The double lines in the little test window showed up remarkably fast.
Every rapid Covid test I’d taken previously had involved 15 minutes of uncertainty, watching the test solution gently stain the paper strip rosy pink until it finally coalesced into a single solid magenta line: negative. But this time? BANG: two distinct lines in the space of about 20 seconds. When I’d told Jeremy I felt like I was coming down with a cold on Friday, he said “maybe it’s the ’rona,” because these days anything could be the ’rona: a vague headache, a slightly scratchy throat, a general feeling of malaise. So I said, only half-joking, “Yeah, maybe!”
I knew it was just a matter of time. I don’t say that in a blasé way, like I wasn’t concerned about getting it, or I was so fatalistic that I wasn’t being careful anymore. Jeremy and I have still been “careful,” but careful is relative. We both spend the vast majority of our time at home. We don’t often take public transportation or go into shops, but when we do, we wear proper masks (KF94s, for the record, not because they’re cool—though ours are black and indeed kind of cool—but because they’re comfy and work well with glasses). If we meet friends at all, we meet them outdoors. However, and this is BIG however, we also play in Irish music sessions twice a week in pubs that are usually quite empty, but not always. We’ve ventured out for lunch the past few Fridays, and we’ve gone to the pub up the hill for a Sunday roast a few times, too. We’re not hermits anymore. The pandemic has been a balancing act all along, and recently our balance has tipped slightly more towards “doing stuff” than “not doing stuff,” with all the risk that entails.
And now, predictably, I have the ’rona. In a perverse way, it’s almost a relief—like, this thing I knew was eventually coming for me is finally here, so the nervous anticipation is over and I can just deal with it. It’s mostly been like dealing with a really bad cold: congestion, sore throat, tiredness, achiness, and a headache that sort of comes and goes (could be the “Omicron headache,” could also just be my sinuses). I haven’t lost my sense of smell or taste, other than in the way you lose it when your nose is all stuffed up. I was slightly feverish on Sunday and I haven’t been sleeping particularly well, but my oxygen levels are fine, and I’m hoping that my recent booster shot (less than two months ago) and my otherwise decent health will keep me from experiencing anything worse than this. I sure don’t like to think of how this would’ve played out if I hadn’t been double vaxxed and boosted.
As for poor Jeremy, he’s tested negative so far (phew!), but attempting to stay apart from each other in a tiny two-bed flat is not the most straightforward prospect. He’s sleeping on the pull-out couch, I’m sealing myself in our bedroom at night, we keep the windows open even though it’s rather brisk outside, and I wear a mask when I’m around him and have washed my hands raw. It may all be for nought; I was presumably infectious for at least a day or two before the symptoms showed up, so he had a few days to unwittingly breathe in my COVID miasma (yum), and I might just be reaching peak virus shedding right now. Maybe he’ll get lucky and dodge the virus this time. I certainly hope so; I really don’t want to be the one to make him sick.
As for who made me sick—who knows? I did precisely four risky things last week, which is probably the most reasonable window of infection: our Saturday-morning tune-learning workshop, a Sunday lunch, an Irish session on Wednesday, and a driving lesson on Thursday (a story for another time). My money is on either the Wednesday session or, much more likely, the Sunday lunch, both of which took place without masks in pubs, one of which (the lunch) was quite busy. No one I’ve been in close contact with since then has tested positive, which is a relief and also a testament to the power of vaccines. I’ll never know exactly where I picked up Mr. Omicron, but I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m the last link in whatever chain of infection led to me.
So, physically, this whole thing has been manageable. Mentally and emotionally, though? I don’t know. A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my Instagram feed in search of a particular picture, and as I swept past all the photos from 2020, of Jeremy and I mostly alone at home, I suddenly felt such a piercing sadness that I started to cry. I can’t quite explain why, other than to say that I felt so sorry for the people in those pictures, even though they were doing fine, trying to make the best of a horrible situation and doing a decent job of it. It’s not like I didn’t feel sad and scared and stressed out all through 2020 and beyond—I have a year’s worth of blog posts to remind me of exactly how I felt every single week. But I also buried a lot of emotions very deep, just to get through the days, and in the past month I’ve started to feel like those emotions are being thrust to the surface of my consciousness through some sort of psychological plate tectonics.
Just a day or two before I started feeling sick, I was thinking idly about our washing machine, and how it broke before the first lockdown in 2020. We were supposed to have a new one delivered on March 26, 2020. On March 24th I was still expecting that to happen. But then March 26th suddenly became the first day of lockdown, so the delivery was canceled, and I immediately started to catastrophize about what might happen if one or the other of us (or both of us) caught Covid. We couldn’t do laundry at home, we wouldn’t be able to get to a laundromat, and all the laundry collection services were saying that they wouldn’t take laundry from anyone with suspected Covid. I went into a proper panic about it at the time, imagining every worst-case scenario—not just that we’d catch Covid, which was a terrifying enough prospect at the time, but that we’d be trapped at home, ailing, feverish, in piles of dirty bedding. When I thought back on this the other day, it was with a sense of distanced relief; that worst-case scenario never happened, and the thought of getting Covid now (post-vax, post-boost, in the Age of Omicron) was not nearly as panic-inducing for me personally as it was back then (though I know that’s certainly not the case for everyone). Also, we have a functioning washing machine again.
