FOR MOST PEOPLE, COVID-19 was a negative experience. It was the virus that made them ill. It kept them bedridden. They could not go to meetings, or on trips, or perform at concerts. It took away their senses, made it hard to breathe, left them fatigued to the point where they could barely walk. It obviously killed many people, including my cousin, who would not get vaccinated, made a trip to visit her sister in a different state, and died in a hospital intensive care unit after being on a ventilator for weeks. My experience last autumn was mild in comparison to what so many have gone through, but it was an intense two-week-long journey. It also changed me in profound ways.
To begin, I didn’t even know that I was sick. I had somehow made it through the Harvest Party, an annual folk music event, where I had heard from friends that many had been infected, and came out unscathed. I had started to believe that I was immune, or that I had already had the infection. I had, after all, been sitting in cafes throughout the pandemic while visitors coughed and sneezed their way to their next espresso or piece of cake. That Friday, I went to see the new James Bond movie at the cinema. I have a feeling that it was there that I met the virus. The name of the film was No Time to Die.
Two days later, I drove down to Karksi to deliver some supplies to my former father-in-law and his wife, who were laid up with the virus for the second time. I left the small bag of vitamins at the doorstep, called to them, and got into my car to drive home. It was then that I began to start coughing. It was a strange, dry cough. It felt as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of my lungs. It was worrying enough for me to get a rapid antigen test done the next day at a shopping center. That evening the result came back. I was negative. Of course, I went back to the cafes the next day, even as I began to develop a tremendous head cold. But something else was wrong. I just did not feel completely myself. I felt slower and a little sad. My doctor helped secure a PCR testing appointment, and the following day I walked, yes, walked, to the white tent to have my nose swabbed. Later I got a call informing me of the result. I was positive.
The next 10 days are a blur. The only other person I interacted with was the Bolt delivery man, who left orders of hot curry on the other side of the door. I did not lose my sense of taste or smell, and I credit that spicy curry with helping me get through the experience. I binge watched old James Bond movies. Hours and even days were swallowed up by sleep. I could do, at most, three things a day. Wash a few dishes, maybe a load of laundry. I tried to write. The rest of the time I slept in my bed or stared at the ceiling. At one point, I was almost certain that a young woman I knew was in the room and had brought me a glass of water. I even remember taking the water from her hand and drinking it. When I awoke, she was gone. I also thought I was driving Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. This turned out to be a sweaty blanket.
At some point, I became so disoriented, that I only had a marginal idea of who I was. I knew, in a sort of roundabout way, what my name was, and where I had been born and when, who my parents were. I had some memories, but these memories seemed irrelevant to who I was. My name was just a bunch of sounds put together. Memories were just things that had happened. Thoughts had originated from beyond me. Those were things that other people had told me, or that I had read. As such, thoughts, ideas, and theories had nothing to do with me. They were fake, pieced together in elaborate ways, but not really tied to the act of being alive.
Almost a year later, this transcendence of consciousness has had a positive impact. I can no longer judge others by their words, because I know that their words, or attitudes, are not really who they are. They are just words. They come and go. Likewise, I can recognize connections with others that are significant and powerful, but do not need words to define them. If you do feel for someone, what is the use in telling them, because they probably feel the same. I remember the morning the virus left me though, and the sensation of it leaving my body, as if it was tired of messing with me and was hungry for a new victim. It was like possession. The spirit sat up and floated away out the door. A few days later, I came out of isolation and went to the shop. The girl who had brought me water was there, looking at me. I told her about my vision and thanked her for bringing me that glass of imaginary water. The girl gave me a weird look, but I think she understood that I was just grateful that she existed.
An Estonian version of this column appears in the September 2022 issue of the magazine Anne & Stiil.