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My COVID experience: It’s a scent-less, tasteless world

By BṺM TENORIO JR., The Philippine STAR Published Jul 23, 2021 6:00 am

The virus is a thief in the night — or in broad daylight. For more than a year, I was successful in dodging its unseen attacks. Until recently, when I became a mild COVID-19 patient myself because I was exposed to a suspected asymptomatic in the city.

Two Sundays ago, I came home to Gulod with a little cough and runny sniffles. It happened to me many times before when I would fall asleep in the car and the aircon vent was blowing right onto my face.

These days, with the new variant of coronavirus, coughing and sneezing are a cause for alarm. Though confident that my cough and colds that night were just “out of the ordinary,” I still did not enter our house to protect my fully-vaccinated, 77-year-old mother.

That night, I went straight to my Kuya Ronnie’s house. There are three houses in our compound. The house of Kuya Ronnie had been designated as the isolation/quarantine house when the pandemic was declared last year.

I only panicked when, while taking a shower, I couldn’t smell the suds of soap lathered on my body. I always relished that scent. That scent always, always made me want to take a bath.

Before I retired that night, I gargled Bactidol and loaded up on vitamin C — my usual routine. I welcomed Monday morning feeling fresh, excited, upbeat. The cough and colds were gone. I was happy. I did my WFH duties. Then, late in the afternoon, I got my bike in the garage for a short ride around Cabuyao.

The wind carried me to a wharf in the lakeside barrio of Mamatid. I came just in time for a spectacle that was the sunset by the lake, splayed all over the precipice of Mt. Makiling. The scene was hopeful albeit it was dusk, a sign of goodbye.

I got my bike in the garage for a short ride around Cabuyao.

There was half a rainbow arch in the horizon. The cumulus clouds were a frenzy of orange, pink and blue, a perfect match to the green, green blades of grass on the ground. The clouds appeared like theater curtains being pulled to the left to reveal the joyful vista. The scene was relaxing, rejuvenating, revivifying — even if I was alone.

In my excitement, I asked for the help of two young ladies at the wharf to take my video. We all had our face masks on. They agreed. One was filming me, the other one directing her friend for the shot. I asked for their names. They even helped me edit the video on my phone.

When the first star appeared in the sky, I took my signal to bid the lake adieu. Just when I started pedaling out of the wharf, came a slight downpour. I took shelter in a nearby sari-sari store owned by an old lady. Bought a bottle of mineral water. When I sensed that the downpour would be heavier if I waited it out, I decided to pedal in the rain.

I came home drenched — but happy. Only, my cough was quickly back and my sniffles cascaded down my nostrils. I did not panic.

I only panicked when, while taking a shower, I couldn’t smell the suds of Irish Spring soap lathered on my body. I always relished that scent. That scent always, always made me want to take a bath. I put the bar closer to my nose. Fail. I sniffed it again. And again. Fail.

I had already lost my sense of smell. The cartilage that was attached to the bone tasted like styrofoam. The meat was like cardboard dissolving in my mouth. The cloves of garlic and peppercorn tasted like plastic wrapper.

Then I bit the soap bar to prove that I still had sense of taste. Pwe! It was bitter, acrid. I was happy.

But I did not leave anything to chance. I called my pulmonologist, Dr.Ely Obillo,on Tuesday morningbecause a voice in my head was already sending me panic signals. The doctor put me at ease as he sent me via Viber a prescription for my meds.

“Panic is the enemy,” he told me several times. “It’s good that you’re already isolated. Now, have the following tests tomorrow: RT-PCR, lateral-chest X-Ray and CBC.” I slept soundly that night.

The roosters in the backyard and the birds on the himbaba-o tree roused me from my sleep Wednesday morning. The dogs were excited and joined in howling. The ducks quacked, and Moja, the stray cat, seemed in heat in her purring. My spirit was up. And I was already “being served” at home. In isolation.

In isolation

A chair was placed in front of the main door of my Kuya’s house. My food, always in a reused container, would be delivered by my Kuya Ronnie or youngest brother Rodon the chair. (Those two battled COVID, too, in the hospital together for weeks in May.) Whatever was brought inside my brother’s house would not come back anymore to the main house. For protection of everyone. (There was also a Lysol canister beside the chair.)

