Being ill is no fun, especially if you don’t even have Covid

ion December my daughter brought Covid home from school as if a folded permission slip. The feeling, on seeing the two pink lines come up on her test, was complicated and raw, containing both bad memories and relief. Finalmente (a part of me thought, a part of me quite low down and bloodied), finally the thing we have been waiting for has arrived. I breathed out a breath I had been holding for two years.

There were six or seven other feelings, pure, including a now-familiar sense of doom brought on by the realisation that for us, lockdown was to begin again. A gentle PTSD crawled in and made itself comfortable on my lap as I briefly mapped out the next two months of arguments and pasta in my mind. Certo, with rude inevitability, the virus took its time spreading through the house, lingering on our daughter, only taking up residence with our boy toddler when her isolation was nearing its end. He stopped sleeping, his temperature leaping up and down like a cat when the doorbell goes.

Midway through our son’s isolation my partner looked at me and regretfully said, “I feel odd.” He had it, I did not, on we went, greyly. On Christmas Day, having tested relentlessly, I took the children to my parents’ house where the five of us had a token celebration, but at some point after the crackers I started to feel not good. By the time I got home I was feverish and slightly wild, my throat swollen, my mood vile. Had a faulty test meant I’d put my parents at risk? I went to bed.

I’m used to pain. I can deal with migraines, even those that are clattery and awful or must be taken personally. I’m used to grimly carrying on, one eye shut. But I’m unaccustomed to illness like this, where, wheezing and achy, I have no choice but to pass over all caregiving duties in order to lie down and doze through the new series of Sex and the City, on which I formed many sharp yet neurologically suspect opinions.

I slept for days, getting up only to eat muesli and do lateral flow tests, all negative. The lack of a positive result made me feel a little mad, as if I had somehow slipped through reality’s fine gauze to another timeline where Wuhan’s animal market had been closed that day.

That week I’d been reading Hanya Yanagihara’s new novel, To Paradise, the final third of which is set in New York at the end of the 21st century, a place where increasingly deadly pandemics have ushered in totalitarianism.

It was a bad time, I see now, to read a story about a future defined by sickness, to read about sterilisation, state surveillance, where a mother isolates her immuno-compromised twins for their entire life as yet another virus threatens their society, e come, when she catches it, leaving them without care, the two boys leave their compound for the first time and die in the garden, “their lives becoming glorious – for once – even as they ended”.

A bad time. Lying in the linen darkness of a winter afternoon while the government blustered its way through unprecedented levels of Covid infections and my baby coughed downstairs. A bad time, Hanya!

When my second PCR test came back negative, pure, I left the house, shakily but with intent. If I wasn’t going to have Covid then I sure as hell wasn’t going to stay inside that germ-thick house one second longer. I didn’t last long; outside there was mostly mud. When I got back to bed I read about a case of “flurona”, a rare new double infection of coronavirus and influenza that’s been discovered in a young, pregnant, unvaccinated Israeli woman. “Lol,” I croaked, to nobody.

I’m much better now, thank you for asking. My cough, while rancid, no longer rattles the cutlery, and my limbs, while still aching, are now entirely capable of navigating at least a staircase. My mood, anche se, remains in limbo, vigilant to the slightest interior shift.

It’s a strange feeling to be ill with the wrong thing. To live in a state immersed in a single virus – a sickness that provokes outrage and dry coughs, and shuts down schools and burns out the NHS, and inspires protesters to storm testing centres in a selection of quite bad jeans – but to be struck down by another one altogether, one with similar symptoms but fewer culture wars.

Here I found the modern version of Fomo, less bothered by smoky parties and the potential of sex, more concerned with missing out on the hottest new variant, especially when the rest of your family are now happily immune for at least a fortnight.

Why did everyone else in the house get it and not me, I mutter into a tissue – had I been such a bad wife and mother that I hadn’t been within their breathing spaces all month? What was the point of the night sweats, the hacking cough, the headaches and breathlessness if not to have been a brave little soldier and survived a pandemic? Honestly.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman

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