I started feeling a bit under the weather on the Monday. Cold, I thought, and took a couple of Aspirins. On the Wednesday morning I decided to enjoy a fragrant cup of freshly-brewed coffee. No fragrance of the much-awaited coffee, however. Fatigue, I thought. Lit a cigarette, to which my nose did not react. Bloody cold, I thought. Oh well, this shall pass, too. An idea to run an experiment crossed my mind: squished a garlic clove, sniffed. Again, nothing. Nothing even when the same was done with a lemon and black pepper corns. Ah, bloody cold, I reckoned, yet, rather sheepishly…
In the height of a pandemic those sorts of things just won’t go away, and, hence, our family GP sent me to get tested for the coronavirus. Having investigated all the symptoms, a nurse used a swab like a whisk in both of my nostrils and the throat, jotted down my contact details and offered to wait for a phone notification. ‘I hope it is negative’, rather thoughtfully she said and wished a strong health.
The Friday, in fact, was a conference day. It was supposed to look into the issues related to migration in the times of pandemic. The topic was indeed important and relevant, but I had to say no. On the Friday I was eagerly awaiting the negative result, but my saying no to attending the conference was a way of taking precautionary measures.
My precautionary measures, as it turned out, were not in vain. ‘Where are you now?’ a somewhat unfriendly voice enquired on the other end. To my ‘At home’ I was told not to leave the premises and that I would be given all the details later on.
A couple of hours later, I was informed that I could take anything I rendered important and that I was not to interact with anyone, whatsoever. I was instructed to put on a mask and gloves and get downstairs to the main entrance. All my attempts to persuade them to let me stay at home, as the symptoms were mild and, overall, I was feeling alright, were unsuccessful. Who could have thought that I would personally experience what migrating was in the times of pandemic: I was driven away in an emergency carriage to a COVID-hospital…
As I was leaving the lift, I ran into a neighbour. ‘Corona freaks you out?’ he dismissively commented pointing at the mask on my face. In a split of a second, he looked in the direction of the ambulance with his utterly pale face. He weirdly hopped, refused to use the lift, and dashed up the staircase to the sixth floor despite his 120 kilos. I was admitted to a ward. Three more patients were added later that day. As it seemed, the ward was meant to be for two people, but they obviously had added two more bunks. There was plenty of room for everyone, however. I was the luckiest of all – I had a pillow. My ward-mates begged for pillows, to which the nurse would say that the number of patients was growing and that they were in a drastic need for pillows, advising them to ask their relatives to send those pillows from their homes.
The Saturday began with a bottle of vitamins (at least, that was what we were told) and we all got an abdominal injection each. As the nurse said they were against blood clotting, as the virus is known for making blood thicker. After that, things seemed not to go according to the plan: breakfast was served at half past one in the afternoon, and lunch and dinner at three and six o’clock, respectively. The following days saw the feeding regime stabilize; for breakfast we would be served porridge, cottage cheese and tea or coffee, lunches would include first and second courses, and compote; dinners would have fish, meat balls, Frankfurters with a garnish, and apples. Anyone, however, could place an order for quick delivery of a delicacy or ask their relatives to get them something from their homes. Hence, the relatives and friends were quick to load us, the infected, with all possible sorts of yumminess and non-alcoholic beverages.
The staff would walk into the ward fully equipped in hazmat suits, gloves, goggles, masks and medical booties, which earned them a nickname the cosmonauts. Leaving the ward was a big no. For the whole duration of our stay in the clinic, we were only once ‘escorted’ to get the X-rays done. Ultra-sounds were done right in the ward, as well as taking blood samples, and taking temperature and checking oxygen levels in our blood. As we all were asymptomatic, we were not prescribed any medication. To be perfectly honest, that sort of treatment suited me perfectly.
The clinic turned a blind eye on our bad habit of smoking and would allow us to take turns to smoke sticking half of our bodies out of the window.
