The visitor from Wuhan (as described by a better writer than I’ll ever be) arrived on our doorstep last week. Neil greeted him first, his dismay at a second line appearing on the RAT test he had just done evident in his croaky wail as he saw it. This was two days after he’d first had symptoms, his initial thoughts being that he had just a cold. It was only when he woke feeling flu-ey we wondered if it was something more sinister. A friend tossed a pack of RATs at us, one of which proved our theory.
When I get unexpected news it throws me. I don’t panic as such, but I suddenly find myself incapable of remembering any plans I had for the day, instead working through the ramifications of what I’ve just heard and what I have to do. I then have a vague sense of discombobulation for a while, some part of me convinced there’s something I should be doing and have forgotten. The covid world is a little different to that of a couple of years ago but still I worried. This thing kills people! I sent up a silent prayer of thanks to the scientists of vaccination. (And I know some of you have views on that but I’m not getting into it here. Anyway, I have two words for you: small pox. Neil said: It’s one word.)
Neil, as required, reported his positive result and began his seven days of isolation. I had no symptoms but, as a household contact, had to do a test for five days before I could consider myself uninfected. I stared at the long stick with a twirl of cotton at its end. Hadn’t single-use plastic-sticked cotton buds just been banned? Every time I shoved one up my nose I expected a loud banging on the door and the police to turn up and clap me in irons for using a contraband item, escorting me to prison via a non-honour guard of climate protestors.
I masked up to get groceries and distanced myself from people when I spoke to them. Spotting the symptoms of a pandemic virus is challenging for me. I get a runny nose with any form of exercise – even walking upstairs some mornings – and out of breath with alarming speed. As an asthmatic, a tight chest is not uncommon, especially at this time of year when spring pollen hovers in wait. For three days I waved my one-lined test under Neil’s nose. On the fourth I woke with a sore throat and the negative test surprised us. Day five the second line was faint, but it was there, by this time not a surprise as I was convinced there was a horse repeatedly kicking me in the head and felt like I was swallowing saws.
A few years ago I had a foot operation. Nothing serious, but I had to keep the foot elevated for forty-eight hours after the surgery. Sweet, I thought, gathering DVDs, books and crosswords around the sofa where Neil parked me before he went to work, and looking forward to a couple of days doing nothing. Is it because the relaxation is enforced that makes it nowhere near as attractive as the thought of it is when we are rushing through our daily lives? Within two hours I was bored. Seven days! What would I do?
The house filled with the detritus of illness and evidence of trying to keep boredom at bay – boxes of tissues alongside blister strips of tablets, half their blisters burst like John Hurt’s chest in Alien, denuded of their contents; a knife on the kitchen bench sticky with the juices of lemon and ginger. A half-completed jigsaw sat on the dining table, a pen by crossword puzzles with more empty boxes than filled. A sewing project was abandoned, paper pattern pieces under a magazine, the fabric they were meant to be pinned to draped over the back of a chair.
Many of our friends have had covid and reports ranged from a bit of a sniffle to a feeling of being stabbed in the back every time I coughed. Even with four vaccines under our skin we were more ill than either of us have been in a long time. I would even say, apart from when he had glandular fever, it’s the worst I’ve seen Neil. Mind you, if he’d stayed away from his desk he might not have been so bad. As he returned to it after the positive test, croaking and sniffing, I suggested he shouldn’t be doing any work. The words left my mouth and I watched them float above his head, disappearing into the air without going anywhere near his ears.
A friend rang and asked if I was still eating. Unfortunately, yes, I replied. I rarely lose my appetite, which means the combination of no exercise, little activity and much eating means it’s a good job I can’t go anywhere as the only clothes I can fit into are sweatpants. If I ever don’t want to eat, even Neil gets worried.
Since covid reared its knobbly little head we’ve said, if we catch it, we’d prefer it to be when we were in Ohakune, where we have many good friends in the same street as us, rather than in Wellington, where our closest friends are across the city. And so we were lucky. We had more offers than we could use. Friends shopped for us, baked scones, gave homemade soup and home-baked bread. You know who you are; you know how grateful we are.
Neil is now allowed out, a text from NZ Health on day eight causing him to cry: Freedom! Cue image of Mel Gibson in blue face paint with a dodgy Scottish accent. I still have three days of waving at people through the window, but at least the elephant in the room, the one that trampled on my ribs when I coughed, seems to have wandered off to find other victims. Hopefully by Sunday, my own freedom day, I’ll be able to walk more than a hundred metres without getting out of breath and my knees seizing up. We plan to celebrate in the local pub with a nice pint. Until then, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a jigsaw that needs attention.