Excerpts from my quarantine

I was diagnosed with a comparatively rarer strain of a bacterial infection & quarantined for around 4 months from Oct-2017 to Feb-2018. During that time I realized that more than anything else it was a test of my mental strength than vigor. Seeing the current situation most of the world is on self-quarantine at home while many tested positive for COVID-19 are in healthcare facilities. When I was in the hospital, I was desperately searching for blogs/videos/books to give me some hope so, this time I’m making an attempt to hopefully be a part of someone’s search result looking for the same hope I once sought.

Not to bore you but to give you a brief context:

16 October 2017, somewhere around 16:30 CET, I’ve issues in just maintaining a straight posture on a chair. Have you ever seen those tall buildings falling onto itself, well I felt kind of like that in my spine. I left work, went home and tried to sleep. It got worse with every passing minute. I went to the hospital, instantly admitted for the night to run some tests and then sent home for 2–3 days. My situation really didn’t improve and I was hoping tests would reveal the issue. To my dismay, they didn’t! I was admitted again, this time for a week and then was again told to go home for a weekend and return on Monday. Well, this time when I returned, little did I know that I would be moving in with them(CHU Poitiers, France) for the foreseeable future. Here I was, in a country that was still new to me. I had severely limited (read non-existent) language skills, a few friends for support but just for the initial few days (After the first few weeks they couldn’t even if they wanted to). No possibility of a family member to be around for boosting morale. Worst of all the doctors had the same statements which my friends have been telling me since ages “There’s something wrong with you but we don’t know what!”

A doodle I made on the letter for my doctors once I was released as a gesture of gratitude A doodle I made on the letter for my doctors once I was released as a gesture of gratitude

So, now that you know some background, I’ll try to jot down a few of my experiences from that time

  1. First 2 weeks: Hope and Dealing with delusion

    In the first 2 weeks of my quarantine, my spirits were quite high. I was cracking jokes with the doctors, (somehow) enjoying the bland hospital meals, talking with my family with a smile. All of this, because in my head the narrative was that I’ll be out in a matter of days. They were performing so many tests on me. Maybe it’s the French way of giving someone medical tourism. Either that or some poor chap’s Ph.D. thesis was on the line and it was dependent on my test results… Either way, I was more curious than afraid of knowing what I have!

  2. Unknown gets scary

    Post the first 2–3 weeks, I remember it was about mid of November & now I’m really expecting some solid answers from my doctors but instead I got to learn 2 new sentences in French “Je ne sais pas, Monsieur ” (I don’t know!), something that my doctors would constantly say and my response to it “Alors, Laissez moi sortir!” (Then, Let me out!). Never said in an aggressive way but rather as a request. Staying locked in a room with no idea when the situations would change for the better could get scary but if there’s one thing that I learned was to accept the “new normal” as quickly as you can, which brings me to my next point :

  3. Accepting the new normal

    Two weeks after that last incident I was told that now I’d be moved to a negative air-pressure room (Fancy word for a room with an exhaust). I won’t lie the very construction of that entrance with its two air-gaped doors, scared the shit out of me for a good day or two BUT then I said to myself “This has better facilities than my shared apartment” and with that one statement echoing in my head I just somehow felt better :) Sometimes, it’s just about the narrative you say to yourself that has the power to alter the perception of reality!

  4. Perception of time

    I’ll now make an attempt at explaining something that I don’t have a full grasp of and I hope no one has to go through this experience. When you are in quarantine or even a closed facility with severely limited interaction and no information on how long it would last, your semantic understanding of time changes. It’s quite organic since for many it could be the first time in their lives that they get to observe an entire span of a day and more importantly their own thoughts for an extended period of time. In our normal life, some sort of routine helps us remain sane. But in quarantine, that thing is suddenly missing! So, a simple solution is to try & create a routine out of the limited set of activities you can do and stick to it. What it would do is give your brain a thing to think of next throughout the day. At times when you cannot do anything, write your thoughts, it doesn’t need to be a linear string of scenes, you don’t have to give it Good or Bad labels, it doesn’t even need to make any sense but you just need to create a channel for it come under the analysis of your conscious mind. If you can’t write, sit and try to observe your thoughts whenever it gets over-whelming; don’t fight them, don’t suppress them. Just try to be an observer. Overwhelming feelings and/or emotions disappear really soon once they come under conscious analysis. There have been times when I said it aloud to myself “I feel really bad at this moment and I’m possibly going to cry for no reason now!” and then minutes later it changed to “Well, they(Hospital staff) will definitely be irritated by me at some point and let me go”

  5. Annoyingly happy patient

    What would follow in days to come is that I would greet every doctor, resident doctors, and nurses with a smile and a sentence that used to surprise them a bit sometime, “ Bonjour/Bonsoir! ça va?” (Good morning/evening, How are you?). The surprise was because they thought they were supposed to ask that. Whenever a nurse would politely ask me is there anything you need, I would simply reply “Pizza aux champignons et oignons s’il vous plait!” (Pizza with mushrooms and onions please!). I know it was stupid, unreasonable BUT if it doesn’t hurt anyone and helps you remain sane, why not!

  6. My support system

    I had a few friends that came every now and then as they could and stayed with me for 30–60 min as anything more than that wasn’t really allowed. I had massive emotional support from my family back in India. Every single day my parents would call me twice, my aunts & my cousins would call me almost as regularly. We sometimes played online games together like Ludo. All of this did act as a good diversion from my reality. If you’re in quarantined, call your friends, family, anyone you like to talk to; it does help! If you’re in self-quarantine or social-distancing, then talking to another person in the same conditions shouldn’t be hard. Most people would very much welcome that thought; it’s just gathering the courage to take that first step!

I don’t really want to turn this experience sharing into preaching but just to highlight the key takeaway points

  • Things are gonna get worse before they get worst but always for the better
  • Acceptance of the moment of the truth is a simple yet powerful tool (I totally understand you that it might not be so easy to adopt though)
  • It might feel like a slightly unusual change in your lifestyle both in a spatial and temporal manner but the discomfort will fade over time
  • Your version of reality could be a conscious choice of self-narrative

Even if it looks awful, even if the unknown bothers you, even if being lonely isn’t necessarily your cup of tea just keep saying to yourself “This too shall pass”. This works irrespective of your mood!

Please share it if you liked!