My brothers would enter the main house after the delivery. I would get a call from my mother that my food was already on the chair. That’s the only time I would open the door to get my ration.

I would wear three-layered masks and a face shield before I opened the door. My exposure to the outside world, while in isolation, should only be less than 15 seconds to protect others in the compound. (The system works very well.)

That morning, I only had steamed rice and juice delivered to me. A creature of habit, I would have paksiw na pata, which was my dinner the night before, for breakfast. Since I already had it in the ref, I just took it out to reheat it.

Believe me, my mother is a kitchen goddess and her paksiw na pata seasoned with tahure (cured soft tofu), vinegar and soy sauce and mixed with cloves and cloves of garlic, peppercorn and banana blossoms is to die for. I scooped a spoonful of the sauce to my mouth.

I was puzzled. It was supposed to be sour and sweet and salty and tasty, just like how it tasted last night, but it was bordering on being bland, tasteless. I smelled it. Baka panis.

I had already lost my sense of smell. Completely. The cartilage that was attached to the bone tasted like styrofoam. The meat was like cardboard dissolving in my mouth. The cloves of garlic and peppercorn tasted like plastic wrapper. But I had an appetite. Weird. I went to the hospital for my tests.

Thursday, 6:27 a.m.I got an e-mail from the hospital. I tested positive for COVID-19. I was not shocked anymore. I had already processed my emotions.

When they are already loaded with the virus, the word “irresponsible” used to dress down patients will not help. So, I made my case public on the day I discovered I was positive. I wouldn’t be shamed!

Acting on my own, I called every human being I knew I’d come in close contact with to protect them and for them to protect their loved ones, too. I searched for the two young ladies I met on the lakeside on FB and found one. I asked for her understanding that I’d tested positive in the RT-PCR.

I called the city information office of Cabuyao to report myself, just in case the hospital had yet to forward them the result of my swab test. I even reported myself to the barangay.

So when the barangay officer asked for my help in contact tracing late afternoon of July 15, I informed him that I had already called them at 8 a.m. on that Thursday.

The only person I was not able to reach was the old lady from whom I bought the bottled water. I described her to the officer on the phone doing the contact tracing — short-haired, mole on the lower right chin, lilting voice, always beside the makeshift stone stove in her store. I pleaded that she should also be told of my case so she could somehow observe herself for her own protection.

Dignity in honesty

I figured there was dignity in honesty, in telling the truth and reaching out to people who were in a close encounter with me, while I still did not know I already had the virus. I thought it was a moral obligation.

I am for crushing the stigma of COVID-19. Nobody wants to get sick, let alone of COVID. I also don’t subscribe to COVID shaming. The patients should be encouraged to survive. Huwag pag-chismisan.

When they are already loaded with the virus, the word “irresponsible” used to dress down patients will not help. So, I made my case public on the day I discovered I was positive. I wouldn’t be shamed!

In the course of my job as a journalist, I have interviewed many patients and their families who suffered from COVID-19. Being ostracized was part of their ordeal. It was already burdensome for them financially; now they also had to deal with the torturous shaming. (Yes, treating COVID is costly — even if remedy is done at home. Please be very careful.)

Thankfully, I don’t have cough and colds anymore. I did not experience a fever even at the onset of my symptoms. I am looking forward to escaping ageusia (the impairment of sense of taste) and anosmia (scent blindness). I miss smelling myself good while taking a shower. I also miss the real taste of food.

“It will come back. Just please wait,” Dr. Obillo told me, as I reported to him that my oximeter always registered 98 on the screen. I even report to him the time when I take my armada of medication, which includes anti-viral medicines and antibiotics.

He said my COVID symptoms were mild because I already had one dose of AstraZeneca vaccine in May; my second dose is scheduled for Aug. 10.“The first vaccine is already doing its job of protecting you from being critical, given your comorbidities.”

He counted my biking as my defense, too, in warding off a more serious attack of the virus. Yes, my daily “Bike be with you” was not in vain — because physical exercise fortifies the immune system.

Take care, everyone.

Illustration by Hersam Sato