Gina T. Reilly, right, and her mother Teresita Tabonares
"Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” This is the perfect description of my life during this pandemic crisis.
I tested positive four days after my birthday. I got the coronavirus as an unwelcome birthday present. The shocking news of being positive for Covid-19 put me in an emotional rollercoaster. For two months, I was swabbed six times before and during my quarantine period. I was in home isolation for what seemed like forever.
After becoming a veteran of swab testing—and eventually defeating the coronavirus — I thought my own painful journey with Covid 19 was over.
Had I written this story right after I finally received the clean bill of health, I could have had a happy ending note. I survived the invisible enemy. Sadly, my mother did not.
She left the world last Thursday after fighting for her life for weeks.
We could not pinpoint where exactly she got exposed. The coronavirus also infected my sister, her son and my mom’s caregiver.
When we rushed my mother to the hospital, we thought all the symptoms she was experiencing were due to kidney failure. We prayed hard that she was not Covid-stricken.
My sister did not suspect that the last goodbye at the emergency room would be her last chance to hold our mother. She waited 48 hours outside the hospital while my mom waited to get a spot at the intensive care. She was intubated on her second day. The difficulty of not knowing what exactly was happening with her because of the extra layers of isolation put us in agony.
We glued ourselves to our cellphones waiting for every little update we could get. Some hospital staff helped us sneak a cellphone to get a glimpse of our mother. The imposing sights of tubes and pipes besides her hospital bed were like pins and needles pricking our hearts, causing us to shed tears.
Everything was blurry with the sobs, the mirrors in between the smartphones and ICU room, even the words out of the doctor's mouth were muffled by the facemask and faceshield.
For 15 days we knocked on heaven’s door for my mom to bounce back but Covid-19 complicated her preexisting health conditions. We said our goodbyes virtually not even sure if she could hear us. As of this writing her cremation was ongoing. We took comfort in the thought that she is no longer in pain.
My younger sister, her son and my mother’s caregiver are recovering but our complete healing may take time.
The pain of not being able to be with your loved ones, the fear of not being able to say goodbye are too unbearable. I wouldn't wish the same experience on anyone. Being hospitalized nowadays is not only emotionally draining but also financially burdensome because every patient has to share the cost of preventing the spread of the virus.
When I was tested positive more than a month ago, I was not in pain. I didn’t feel anything in my body that would alarm me. I was asymptomatic. There was a tinge of worry because there was no cure for Covid-19. It attacks its victims differently. Some are stable in the beginning then will get worse later.
I felt a chill on a Sunday night but I thought I was just coming down with the flu. I went to work and started removing the birthday decorations with the help of co-workers who surprised me with the sweet thoughts.
My throat started itching. I switched off my office computer and went home. A good rest made me feel better the day after. I drove to the Naval Hospital to get a drive-thru Covid test. However, the nurse did not administer the test after doing an evaluation. She told me I didn’t have the Covid symptoms.
I was disappointed because I wanted to get tested and want to get some documentations for our travel to Japan and Florida at the end of June.
On my way home I saw cars lining up in Barrigada and I remembered the free community testing was in our village. I went into the car line but it was really moving so slow I decided to park my car in front the Mayor’s Office and trekked to the walk-in line and I got my first swab test after 40 minutes of waiting.
After 24 hours, I got a call and received the bad news. I was positive. I was in shock and ambivalent about it, I even thought that the test was false. I wasn't feeling bad; I have felt worse with the flu.
I knew my health was OK overall but was curious about how I was infected. I traced my recent activities to determine how I got exposed.
At the onset of the pandemic, my mother taught me through facetime on how to operate her sewing machine. I volunteered with a small group of people who sewed facemasks for frontliners. The demand was high and I stayed late sewing and compromised my immune system. I was not afraid because I already survived heart surgery. But at the same time, I was terrified because I was with my family that weekend and I was worried that I exposed them to the virus during our family picnic. They were tested and, thankfully, all of them had negative results.
My husband and I were quarantined at the same time. He stayed in our extension room while I stayed in the main house with our five dogs who loved our “home stay” the most.
We were thankful we had groceries and dog food because we prepared for our two-week vacation.
Public health constantly checked on me and when I didn’t answer the phone they would drive to our house and ask me to show my face through the window, making sure I was not breaking the protocol. I felt like a prisoner, albeit in the comfort of my home, or a public enemy that could be arrested if I left our house.
I wanted to be quiet about being positive but I couldn’t keep it as a secret because I had friends who occasionally came for a surprise visit to pick fruits from our backyard. I would spray perfume to check my sense of smell, I didn’t lose it. I ate like I was in a picnic, gorged on every fruit I could get. But I lost my sense on time because my dogs and I would just sleep in the morning until afternoon and then go back to bed again after eating.
There were times when I’d wake up being nervous and check my breathing wondering if I would have difficulties breathing.
I stopped reading the news and avoided stories about the pandemic and coronavirus. I followed all the advice everybody gave me. I tried them all: load with vitamin C, take zinc, steam salt therapy, ginger-lemon tea, steamy long showers and lots of sleep.
After 14 days I was excited to get re-tested, only to find out I was still positive. I’ve waited for another two weeks to get my third swab test and was really happy that my result was finally negative. However, the Navy (I work at Naval Base Guam) requires two-consecutive tests before they can allow me go back to work so I was scheduled for my fourth test after 24 hours.
Another blow of positive result hit me and my patience was running thin. A doctor explained that he could sign a waiver so I could go back to work since I was no longer contagious. Two weeks later, I was told to get my fifth, and then my sixth tests. I got two consecutive negative results and I was happy to return to work after two months.
I am fully recovered from my Covid infection but the thought of losing my dear mother and being deprived of the chance to kiss her goodbye would be my loss forever.
Gina T. Reilly is a longtime journalist. She currently works as a media specialist at DZSP 21. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org