This time last year, if someone had told me that I would soon see a pandemic sweep through the world, that I myself, and several of my friends, would contract the virus, and that citizens would be instructed to stay at home for weeks on end, with the exception of essential trips to the supermarket or pharmacy, I would probably have dismissed their predictions as the ravings of a lunatic.
Now that all of this has come to pass, those of us living in or near hotspots of the pandemic, are left to pick up the pieces. We are all left wondering, what comes next?
As a long-time resident of Spain, which is fast becoming the new epicentre of the outbreak, I have seen the virus spread very rapidly in my region (Navarra), and cause a disproportionate number of fatalities, especially among the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. In the past 24 hours alone, the virus has taken the lives of over 700 patients nation-wide.
A few weeks ago the virus came knocking on my door. I got a very sudden and painful sore throat, which quickly developed into a dry cough, with some nasal congestion, much like a normal flu. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and was soon on the mend. Or so I thought.
About six days ago, the flu returned with a vengeance. Sore throat, dry cough, body aches, and general fatigue and lack of energy, but no serious fever and no breathing problems, the classic symptoms of the virus in its more severe form. Because of the scarcity of testing, only severe cases are being tested here, so I just stayed home and hoped for the best.
A few days ago, I developed a strange and unpleasant sensation in my nostrils, as though someone had injected dust or smoke into them, even though I could breathe perfectly through my nose.
I mentioned it to a friend, and he told me that many patients who contract Covid-19, lose their sense of smell temporarily. Two of my close friends had similar symptoms, one of whom officially tested positive for Covid-19.
My sense of smell and taste are returning, and I seem to have put the worst of the virus behind me. Now, I must self-quarantine for a few weeks to ensure I do not infect others.
Meanwhile, we are already eleven days into the “State of Emergency,” which gives the Spanish government sweeping powers to seize property and medical supplies, and fine and arrest citizens who do not comply with police instructions.
What that means in practice is that when we leave our homes, even just to walk down the street, we must be prepared to give an account of our purposes. “I just needed a bit of air” will not cut it. You need to be on your way to a supermarket or pharmacy, or undertaking some other “essential” task.
People are finding creative ways to cope with a level of confinement that has not been seen in Spain since the civil war in the 1930s. Some are singing from their balconies, or organizing virtual “block parties” with music blasting from someone’s window.
Many religiously go to their balconies at 9pm every night to cheer in solidarity with health workers – a cathartic moment of connection in the midst of the national confinement. Others are walking their dogs, which police seem to turn a blind eye to.
It is a very emotional time for everybody. People’s emotions alternate between fear of death and disease, helplessness and confusion at the speed at which their life is being turned upside down, anger at the incompetence of Spain’s civil authorities, who did too little, too late, and sorrow at the growing volume of contagion and death.
Those of us who are confined to our homes must make the most of it, and even find a silver lining in this dark cloud, if that is possible.
The silver lining I have found in the midst of this national and international emergency is the enormous outpouring of solidarity and goodwill that we are seeing in response to the crisis.
The medical community here has shown true heroism is stepping up to the plate even when public authorities leave them under-supplied and under-resourced. Countless people are looking out for their elderly neighbours, or doing their shopping for them.
Many of us are now forced to slow down, and take stock of our lives. Most of us are deprived of the hectic schedule of work, and the distractions of social life. At first, this feels like an enormous inconvenience. How does one structure one’s day under semi-voluntary house arrest?
On the other hand, sooner or later, many of us will probably start to reflect on the things that really matter. Sooner or later, many of us will wonder why we didn’t spend more time with our friends and loved ones, while we could.
When the dust settles on this pandemic, and life gets back to normal, a cup of coffee in the local café, a visit to the opera, a family gathering, or a glass of wine in a local bar, will seem like exquisite privileges. Many things will look pretty much the same as before, yet everything will be different.
Update: The headline on this story, provided by sub-editor, has been updated to reflect the fact that Dr. Thunder, while relatively certain that he’s had Covid-19, was not tested for the illness because only severe cases are being tested in Spain.