54 days in isolation. Granted, 47 of those days were spent with a government-mandated roommate but it didn’t make the entire ordeal any easier.
To provide a little bit of a back story, I had been diagnosed with the novel COVID-19 virus on the 27th of March 2020. Even though I suspected that I may have contracted it on my flight back from New York City, where I was to spend an entire year interning in a start-up right next to the Empire State building, you never really know with these things. Honestly, considering the fact that I had been liberally making jokes about contracting the virus while it was still in its early stages, this diagnosis had felt nothing short of a karmic comeuppance.
As compared to the horror stories circulating the internet, my symptoms were relatively mild. Within a few days of contracting the virus, I’d developed a slight itch at the back of my throat. I decided not to take any chances, considering the fact that my roommate from NYC had just been diagnosed with the virus, and went to get swabbed. Fair enough, I tested positive and within a few hours of receiving my diagnosis via a phone call, an ambulance arrived to ship me off to the nearest hospital, which in this case, happened to be Sengkang General Hospital.
My symptoms got progressively worse during my stay at the hospital. First to go were my senses of smell and taste. As much as this proved to be a silver lining at times (not being able to taste the bland hospital food), it got a little frustrating when even the toothpaste in my mouth every morning felt like butter. Breathing had become somewhat of an arduous task as well- with my nasal passages feeling like they weren’t working like they normally used to. On the other side, fatigue followed me around like a shadow. Simple exercises tired me vastly and I spent hours in bed, endlessly watching Netflix reruns to satiate my innate boredom.
Thankfully, these symptoms didn’t last long and as soon as they began to ameliorate; I was shifted to a community isolation facility- D’ Resort Chalets Singapore. It was here, where I would spend the next month and a half of my COVID-19 journey.
I was pretty fortunate- the roommate I’d been assigned to was a 22-year-old Law undergraduate from the UK and it was this closeness in age that allowed me to form a fast friendship with her in spite of the sheer difference in personalities. We fell into an easy pattern and an easier friendship. We’d spend countless hours doing the most absurd things- from creating cringe-inducing TikTok videos to contemplating and debating deep theories about the state of our society today.
As the days went by, they began to meld together. I lost track of the dates altogether. My daily routine became me waking up, taking a shower, consuming a state-supplied banana before promptly returning to bed to resume doing courses as part of my goal to achieve some degree of career enhancement during the quarantine.
Isolation without a light at the end of the tunnel tends to take a heavy toll on one’s mental health, and I was no different. Without the promise of a new environment, it became easy to spend hours and hours in bed. I slowly began losing my appetite- a sure-fire sign of my impending downward spiral. It wasn’t even a conscious thing, and it wasn’t until my roommate pointed out the unopened bento boxes piling up in the trash bag at the corner of our room, that I realised I had a problem.
Yet another unsettling hobby I’d picked up was obsessively completing many courses as possible. Prior to quarantine, I’d been focusing on doing whatever I could to enhance my resume. The poor economic outlook following the pandemic had motivated me to accomplish this goal sooner and by any means necessary. I signed up for a plethora of online courses on Udemy and Coursera and threw myself completely into completing several modules a day. I kept myself busy from 10 am to 8 pm daily in order to keep my mind off my dismal living situation and all it ever did was bring me more unhappiness and leave me feeling more unfulfilled.
It wasn’t until I began comforting myself, and in a strange way, forgiving myself for contracting a highly contagious, deadly virus that I began to feel more like myself again. Deep down, I realised that I had been blaming myself for my current predicament and I had been attempting to compensate for this inherent lack of self-worth any way that I could.
I was lucky though. I had a strong and healthy support system. My friends would take turns to Facetime me every night and my parents, whenever they could, would drop off home-cooked meals and my favourite snacks for my roommate and me.
I can vividly recall how one week when I was at my lowest, I had casually mentioned to my friends how much I missed having hot meals compared to the cold bento boxes I was used to consuming. One of my childhood best friends then took the liberty to cook and send me dinner whenever she could. It’s no small feat- cooking dinner, packing it before making the journey down to deliver it at the allotted time by D’ Resort.
D’Resort Chalet was also conveniently located in such a way that it faced Pasir Ris Beach. My room specifically, faced the jogging route. Even though I wasn’t allowed any visitors, considering the contagiousness of the virus and all, my family and my friends would come to stand opposite my room just to wave at me. It was heart-warming, really, knowing that the people who loved me were doing whatever they could to make sure I knew how loved and cherished I was.
Looking back now, it’s funny how the worst part of my COVID-19 experience wasn’t in fact, contracting the virus in the first place, but the after-effects of it. Such things always seem like a foreign concept until we’re right smack in the middle of it. Obviously, it’s not an experience I’d like repeated but if you ask me, I do believe it was one that was necessary. In those harrowing three months, I learned so many things about myself, most importantly, what exactly I was capable of overcoming.
In retrospect, I do still experience some lasting consequences of the virus. I have become a comically germophobic person. I think twice before placing my hands on any exposed surface and I avoid sharing food with other people as much as possible. Any small infraction in hygiene immediately sends me back to the mindless days spent in D’ Resort so I do my best to keep everything to myself. I’d like to see a day where these things don’t bother me anymore and for that to happen, it requires society to be responsible on a whole. All in all, the COVID-19 pandemic may have brought the entire world to a standstill but I am proud to say it hasn’t done the same to me.