Saturday, September 25, 2021

 Moesson Magazine | September 2021

Things will never be the same again after Covid-19 hits us.

On the evening of July 3rd, while taking a stroll in the neighborhood, I suddenly felt pain in my fingers and joints. I thought it was because of the evening breeze. Late that night, before heading to bed, I got a sore throat and decided to drink a cup of hot tea, hoping that it would get rid of the cold I might have caught during the walk. Well, it didn’t work. The following days, things were not getting better.

I kept convincing myself that it was just a cold, until one of my colleagues with whom I had a meeting on July 2nd, told everyone in our office’s Whatsapp group on July 6th that he had been tested positive for Covid-19.

Was I panicked? Not really. I had been vaccinated once two weeks earlier, I had always put on double masks every time I went out, I had never been in a crowd, I had been tested negative four times since the pandemic broke out last year, and I had always had my multivitamin and fruits in every morning.

“Still, you should take the test,” my wife strongly advised, fearing that the symptoms I had might lead to Corona. At that time, the number of cases grew rapidly every day all across Java. Everyone could possibly get infected.

That morning I decided to take the antigen test in a lab nearby. Within twenty minutes, the result came out, and to my surprise, it was positive. Well, I need to be more convinced that the result was accurate. In other words, I was entering the stage of denial.

In the evening, together with my wife who didn’t have any symptoms, I took a PCR test, and got the result in the following day, suggesting that we both were positively infected by Covid-19. From then on, I was entering the stage of acceptance.

At home, we decided to do self-isolation, considering the mild symptoms that we had. I consulted an internist, and got tons of pills of antivirus, antibiotic, vitamins, and paracetamol. Gradually, we lost our senses of smell, appetites, and started getting fever. Friends and family kept telling us to be strong and keep our minds positive. It’s something rather not easy to do in that circumstance.

In the days we got infected, Jakarta felt just normal, but we couldn’t deny the fact that ambulances became more frequently seen everywhere on the streets, and sometimes at midnight, I could hear the sirens roar from far away. Every day, people posted obituaries of their families or relatives in social media. In our neighborhood alone, we were getting used to hear someone’s death announced from the mosques around us almost in every morning, and at night, no one came out of their houses after eight.

However, we were fortunate not to be hospitalized. We didn’t even dare to think about it.

“Believe me, you won’t want to spend a second at hospital these days,” said my college friend, Alia Widyarini, who had to stay for four days and three nights at the emergency room in the central hospital in Bandung for Covid-19.

“It was very horrible, almost like in a battlefield,” she continued.

When she came to hospital, patients with Covid-19 had to wait in beds along the corridor outside the building before getting further treatments inside. There, she experienced something that shocked her to the bones.

“In front of me, health workers wearing full personal protective equipment moved in a rush, back and forth carrying bodies in cadaver pouches,” she described the situation. “One of them even shouted to the others that there were more bodies inside that needed to be carried out. It was frustrating.”

Despite of that, Alia counted herself lucky as she was sent to hospital few weeks before the number of corona cases in Bandung increased drastically in July. Just like me, she had no clue where and how she got infected. It was unclear, and most likely, untraceable, but now after trying to recall what happened before they got infected, she has a presumption where it all began.

Back to the early June, shortly after the authority lifted up the travel ban, her husband, Aswin Rahadi, was assigned by the university where he works as a lecturer to Pelabuhan Ratu, about 160 kilometer west of Bandung, for a community dedication program. He rented a car with a driver, brought along his wife, six year old son Teta, parents, and decided to stay in a hotel.

Then came the day where she guessed the disaster came from. “Aswin was swimming with Teta while I was waiting at a table on the poolside,” said Alia about their last day at the hotel.

“Where were your in-laws?” I wondered

“They were busy with packing. We’re about to check out that afternoon,” she replied.

Out of the blue, a family that she didn’t know came to her table with their lunch, took their masks off and ate their meals while talking to each other.

“Their attitude was unacceptable. It was our table, and I was of course not comfortable being surrounded with strangers. Aswin came out of the pool and talked with that family. Soon there was a massive argument between people not wearing masks, and it potentially led to the spread of the virus.”

