Bella woke up gasping for breath. She felt as if an elephant is pressing down her chest with its foot.
Nothing like that at all. The night was quiet with just the humming of the ceiling fan. She checked her phone clock. It was 1:12 am. She checked her pulse rate…high. Her Pulse Ox…normal. Temperature…normal.
With a sigh, she turned on her tummy to release the pressure on her chest and prayed for her days of solitude to end, without any adverse incident. It seemed so long…
There were news items here and there about an outbreak in Wuhan, China. So many of us had read it and shrugged our shoulders perhaps. Did we think it is just like the SARS, MERS of the decade earlier, which caused a ripple, but never crossed our threshold. Did we think that what is in the newspaper stays there and doesn’t touch us. At least that is what Bella had felt.
News happens to others. The people in the news are other people, not those she knows, not those she loved and cared about. She sometimes felt sad, sorry or happy for those other people, but those are flitting emotions. What happened to those other people doesn’t happen to her or enter her space.
She had continued with her daily life in 2020 not once foreseeing how her world will stumble and change dramatically.
In hindsight, 2020 passed off as a grey smog in the distance. She was able to see it through her lockdown windows, engulfing the other people but still away from her space.
She was busy with her work at home schedule. She devised many indoor activities, to compete with the innumerable WhatsApp messages, where her friends and connections were showing off their culinary skills, art skills, home décor skills, you name any skills and people somehow possessed them and were the best.
Then it started surreptitiously encroaching her space, unbeknownst to her. In a very sinister manner, it whiffed away the life of a near and dear one. It had entered her home. It had struck fear and horror in her mind.
So dreadful was the experience, that it left a scar in her mind and she was unable to focus or compete with the ever-growing talent shows by her friends. It took quite a bit of effort to come out of the doomed feeling and get back in the game.
The troubled year was coming to an end and with it there was rising a new year of hope. In simple human minds, the thought was there that perhaps the new year will not be as bad as the last one. With news of vaccines and the number of those other people affected at an all time low, Bella was also feeling cautiously hopeful and optimistic.
She started planning what she would do once she had her two doses of vaccines.
Take one of those long-awaited trips from her bucket list? But first a leisurely afternoon, spent in a hair salon. The lockdown haircuts were suited for indoors and the zoom calls where the large headset hid the hideousness, but if she were to be out and about, masked or not, she needed to take care of her hairdo first. Her list grew and she felt better.
Lost as she was in her daydreams, she failed to notice that the smog has turned into an ominous black. If it could make sounds, it would have made sounds of a distant, rumbling thunder. But she didn’t notice and no one else did either.
What hit now was with so much ferociousness that 2020 paled in significance.
This time it did not come as a whiff. It came with full force and power and engulfed Bella’s space, her mind, her area.
What was supposed to be a random test for elimination had come back positive. Bella looked in shock at the email staring at her. How could that be possible? She had daydreamed, she had made plans, but not really gone out. How could this happen to her?
Her days of solitude had begun.
She felt nothing physically.
But that piece of email had the power to take control of her mind and her peace.
A slight itch in the throat … is that the beginning of her symptoms?
A tickle in the nose … has the symptoms begun?
Is that a headache coming on? Feeling weakness in the limbs … is that it?
Wasn’t the temperature lesser an hour ago, is it now going to keep increasing?
Is the pulse oximeter showing the correct reading? Is it working properly?
That’s an irritation in the eye, is that normal?
Taste … no change so far!
Smell … she would sniff the perfume, lotion, cream … intact!
Paranoia … definitely set in!!!
Worry, tension, stress and an all encompassing fear engulfed her. She was worried about spreading the infection; she was worried about her symptoms appearing and worsening; she was worried about those who were tending to her care … she felt helpless, hopeless and in the brink of insanity.
She was not alone in her gloom. The phone messages, which were earlier of competition and showoffs, had taken a dreadful turn. They were now filled with mishaps, deaths and cries of help for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders or concentrators, critical drugs or just a wail of despair. The news apps screamed about the ever increasing toll and the ineffectiveness of the government and local civic bodies. They were graphic in their description and in the photos they shared, highlighting the plight which was going on.
For Bella, it was not those other people who were affected now, it was her friends, family and her loved ones. Not a day would pass without the saddest news possible coming in. She was in a stupor, helpless and hopeless, dry eyed but with an aching heart.
She would drift off to sleep at night, thanking the almighty that a day has passed without symptoms for her, but soon would wake up gasping for breath, trying to fight away the pressure she felt in her chest.
Bella was staring at the walls, in her locked room, hung with many pictures she had drawn during the lockdown. She was into her 4th day of solitude and she had 13 more to go. It seemed impossible for her to go on with the state of mind she was in. It was impossible to share her feelings with anyone, as everyone she knew, was going through a crisis, and she was known to be the strong one. She resolved to control her maddening mind. She vowed to get over her pitiful state and return to more focus and positivism.
She recalled all the books she had read about prisoners in solitary confinement. Her affairs were far from that state, but she decided to do what the survivors did.
A routine followed.
Getting up in the morning at 6:30 am.
Take temperature, pulse rate, SPO2 and note them down.
Start Yoga, followed by meditation and breathing exercises.
She was never into meditations, but she began to find solace in the 10 minutes she would spend listening to calming music and a voice guiding her to concentrate. The breathing exercises would confirm that she has no respiratory infections.
She would end her sessions by jogging in one place and pacing for 10 more minutes. The pulse ox check would let her know that her lungs are in good shape. The heaviness she feels in her chest is that of anxiety and she has to control it.
Then she would sweep, mop and dust her room and balcony.
Bella took good care of her food intake. Although her total dependence on her family to cook and keep the meal, timely at her doorstep, broke her heart. But she would fight back her tears, assuring herself that it is for the best for everyone around her.
Bella did not skip her office work but continued her daily routine.
It would become overwhelming some days. Comments from co-workers, although shared with good intent, would seem thoughtless, but she rallied on.
She stopped looking at the news much these days, and although the grim messages kept flowing in, she kept up with a fortified attitude not to break down. And she got a ton of help from her family and friends. She had not shared with anyone her situation of despair or a resolve to fight back. But your near and dear ones just know when to be around you. She got messages of love and hope and clung on to them.
Every night, as she dozed off to sleep, she would continue to thank the almighty for another day without symptoms and taking care of her friends and family.
She noticed, pleasantly surprised, that now she is not waking up with the chest pressure. She is sleeping well and undisturbed. Her feeling of overwhelm, doom and despair have lessened. Not gone, they seemed to hover in the horizon, waiting and watching, ready to pounce and strangle her, but she was able to recognize the triggers and stop them on time.
And the days and nights passed, and her 17 days of solitude came to an end.
Bella opened the door and looked with misty eyes at her family, the dining table which she missed taking her meals on, the hallway where she would watch TV, the furniture, the décor, every bit of little things in the house, which she had stopped noticing or had taken for granted. Things she thought of selling off or giving away seemed to be tugging at her heartstrings as if rejoicing in her return.
She regaled at what she so despaired to see for so long and she felt that everyone and everything around her are welcoming her back into their fold.
Disclaimer: This by no means is a prescriptive narrative on what one should do when inflicted by the dreadful contagion. This is an individual’s fight to stay sane during solitude and surrounded by miserable news.