I must say that the way the patients were treated by the staff was stupendous. Right after each of us was admitted, the doctor phoned us and enquired how we were and said that we could call her on that phone number any time if need be.
One of the very few pathetic entertainments was feeding accidentally flying in pigeons with breadcrumbs left over the patients’ breakfasts. And, as it was getting dark quite early, they would be deprived of their dinner.
Quite often we would hear children scream and bang against the wall from the ward next door. The kids, most probably, were going nuts, not quite understanding why on earth they were locked up. The parents, most probably, were going mental, too. One could tell based on the resentful random screams of the parents.
Based on the noises, which we could hear from the hall way (which was a no-no for us), all the patients were law-abiding citizens. To be honest, however, there would be a couple of upheavals a day. A random male patient would try to get out of his ward as he had to attend to some urgent businesses. He would argue with the nurses and doctors, demanding the freedom of movement. After a ten- or fifteen-minute argument and having been threatened to be sent to a mental asylum he would be forced back into his ward.
On one day I was smoking through the window and noticed an elderly man sitting on the curb, weeping quietly. He was holding his head and was rocking from side to side. A moment later, a Mercedes-hearse drew up to the non-emergency door, which was seen from our window, and a sealed in a bag body was brought out. The men got into the car, and the hearse drove away.
While waiting for the X-ray, I made a small talk with a 29-year-old lady. She said that she used to work at one of the clinics in the town, where she contracted the virus from an infected patient. ‘How come?’ I asked. ‘Well, unlike this hospital, the only means of protection we had there were masks, gloves and robes. Hence the virus, ‘ she explained. It appeared she was not feeling well – she was leaning against the wall, shivering. ‘Every single joint in my body is aching, the head is about to explode,’ she complained…
Since all of us in the ward were asymptomatic, we could not simply stay in bed waiting for another procedure or a meal.
One of my ward-mates was passing time every day by happily and thoroughly describing all the meals and their gustatory qualities, how blood samples are taken, what can be seen from the window, how he takes vitamins, what his doctor asks them, etc. to someone over the phone. Several times a day he would tell an imaginary friend that he could laze there for another month, and how comfortable it was and that he is in no mood to work or do anything at all. It appears that he was way too content there that he would not bother to even take a shower during the whole two-week stay… Once we were discharged, he looked content, but as he walked a few steps away from the building, he glanced at the hospital with sadness in his eyes. Apparently, he really wanted to remember the happy days spent there.
The second neighbour was a second-year university student, and would spend the whole day behind a laptop, getting ready for the exams. At times, he would get distracted and message someone or play video games. He would interact with us extremely rarely, having set up a frontier between him and the rest of us by means of earphones stuck into his ears.
Another ward-mate of the pre-university ages would spend half a day watching films on the phone, would do push-ups and some exercises three times a day, and the rest of the time would pick our brains with a myriad of questions on various subjects. He clearly was lacking space to waste the deposits of energy as he would walk back and forth in the ward leading us to insanity.
We were all discharged on the same day, as we were all admitted here on the same day. This time, the test result had been negative. The doctors congratulated us on recovering, wished us strong health and expressed hopes that we would not be admitted to the hospital again. ‘I strongly encourage you to self-isolate for another week,’ the doc admonished. ‘is it a must?’ the student asked anxiously. ‘No, but highly recommended,’ unenthusiastically the doctor emphasized.
It was a warm day, and, living within walking distance from the hospital, I decided to take a walk home. We were standing by the hospital, saying an awkward good-bye. As it happened, we exchanged our contact details, made promises to meet some time and celebrate our setting free. To be perfectly honest, however, the ward-mates, sort of, started annoying me taking into consideration we all spent together in a closed space (mind you, I am sure it was mutual).
As we said our good-byes and walked in different directions, an ambulance drew up at the main entrance to the hospital. Accompanied by a cosmonaut, an infected man and woman got out of the car. The pandemic was gaining momentum…
Irakli Chikhladze, for newcaucasus.com
Translated by Bogdan Miroshnichenko