I felt a tickle in my throat on the morning of 30th January. I ignored this as I had had my Pfizer booster 3 days earlier. The needle-prick on my left shoulder still ached; I ignored this too but then had to add a sniffle to my general feeling as the day wore on. ‘Summer colds are so inconvenient,’ I thought. However I was more concerned with the minimum forecast for Melbourne that night: 28 degrees, after a maximum of 36 degrees during the day. I felt so hot. This called for every upstairs window to be open and for me to set up a bed in the lounge, where the one air conditioner operates. It was the time for a Melbourne summer survival plan.
Somehow I did survive and next morning I went upstairs for my first cup of tea. The phone rang. “Hello” I meant to say, when an awful croaking sound announced itself as my voice. “It’s Brenda” I tried but again a surreal cracking sound came from my mouth. It was my next-door neighbour, J. who, on hearing me, said, “You need to take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), I’ll leave one for you on the door-step, right this minute.”
There I was with a package and a list of instructions with no-one to assist me or tell me how to use it. All my life, I’ve always skimmed over instructions, preferring to get a general feel for how things work. For instance, I have never managed to master the wall-oven’s pre-set timer or the I-View on TV. On this occasion, being on my own, I would have to read it step by step. It only took two abortive attempts before I swirled the stick round both nostrils and then tested the liquid produced on the meter provided. I was astonished as 2 horizontal lines appeared on the dial. ‘Positive,’ it said. ‘I must have read the instructions incorrectly,’ I thought. Two more attempts bore the same results. Panic! ‘Should I phone my daughter Helen in Perth?’ I thought, and then ‘Who did I meet yesterday?’ As I got over my astonishment at having succumbed to a virus in a global pandemic, I remembered having heard the word ‘Register’. I should be a statistic on the Victorian government’s tally. After all, I had been reading these numbers daily for nearly 2 years.
The next hour saw me transformed. I was now all fingers and thumbs, multiple passwords, on MyGov website and finally I became Victoria’s 10,590th new case for the day. I had managed to register myself on my newly acquired mobile! Look what can be achieved when you are on your own and have to read all the instructions. I was beginning to think that technology wasn’t so bad after all. Before I could let anyone know how digitally savvy I had suddenly become, the phone rang. A voice from the Austin Hospital, to which I had been magically been attached, was asking me how I was feeling. I believe she was referring to my own temperature and croaky voice but I was more amazed by the fact that she knew I had tested positive before I had had time to let my daughter in Perth, and son in Richmond, know. The friendly voice said that I had to self-isolate for 7 days and that instructions would be sent to me via the mobile. Reassuringly she added that someone from the hospital would speak to me every second day.
Now came the thought, should I try to read the Covid instructions first or tell someone? Having just become a digital guru, I decided to read about what I ought to do, as opposed to my usual leaping in with both feet first. This was most instructive and I found some itemised STEPS. The first one was ‘Who have I been with in the last few days?’ Well it’s been over 30 degrees most days and my brain is a bit woolly on the subject. Thank heavens for the calendar. Our Book Club meeting the other evening was in a private home and 9 of us were double vaxxed but unmasked. It was suggested that I send them a COVID ALERT. So began a very busy couple of hours contacting friend, with whom I had been out for coffee and cakes, another one where I had gone to lunch and, most embarrassingly, one who I had invited to dinner here in this very room. I was beginning to feel like plague spreader. What a busy socialite I had been, despite the hot weather.
As I croakily phoned a couple of friends who I had been with 48 hours ago, two questions came up. The first one, “How did I feel?” was easy to answer. “It’s nothing, just like a summer cold.”
The second question “Where did you get it?” was more a surprise. My friends had instantly become the source of my COVID POSITIVE status. I remembered that M. had seemed less energetic than usual on Tuesday. But surely that was too early in the piece, I thought. I had gone from guilty spreader to victim, in one hit. My next door neighbour rang at that moment. I tried to explain my conflicting feelings. “Don’t worry it’s everywhere,” she said, “especially the schools and super markets. I’m more concerned about the sound of you and I am putting an Oximeter at your door-step, so you can find out.” I have never heard of this piece of equipment before in my life. Within ten minutes I was reading many more instructions on how to read my pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in my blood. As a recently crowned digital guru I had to persevere in trying to make sense of the electronic figures, which floated before my eyes. It appeared that if one set of figures appeared, I had to take note and phone an emergency doctor. It took many tries to achieve a stable reading; it appears that I had to deep breathe, sit quietly and be patient; none one of which is my usual forte. I think that my figures, compared with the national average, showed me to be high in the pulse rate and low in the oxygen count. Oh well, I thought I’ll try again when I have had a sandwich and a drink of tea. I know I was to avoid dehydration and just hoped my normal high intake of cups of tea would count.
Now for STEP 2, I told myself, but the heat was getting to me. Perhaps I might lie down, I thought, but only for a little while.
I eventually woke up having had, what I told myself was a siesta, but does it still count as that after four hours? I know I needed to let my family know but I suddenly realised that I had several plans for tomorrow. The new carpet people were arriving in the morning to measure up for the bedrooms, I was to meet our U3A tutors about our 2022 classes etc, etc. Everything must be cancelled for the next 7 days. What a task of leaving messages, altering plans, informing but not alarming people. Then the Austin Hospital rang with a survey. Clearly my voice was becoming even more croaky as I tried to answer their questions. You need to drink and rest I was told, you are a COVID patient.
Suddenly I was beginning to feel too tired to ring my daughter and son. Sleepiness won out over guilty feelings. So not being hungry I went off to bed, wishing there had been someone else in the house to bring me up a drink. Ah, solitude.
I awoke after the deepest of sleeps and suddenly realised that my voice was even worse, my nose had started to run and I had not the energy to walk down my own drive to bring up my morning Age newspaper. Even before drinking my first cup of tea, I knew I had to tell my family and an email was the way to do it. Of course it only brought me a little time before they were on the phone. Richard in Richmond was anxious to help and it took quite a few “ I’m in isolation” screeches from me before he realised he could not come up. Helen was full of WA advice, “Get someone to go out and buy some more RATS, they are free to seniors.” Oh dear, I thought, they know nothing about Covid restrictions in the west. However they were both relieved that I only seemed to be suffering a mild dose. Hurrah for two AstraZeneca vaccinations and a Pfizer booster.
Well, I am on Day 5 now. The cold is disappearing, my voice is back to normal. Yesterday I prided myself on raking up a green bin full of leaves. It was collection day, which cannot be squandered even when in isolation. Thoughtful friends and neighbours have left long life milk and bread and groceries (I never really did lose my appetite), on the back door step. I then realised that reading was resting so I took a dusty classic from my bookshelf and read Dostoyevski’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ from start to glorious finish.
My mobile pings. Here comes another message from the Victorian CovidCare office. Not only are they just letting me know that I can leave isolation the day after next, but also that I will be immune for a month. What an unexpected bonus. Does that mean that I can travel on a train, go to the cinema or do all the things I have not been able to for a couple of years? I think it does. But perhaps I should read all the small print before I head off to the beach or even start filling in my calendar for the month ahead.