First came the headache, fever, dry cough, and chills, followed by anxiety and fear.
It was the 20th of August when Nanay and I decided to go home for a family affair. I was excited as it was my first time to go home after five months of staying in Metro Manila.
The feeling of excitement had turned into paralyzing fear; my body temperature was 37.9 Celsius. I had fever. This was aside from the unbearable headache and dry cough I experienced. I was lethargic the following days with a hoarse voice, yet I continued with my usual routine—attending work during the day and schoolwork at night.
As the symptoms continued to consume our body, Nanay and I rushed to the hospital. Outside the emergency room (ER), a nurse wearing PPE with gloves, mask and face shield took my vital signs and probed about my symptoms: fever, headache, dry cough and chills. They requested to get a complete blood count test and chest X-ray.
After a couple of hours waiting in a white make-shift tent outside the ER, the doctor in her PPE gown reviewed my chart, listened to my heart and then my lungs.
“Your WBC and platelets are low. You need to undergo a dengue test.”
For about an hour, the doctor joined us again with her prescription and discharge note.
“You have mild pneumonia, but nothing serious naman. Negative ang result sa dengue, but you need to be tested for COVID-19.”
Nanay, on the other hand, got admitted to the nearest hospital and had tested positive for COVID-19. As a close contact who also showed symptoms of COVID-19, I took the RT PCR test.
Anxiety started to kick in as I waited for the result. I am strong, I know, but within 74 hours of waiting, my emotions had betrayed me, I was anxious, and I cried.
Then I received a call followed by an email, informing me that I am positive for SARS-CoV-2. I cried for about an hour while trying to finish an important work and a paper for graduate school before transferring to a government isolation facility.
I called my close friends, informing them about the sad news. What transpired over the phone were deep breaths, followed by crying and pregnant pauses. Their voices became the warmest hugs even in the distance.
Nanay, after being confined for more than a week, had been discharged and needed to be quarantined. Per the LGU protocol, she and I needed to stay at the government isolation facility.
With her in an ambulance we were transported to the facility. Upon moving out of the vehicle, the singing crickets welcomed us.
We stayed for more than 10 minutes at the entrance while a nurse in full PPE interviewed us on our symptoms, the doctors’ prescription, and briefed us on the house rules.
Every day, we were required to check our body temperature twice, before 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. The 15×7 square meter room with three hospital beds and plywood that serves as a partition became our solitude.
The Singing Crickets
On my first night, I could clearly hear the chorus of the crickets. There are two types of cricket songs they say: a calling and a courting song. The calling song made by the male crickets attracts females to announce their capability to mate, while the courting song happens before the mating. That, to me, was a welcome song, embracing us with this new journey. As I lay on my bed, the loud chirping continued, which prompted me to listen to a downloaded playlist on my phone.
In the morning, the alarm clock was the nurses’ 80s dance hits, followed by Nanay’s playlist of 80s-90s new wave.
In daylight, three cute puppies brought joy in our short stay. Nanay, who loves dogs, named them Uno, Dos, and Tres for easy recall.
The following nights in isolation, the calling and courting song of crickets continue. I must admit that I got to adapt to their presence. From Day 1, the nocturnal insects accompanied me on my seemingly endless nights. They were there as I stared at the ceiling, counting lizards, and when I stayed up too late, planning for my life. They were part of my nightly lullaby.
On our fifth day, a five-year-old girl was brought to the facility. Her father, who had been staying across our room, lent his tablet for the child to play with. The conversation between them entailed a loud voice since they were separated by 20 meters.
The following days, the alarm clock went from an 80s dance music to a cute little voice shouting: “Papa!” which was whenever the child needed something, or when she felt like talking to her father.
At first, it was a lovely conversation, it felt like home. But a bit of sadness registered in the father’s voice when his child asked him if he could come into the room. “Hindi pwede si Papa pumunta dyan.” A child followed by asking: “Bakit po?”. Silence permeated the air as no words had been uttered by the father.
It was a heavy scene.
COVID-19 by far is the loneliest disease I encountered. It will imprison you in a room, distant you from your loved ones, wherein the only inspiration are comforting words on the phone.
On my last night, the crickets sang as I packed my bags. Their voices were loud, it felt like they were gathering for a send-off party as I was leaving for good, and hopefully will never return.
I am at home now, and the singing crickets no longer followed me, but I hope the 5-year old child finds comfort in them. Here is to her dream to hug his father again, play with her friends again, and be out in the sun again.
About the Author
Janice Tapil is a social development practitioner and COVID-19 survivor.