But when I saw those double lines appear on the lateral flow test on Friday, the past two years briefly collapsed into nothing and I was plunged back into the fear of early 2020. I tried to explain it to Jeremy, disjointedly recounting my memory of the broken washing machine, but I was upset and couldn’t make it make sense. “You were afraid we wouldn’t have clean towels?” he asked, gently perplexed. But of course that wasn’t it. Back in March 2020, when we didn’t have a washing machine and no one had any protection against this unfamiliar virus that was killing so many people in such an awful way, I was afraid that Jeremy would catch Covid and he would be lying there gasping for breath in sweat-soaked sheets and I wouldn’t be able to help him, not even by washing the damn sheets. The seemingly trivial inability to do laundry was symbolic of the more general feeling of helplessness that overwhelmed me at the time. That fear of helplessness is one of the things I thought had evaporated in the intervening months, but in fact it was just another thing that got buried, only to resurface when I realized I had finally caught the virus I’d been dreading for so long.
Of course, we’re not totally helpless now. A friend of mine has been publishing a Calm Covid newsletter (“Low-key compilations of data, advice, and interpretation as omicron takes over”), and just a few weeks ago she posted a piece on what to do if you’ve got Covid. I bookmarked it at the time, figuring we might need it sooner or later, not realizing the emphasis would be on sooner. After I saw my positive result, and Jeremy tested negative, and I had a little freak-out, and Jeremy calmed me down, we tried to come up with a plan. Since it was bedtime, the first part of the plan involved getting Jeremy set up on the sofa bed. I kept my distance from him while he fixed up the pull-out couch, and then we waved goodnight to each other, and he closed the living room door, and I went to my office and had a little cry. I knew that I was probably going to be just fine, if a bit miserable for a few days, and I knew that it wasn’t inevitable that Jeremy would catch Covid from me, but I felt scared and sad and alone nonetheless.
And then I opened up Erin’s newsletter and felt a little less alone. I followed the link to the Vox article she recommended and was heartened by its closing paragraphs: “Even if you’ve told yourself you’ll likely get Covid-19 eventually and it’s probably not a big deal, it’s still totally reasonable to feel overwhelmed and upset by a positive test. […] ‘It’s okay to be concerned, it’s okay to have those types of feelings. […] No one wants to experience illness of any kind, whether we’re talking about Covid-19 or any type of a virus — no one wants to get sick.’” I did feel overwhelmed and upset, even knowing that I probably didn’t need to be, but that was okay. The fears of two long years aren’t easily shed.
I always feel better when I feel like I’m doing something about something, so before going to bed I quickly brushed up on the latest Covid guidance I could find, I dug out the thermometer and pulse oximeter I bought back in April 2020, I checked our medication situation, and I ordered a bunch of fresh Covid tests: a new pack of lateral flows, figuring we’d be testing quite a bit over the following week, and (after slightly hemming and hawing because the guidance on this isn’t so clear anymore) two PCR tests as well, just for extra confirmation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the availability of free tests delivered straight to your door is a godsend I will never take for granted. I didn’t even know you could get free PCR tests delivered—and picked up by courier if needed!—if you’ve tested positive with an LFD at home. And if we hadn’t had a pack of LFDs sitting here, I might have gone around for several more days thinking I just had a cold and not Covid, possibly making someone else—not least my own husband—very, very sick. Jeremy has also been able to test every day to make sure he’s still negative, even though he’s essentially isolating too (though technically he doesn’t have to, even if he’s not testing regularly, which seems…weird to me?). If nothing else, the tests are acting as little waypoints, giving us some sort of indicator as to where we are on this Covid journey.
I’m hoping this particular journey is coming to an end. I’m on day six now and feeling much better, though I’m still a bit congested and tired. Our PCR tests showed that I do indeed have the virus and Jeremy does not, and the lateral flow test I took this morning was still annoyingly positive (though maaaaybe that second line was a bit fainter than it has been?), so I’m still locking myself down. I was really hoping for a negative test today as some sort of quantifiable marker that I’m getting over this thing, but I guess I’ll have to make do with improved energy levels and the feeling of frustrated boredom that has replaced the frightened uncertainty of Friday and the achy exhaustion of the days that followed. If I’m getting back to my usual grumpy, impatient, vaguely dissatisfied self, I must be doing alright.