The first reaction is always fear. That’s what I felt when I thought about getting tested.
In our mind’s eye – even us, the ultra – privileged – we picture the government storming our house and seizing us, and holding us captive in less than sanitary treatment facilities where poor hygiene would kill us before COVID would.
No matter how eloquently we wax on about civic duty, we all feel this little spot of selfishness. I know I did.
But I was returning from Goa, and had developed a stomach infection of sorts, and I was due to travel to visit my parents. I couldn’t risk it.
What struck me at first was how easy the test was – much easier than a blood test. 10 hours later, I had the result. I was negative.
Although what I know now suggests I should have waited a few more days, and I’ll never really know for sure, I am fairly certain I did not have the disease.
The day I was due to travel, my mother had a fever. Since she seemed to be on the mend, I decided to stick to my travel plans. It had been eight months and I missed my parents dearly. But I did insist that they both get tested.
The joke was on me – the day after I got home, they got their results: both were positive and highly infectious.
Okay, I know what you’re going to say. “Why did you go? Why couldn’t you just wait one more day? That was irresponsible.”
And perhaps it was. But it was my mother’s birthday, and emotion took over. It was a flawed decision. But it’s done and I can’t change it now. So you can judge all you want but there is hardly a point.
Since then, we have had to learn to live with COVID in our house. The first order of business was to inform everyone and to ask them to get themselves tested.
On day one, more exhausting than COVID, was the number of phone calls about COVID. “How the hell do I know how it happened?” My dad exclaimed in disgust after 30-40 phone calls. Each time he reassured people about how careful he was. How he constantly sanitized, and barely went out. How he had almost been paranoid about it.
But the questions drove him nuts.
And while people don’t seem to ever remember that they are speaking to someone who’s ill, and that they’re not exactly bursting with energy, I get it. That’s the fear again.
It is akin to that burning desire to know all the gory details, when a 35-year-old dies of a heart attack or someone who seemed really fit and healthy passes away in their sleep. Did they have health issues? Did they show any signs? Was it their genes? Or just bad luck?
The real question they’re asking is “Can it happen to me?”
Whether we like it or not, we all fear being another tragic story that a few privileged folks “tsk tsk” about at a dinner party. “So sad. Can you imagine what that’s like?”
Pity: something that helps little.
Anyway, back to COVID Central, I was supposed to return back to Mumbai after 4 days – too early after exposure to my parents, to take the test.
According to a doctor we spoke to, I would have been safe to fly for 2 days after initial exposure. My first reaction was to look at flying back within my “safe” window. I even looked at all possible flight options.
But then I did the math.
I’d have to social distance from my partner and our help. We could put the others in the society at risk. We might have to manage housework and cooking plus working and potentially falling ill. We could transmit it to his mother, who is a diabetic.
And even if a doctor said I had two days of non-infectious time to fly, what if I was infectious earlier than what was standard? How many people might I infect then? Yes I have the face shield on, but I have to move it if I want to eat or drink anything.
And what if my parents’ symptoms become worse?
I decided I wouldn’t be able to live with myself and the unknown damage my selfish action might cause. But I had to think about it for a moment. It wasn’t as easy as I would like to say.
I cancelled my return ticket, and made the decision to stay. I still have at least 3 days before I could test myself, but I’m taking all the precautions I can.
Both my parents fortunately, so far, have relatively mild symptoms – my mother’s slightly worse than my father’s. But our living situation has turned extremely awkward.
We have to all watch what we touch, where we sit, where we breathe. They have live-in help, a young man who has already been tested, but the result has not come – so we have to watch his exposure to my parents, and our exposure to each other.
I picked up the landline earlier today and realised my dad had just used it. I spent a few moments wondering how to sanitise the side of my face, before I settled on a good face wash instead.
We are doing the best we can, but we keep making small mistakes. It is a very unnatural way of living, yet it is 100% necessary if I want a shot at going home any time in the near future. That is, assuming my parents’ symptoms don’t get worse.
The ripple effect of my parents has been enough, but still we see among the potential exposures, a reluctance to test. The fact that my parents got a call from the government inquiring about their result, I’m sure does nothing to help matters.
But ignorance is not bliss in this case. A test does not change the fact of having or not having the disease. Still, somewhere in our subconscious we would rather not know.
The thing is, COVID is here to stay. How we react when it enters our midst, is a test of our civic sense. The responsibility we must take is easier said than done but do it we must.
This means we often have to put our own interests behind what is for the greater good. We won’t do it perfectly, but we can do the best we can. We are only human after all.
Let’s just hope we do better on it than we did with the Diwali firecrackers.