• Vedashree Khambete Sharma

Issued In Public Interest

This year, Diwali was supposed to be a reprieve. From endless calls, video meetings, non-stop work and just the neverending routine of working from home. It was supposed to be time I spent with family, with Rook and with poor Pookie, on whom WFH has been particularly hard.

She had her vacation and wonder of wonders, my office had declared a week-long Diwali break too. We were to visit my in-laws and my parents, far from the madding crowd. It had seemed as if for the first time in months, the stars were aligned for some quality R&R for all of us.

Have you been noticing the past sense? Suppose to. Seemed.

Because little of that actually happened, see.

Right on the day of Laxmi Poojan, I woke up with severe body ache. I had a cold. A little cough. Felt feverish. Are you seeing where this is headed? I called my doctor who told me the symptoms all matched Covid. Happy freakin’ Diwali, y’all.

I didn’t understand how it could be Covid. I never step out without a mask, not even into the corridor outside my house. I ALWAYS wash my hands after coming home. I’m meticulous to the point of being obsessive about this shit, okay? So how could it be Covid? But the symptoms were all there.

The worst thing you can do in such a situation is look things up on the internet. Which is, of course, what I did. I had swollen lymph nodes. Are they a symptom of Covid, I asked. No, no, said one site. Yes, could be, said another. Erm… it’s kinda complicated, said a third. Thanks for nothing, I told them.

Then I called and asked around for a Covid test. Because I was living under the same roof as a 6-year-old and 2 people in their 70s. The following day, Rook and I hauled ass to a testing centre and got tested. At 2200 bucks a pop. You’ll have the results in 24-36 hours, they told us.

Whereupon began the longest 2 days of my life. In the best traditions of coping, I binge watched all the shows I’d been meaning to and hadn’t. Killing Eve. The Crown. I began reading Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People, because it seemed wildly appropriate for my mental state. But every now and then, when the onslaught of entertainment abated, the same dangerous thought kept popping in my mind.

What if it’s Covid? What then?

Would I languish in a Covid hospital? Would the sheets be clean? Would the food be okay? Would I not get to see Pookie for 14 days? The very thought filled me with dread. They say it affects those with low immunity the worst and me? I had eczema and allergies – both excellent signs of a fucked up immune system.

A distant uncle had already passed away with the disease. Would I be next?

For two days, at the very height of the festive season, while others put up pictures of sarees, rangolis, diyas and kandeels on Instagram and wished each other and the general audience happiness, prosperity and joy, I lay isolated in a bedroom, trying to push away these thoughts. I couldn’t hug my daughter or kiss my husband. Have lunch with my parents or visit my brother on Bhai-dooj. All I could do was hope, pray, tell myself that it wasn’t Covid.

Rook brought me my meals, Pookie made card after get-well-soon card for me, I slept and slept to regain my waning strength, and through it all, I prayed, please God, let it not be Covid.

Last Tuesday morning, the results finally came. It wasn’t Covid, just a flu with spectacularly bad timing. I was filled with a sense of relief such as I can’t describe. Diwali was over but I’d just been handed a much bigger cause to celebrate.

What an anticlimax, I hear you think. All that shoo-shaa and it wasn’t even Covid. Pfff. But that’s the whole point, see? I wore a mask and washed my hands and still had to go through nerve-wracking anxiety about the future. And the likelihood of me having one. I was put out of my misery in two days. But with Covid, nothing’s that easy. 14 days of isolation from your loved ones and the possibility of weeks, maybe months, even years of a compromised immune system and in some cases, damaged organs.

So unless your idea of a good time is playing Russian Roulette, do yourselves and everyone else a favour.

Wear a goddamned mask.

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