“What made you think that it caused you got infected?” I asked.

“Simply because my in-laws who were not at the table didn’t get infected,” she answered.

Within days after they returned to Bandung, Aswin, Alia, and Teta developed symptoms that, just like me and many people in Indonesia, they thought were just a cold. Of three of them, Alia was the only one sent to hospital as she had the worst symptom, most likely because she hadn’t been vaccinated.

When I asked her if there was a valuable lesson she had learned from this terrible disease, she answered: “You might have done your very best to maintain your immune system, or follow the health protocols, but you cannot run away from God’s will.”

For me, God often works mysteriously, like the nature he created. When the pandemic hit Indonesia last year, the government strongly advised that people stay at home. For many of us, that could cause boredom, and we surely need something to channel that. I didn’t know who initiated it, but people started to collect plants at their homes. Suddenly, gardening became a new trend, and almost every house became greener than before.

In my neighborhood, it is now common to see people preoccupied with their plants in the morning. They water them, or put them under the sun, and sometimes exchange their collections with others. “Plants are the new pets,” said my friend Yaria Wanda who recently collects thirty two different plants in pots at her tiny front lawn. “With two daughters schooling from home, and many unpleasant news about this outbreak, I need this hobby to maintain my mental health,” she continued.

Mental health is not everyone’s only concern. On the early days of the pandemic, people were reminded that they need certain levels of vitamin D3 in their blood in order to increase immunity, and that can be obtained from food supplements or the morning sunlight.

Before the pandemic, most people in Indonesia, especially those who live in cities, took morning sunlight for granted. We have the sun all year long, so we didn’t see any necessity for sunbathing. But now, driven to improve immunity system, many people sit at their porches or open spaces, expose their backs in the morning to the sunlight.

Exercising also becomes more popular among Jakarta’s people today. Since the government implemented restrictions on community activities over the island of Java and Bali on early July this year, only those working in essential sectors are allowed to work outside their homes. This makes the downtown of Jakarta lose its souls. The roads, bus stops, and sidewalks which were normally packed with workers are now empty, taken over by sports enthusiasts who run, jog, and ride their fancy road bikes. This new trend is also seen throughout the rest of Jakarta.

“Exercising is my new routine now,” said my colleague Arief Wibowo who survived a severe illness due to Covid-19 in June this year. When he got infected, there was uncommon symptom that made him decide to go to hospital. “I got high fever, and it was not getting any better after five days.”

On the day he went to hospital, the number of case in Jakarta was rapidly increasing, but he was fortunate to get a bed at the emergency room of a private hospital. “There was overcapacity in that room. I saw people with ventilators, and I heard people scream frantically, the atmosphere was far from healing,” he described the situation at the emergency ward.

The following day, by his decision, he was transferred to a private room of VIP class where he spent almost a week in that place, alone. On the first three days, his body temperature rose up to forty degree Celsius. “My life hanged in the balance, I didn’t know whether I would come out alive or pass away.”

While he was at the lowest point, he made a promise to himself that he would put his health on the top priority, exercise regularly and eat only healthy foods.

On the last three days at the hospital, his temperature gradually back to normal. “What shocked me after that was the bill,” said Arief. “It cost me sixty million rupiah which was not covered by any health insurance that I have.”

“Now I realize the importance of financial planning, not only for myself, but also for my family, because you’ll never know what’s coming in the future,” said Arief about the lesson he had learned.

When I’m writing this article, the number of case in Indonesia has been slowly decreased, but the restrictions are still implemented. “I miss the days before pandemic,” said my neighbor Rianti who is also a Covid-19 survival. “But every difficulty comes along with something great. Spending more time at home, I get to know my neighbors better. They helped me when I had to isolate myself at home by providing foods in every morning. They put them in plastic bags and hanged them at the fence. It was wonderful.”

“It wouldn’t have possibly happened if the pandemic hadn’t hit us. So, please look at the bright side too. This thing won’t happen without a reason.”

I believe she was right. Now, after getting back on my feet, I realize that this pandemic is not always about loss and tragedy. It tests our sense of humanity, and above all, change the way we perceive this life.

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