So, it finally found me; the virus did. The symptoms began the day after the Malayalam New Year’s day – Vishu. My mind immediately went on high alert about my breathing. It popped all sorts of questions. Was there a strain? Was I drawing in air with difficulty? Were my oxygen levels dropping? Would I know if they did? Would the oxygen levels dip while I was asleep? Wouldn’t it be better if I stayed awake and monitored my breathing?
Someone sent an oximeter and that proved to be a huge relief. The tiny little display panel was solid evidence that the levels were fine and my overworked imagination stopped conjuring non-existent symptoms. I kept the oximeter near my pillow though, just in case. I was fine, I told myself except for low grade fever, a constant, low, thrumming headache in the background and debilitating nausea.
I popped a paracetamol and pretended I was the chin up type. I would cook, of course. Whoever would think of eating outside food during an illness? So I made Amma’s staple food for the sick – Cumin Rasam with a dash of crushed pepper, with dry roasted pappadams to go with it. The smell of slowly crisping pappadams immediately brought thoughts of Amma and her delicious jeera rasam and I missed her pampering sorely. So I curled up on my bed and moaned softly in self-pity. And as a mood enhancer measured my oxygen levels. Normal.
I fell into long spells of deep slumber. And awoke from them feeling I could take on the world, but a few minutes on my feet and I felt as though I had been badly battered in a boxing match. My body seemed to consist only of aching muscles. Was there a goddam muscle attached to each and every vertebra? And could plain water taste so bitter? So bitter that it triggered waves of nausea? I made pots of lime juice for the whole day. And then agonized about it giving me acidity. But on the other hand got worked up about getting dehydrated, because drinking plain water was out of question.
Eat a lot of fruits, someone advised. I ate fruits, slept, woke up, watched the news, ate fruits, slept, watched the news… I had nightmares about funeral pyres and woke up fearing I had stopped breathing. I kept constant check on two of my friends who were also down with the virus. Send text; wait anxiously for the double tick and then the blue tick. This became a kind of routine. A blue tick meant they were well enough to read, I reasoned. Then waited till they texted back. We resolved, though not in so many words, to check on each other at least once a day.
One of my friends had to be hospitalised. I stopped watching the news. I fretted about her, wondering how she was faring. They didn’t make them like that anymore; so loving, so selfless, so supportive. There was very little we didn’t share. It was because of people like her that the flowers still bloomed, the rain still fell and the earth went round on her path. All those heart wrenching visuals from ICUs in faraway hospitals suddenly became real. I fell into sessions of deep, dreamless sleep waking up in between to check if there was some bit of news from her. A few days later, she messaged to say she was back home and well; though very tired.
The recovery was slow and for weeks I could do little more than cook and read in between bouts of deep sleep. Some days I slept the entire time after cooking like a maniac in the morning. Often in the middle of chores, I stopped to savour my breathing. I thought of the many thousands who had perished gasping for air.
This time I had been spared. I was deeply thankful.
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