My COVID-19 ordeal started four days after I arrived home from the UK at the end of March. I was not tested on arrival, so the moment I got home, I disinfected my luggage and self-isolated in my room as not to put the other six members of my household at risk.
The prudence paid off. On the fourth day, I was hit overnight with some of the classic COVID-19 symptoms – I was feverish, weak and coughing. A trip to my neighbourhood Public Health Preparedness Clinic and a blood test confirmed me as yet another imported case. By then, I was really sick; I could hardly walk to the ambulance that came to take me from my home to the hospital. I could only forlornly wave goodbye to my family from a distance. It would be a long time before I saw them again.
In that time, I would run the gamut of feelings, from relief and hope (when I was transferred to the community recovery facility) to impatience and despair (cooped up with a roommate and with only our electronic devices for respite from boredom).
At first, I had a very high fever and my body was wracked by bone-crushing aches. I had pounding headaches, coughing fits, and crazy dreams; I was so weak I had to use a chair when showering. But thank God, there were no problems with my breathing. Only seven days after I was hospitalised, I had only a mild cough – that was when I went to recovery facility. The converted hotel seemed like the perfect place to convalesce – lots of space for my roommate and I, hot showers, strong air-conditioning (remember, I had just returned from a British winter), decent Wi-Fi and food, and a balcony from which I could catch a glimpse of the sea beyond the park.
Entering Holy Week, frustrated and helpless
It was during the second half of my “incarceration” that overwhelming frustration and helplessness set in. Although my roommate and I kept to ourselves, the unavoidable loss of privacy got to us. The food was bland and repetitive (I’d lost my sense of smell and taste for a while). My mobile was filled with niceties that only heightened my sense of segregation from the good buddies who sent them (I’d informed very few of my situation). I no longer stood at the balcony as the sight of the many joggers and cyclists in the park aggravated my corona-captive state of mind even more.
My two false negative tests, the discharge of my roommate three weeks on, a change of room, and a new roommate who had been languishing at the community recovery facility for just as long as I had.. there came a time when I just didn’t care anymore.
All this took place during Lent and then Easter. Despite my parents’ valiant efforts to bring me up as a good Catholic, I had lapsed in my faith during my eight years as a student in the UK. In my early days, I went to mass every Sunday and had even served in ministry for awhile, but as the pressures of undergraduate and then postgraduate study mounted, I became lukewarm.
With God always
The days in isolation were dragging endlessly by. I felt like the proverbial bird in a gilded cage. Waves of despair, injustice and anger swept over me. But imprisoned in that room, I somehow didn’t feel abandoned. I didn’t lose faith in God. I found consolation in prayer. And slowly it dawned on me that this personal COVID-19 crisis was a protracted Lenten penance I had to make to shake me out of my spiritual complacency.
My best prayer space was in the shower, the only place where I could truly be alone. With my eyes closed, I could really focus my thoughts on God. Even in my darkest moments, I could find peace flowing like a river, like the warm water running over me. My prayer was usually not much more than a single decade of the rosary, but I never failed to turn to Mother Mary in those times, no matter how briefly.
And God had blessed me with a family that kept me sane throughout. My dad and siblings sent me funny memes, photos and all kinds of nonsense every day to cheer me up. From the moment my family’s quarantine order expired, my mom (or her friends) dropped off home-cooked meals daily, and brought me anything else I needed, like clean clothes (hand-washing laundry is not every young man’s cup of tea, certainly not for more than a month!)
An eight-minute rosary
As my desperation increased after the five week mark, my mother taught me to pray the Liberation Rosary. I had never heard of it before, and knowing me so well, she said: “It’s very powerful but only takes eight minutes! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” So I did.
My mom WhatsApp-ed me these photos of her Liberation Rosary prayer card
Her “strategy” worked, and so did the rosary. Miraculously, three days after I started praying it, in the first few days of May, I tested negative for COVID-19 twice in a row. I came home in time for Mothers’ Day with my family. On the day I was discharged, it was surreal, feeling the wind on my face for the first time in forever.
What are my key takeaways from the whole experience? Although I didn’t have to suffer for the Biblical kairos time of 40 days and 40 nights, I came close – 37 days and 36 nights of chronos time. That time, indeterminable as it had seemed then, has certainly affirmed my faith in God and Our Lady. And in my family who I know will always be there for me. I believe that if I am patient and persevere in prayer, my grandfather’s favourite Bible verse will prove true: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
I now know, unwaveringly, that after the introspection and perhaps after the hardship of any Lent, there is always the joy and hope of Easter.