSCRIPTION HE PROMISED IF I SURVIVE COVID?

For now, I just hope and pray that we, as a country get out of this and come out of it stronger and kinder. I am so done with living with this virus.

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Nirwa Mehta
Politically incorrect. Author, Flawed But Fabulous.

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