Having COVID-19 is ‘like walking underwater’

Angel Thoughts

Photo: Pie David and wife Rina Jimenez

With COVID still around, let us hear from a survivor and a pillar of our Bulong Pulungan media group, Rina Jimenez David, a retired Inquirer columnist.

“Like walking underwater is how I felt in the days leading up to the end of our quarantine due to a COVID-19 ‘breakthrough’ infection. This was the closest I could get to describing the sensations I felt as the days ticked by.

I was expecting the coughing, sore throat, headaches, and general malaise. But I didn’t reckon with the feeling of moving with a cloud of befuddlement over me, the confusion and disorientation, the inability to string thoughts and words together to make coherent sense (particularly worrying for someone who had made a living out of words) and the sudden fatigue that would descend upon me if I so much as left my bed to get a glass of water.

‘I must excuse myself from our Zoom as I’m feeling flu-like symptoms,’ I messaged my TOWNS-mates for a planning meeting early in September. But it wasn’t flu at all. When my coughing got worse, our son called a home testing service. Initially, I was the only one who tested positive after the RT-PCR test, but a day or two later, the hubby too. He had refused to leave me in isolation after the diagnosis, asking what would happen to me if I suddenly collapsed all alone in our room. Bless his heart! But he ended up with COVID too, though I was worried because he has more comorbidities, including diabetes and a heart condition. 

The others in the family, our son Pie-pie, his wife Tesh, our apo Kin, and yaya Irish, underwent an anti-gen test and were declared COVID-free.

The hubby, Pie, and I had gone for our vaccinations (Sinovac) in April and for the most part, I had stayed at home. My son says his dad must have brought the virus (and its variant) home, since he would go shopping at the neighborhood grocery or venture further out to, say, his barbershop. I just happened to manifest the symptoms earlier. Whatever.

On the first few days, I was so weak I could barely make it out of bed. I couldn’t sleep for several nights due to the constant coughing and the burning sensation in my chest.

Thanks to my friend Marian Martin-Layug who urged us to go for home care. This was around the time of the Delta upsurge and hospitals were filled to the brim. Pie-pie searched the Internet for nearby hospitals. Medical City, for one, said they could no longer accommodate additional patients, even for home care. Finally, he settled on Marikina Valley Medical Center, which asked me and the hubby to drop by their triage center for baseline tests.

At the triage center in a tent outside the hospital, a nurse in PPE came to draw blood and measure things like blood pressure and temperature. 

A note on what I saw at the radiology section. There were three medical personnel waiting outside a room, all clad in PPEs. But what caught my eye was how the shoes of the personnel as well as their wrists were wound with duct tape. I thought, their patient must either be stricken with a particularly virulent strain or is a VVIP. 

As it turns out, after several hours, it was found I had ‘bilateral pneumonia’ as did the hubby. Before we left, we were handed a small bag with vitamins, along with a digital thermometer and the thingy that’s used to measure oxygen. Pie-pie was also handed prescriptions for our other drugs. The next morning, we got a call from Dr. Mary Jane Marquez-Reyes, a pulmonologist who would be our principal physician, albeit only remotely, who would call once or even twice a day. About four times throughout our confinement, we were also visited by nurses in PPEs who would take blood samples, measure our vitals, and even listen to our lungs. At one point, Dr. Marquez-Reyes focused her attention on our rising blood sugar levels (we are both diabetics), exacerbated by the steroids in our meds.

With the help of our nephew Marty Galvez, our son had booked an ambulance care of the local government of Antipolo. For some reason, I couldn’t even hoist myself up the ambulance and had to lie on the gurney, which was then loaded onto the vehicle, a scene I’d witnessed countless times in the police procedural programs I so love. When we reached our home from the hospital, the personnel had to lower the gurney to the ground so I could get up. Looking from the window of his room, my grandson shouted: ‘Nona, why are you lying on the ground? Get up!’

Eventually, the symptoms eased. The phlegm that had so plagued my sleep and hampered my breathing eventually cleared. What I didn’t reckon with was the fatigue that would suddenly descend even after a bit of effort and the confusion that fell like a veil around my senses. Yes, I lost my sense of taste and smell, which would manifest in odd ways, like patis tasting bitter, or steamed rice feeling mealy and rough to my palate.

But I am grateful. Friends and family rallied around us both. My classmates in Maryknoll High School organized a group rosary, while my UST batchmates, especially our Sisterhood of Media Women, bombarded me with daily texts asking how I was faring. One of them Peachy Yamsuan sent over my favorite macaroni with tomato sauce and a share of ginataang monggo ordered by another seester, Sandra Puno. My sisters in the women’s group Pilipina and among TOWNS, organized group prayers and masses, even as other, beloved friends like Dinky Soliman lost their own battles. Friends like Deedee Siytangco and Mina Gabor sent food from XO Bistro.

Early on in our bout with COVID, we consulted with my sister Joni and her husband ‘Dokie’ German Tan-Cardoso, while other siblings sent in their messages of concern. Pie-pie was our link to the outside world, while our niece Haidee Galvez Gunong volunteered for marketing duties and her dad Danny took it upon himself to ensure I still got my daily newspapers. Even as she maintained her WFH schedule, Tesh took care of our meals. While our daughter Miya in New York chipped in to cover the rest of our medical expenses. Kin was a particular joy, and when I asked for a “flying kiss” once as I stuck my head out of the door, he did so and comforted me: ‘Just a flying kiss now, Nona, no face kisses yet.’ It broke my heart.

I can’t stress this enough. If you can afford it (we paid roughly ₱25,000 each to Marikina Valley), go for home care. Hospitals may have more room now, but who knows what other ailments might befall you while you’re confined? And there is no measuring the comfort and psychological boost of being in your own home, surrounded by people you love and whom you can count on. Just make sure the room is well-ventilated, you have your own bathroom (or can sterilize it afterward), and limit the number of people you socialize with. And also, God be thanked, we seem to have been hit with ‘mild’ cases of COVID, for which I do concede the protection provided by our shots of Sinovac.

For now, as this sharing shows (I hope) the ocean tides around my head are receding. I can feel the fresh air, and I face with growing joy the brighter days ahead.”