I’m standing in front of the refrigerator, the door is wide open, searching for something to eat. The cold air reminds me of crisp Fall mornings. Suddenly I’m longing for a warm cup of coffee, a blanket, and a porch overlooking the water. I pop a blueberry into my mouth and pretend I’m somewhere else. I bite down, it explodes. My cheeks tighten, my mouth salivates – the blueberry is sour and yet I can’t taste the flavour.
I think I lost my sense of taste, I declare as my husband joins me at the refrigerator.
Really? Can you still smell? He asks.
I lift my arm and swandive my nose down to my armpit. I inhale deeply. No baby-powder scent, no muskiness, or BO.
I can’t smell anything.
I was aware of this symptom. I’ve known other people who lost their sense of taste and smell because of COVID-19 but I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t prepared to lose something that I’ve always taken for granted. I could tell if the coffee I made was too strong, I could tell if I put too much salt or sugar in something, but I couldn’t actually taste the flavour of the food. A simple pleasure gone overnight.
I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell until a week after I tested positive for COVID-19. My husband and I had already been quarantined since the day we knew we had been exposed. We’d held onto hope that we didn’t catch it but I started experiencing symptoms six days after exposure. It started with pain in my lower back that travelled deep into the muscles of my legs. I couldn’t sit still or lay down. I was restless and in pain. Next came the stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, mild cough, and extreme fatigue. For a few days I slept after every meal, unable to keep my eyes open to read or watch Netflix.
The aches and pains were nothing compared to the loneliness I felt quarantining in the bedroom away from my husband. I only left the room to use the bathroom and even so, I wore a mask and sanitized all surfaces after I touched them. We’d FaceTime after he brought me my meals so that we could still eat together. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss him.
I also missed my family. My bubble. Not seeing my nieces in real life for over a month was not easy. They’re growing so fast and I don’t want to miss out on it. Not being able to hug them, colour with them, or go for walks with them was driving me straight to the Depression Diner – table for one please!
Whenever my husband and I felt particularly lonely, we’d sanitize our hands, put on masks and stand back to back. We’d wrap our arms around one another the best we could. He’d tilt his head back so I could feel it on top of mine. We’d exhale in unison and I’d giggle. His hands on my body immediately warmed me up. The fear in my heart melted and for a minute or two I could breathe. No one tells you how much you’ll miss someone until they’re two feet from you and you can’t touch them.
A few days after I tested positive, my husband did too. The good news was that I didn’t have to quarantine from him anymore. The bad news is pretty obvious. The day I started feeling better, my husband started feeling worse. His symptoms started the same way mine did. He even lost his sense of taste and smell (which still haven’t returned). For the next week or so I’d watch him hobble around the condo, pacing because he couldn’t take the shooting pains in his legs. He was frustrated, angry and in pain. We both worried these pains wouldn’t go away, we worried about his varicose veins and blood clots. We worried.
As long as it took for the days to pass, having COVID-19 seems like it was over before it even began. It’s a whirlwind. A few weeks after my husband started having symptoms, he was back at work. Leg pains disappearing like a bat in the night. My sense of taste and smells has returned, although they flicker in an out.
I am grateful that our symptoms didn’t worsen. That we didn’t need a ventilator. That we are walking around with air in our lungs and antibodies dancing inside us. I am grateful that we are no longer contagious. I thank our bodies before I fall asleep every night for fighting, for not giving up because it could have been so much worse.
It’s been over a month and it still feels strange to leave the house for groceries or exercise. Like I’m carrying around something that no one can see but I know it’s there. It’s the same feeling you get when your teacher hands back your assignment, face down on your desk and you both know you failed but no one else around you does. There’s a sense of shame that I have (had?) COVID. After working from home, having my husband tested three or more times a month, how careful we were, it’s a punch to the gut that we caught it.
The fear I lived with of getting COVID has been replaced by the shame of having COVID. I feel guilty for feeling better when I know many many people have fared worse. I’m using this experience as a reminder to always be humble, to be grateful, to enjoy the moments I have IRL with the people I love. It’s a reminder to be kinder to my body and to take care of it – starting with getting my first does of the vaccine.