How long do we stay in?

This question has been in my mind for the last one year. Exactly for a year after COVID-19 started spreading its waves of destruction across the world, I was the perfect mother hen. I ordered everything online, didn’t go out unless its absolutely necessary, and even if I did go out, I doused myself in sanitizer and handwash and a full bath on top of it all in order to ward off this uninvited virus guest. All in the fear of whatever happened in Italy, in some parts of North India – unable to breathe – that is a really scary way to die. What’s even scarier is watching your loved ones suffocate. Even though my taste buds dreamed of hot Fulka rotis and spicy Chilli Gobi (occasionally they dreamed of McDonald’s burgers and French fries), we never risked our favourite thing to do on weekends – eating out. We kept vigilant, reading the news and keeping ourselves informed of all the gory details of things happening in the world.

Things started changing a bit when I got pregnant and there was the absolute need of going to the hospital for monthly check-ups. First time we went to the hospital, I was too scared to be near other people – I was literally warding off corona virus with my imaginary wand by running away from crowds. That thing is not completely possible when I am visiting a doctor in a big hospital, I started saying to myself. Slowly we started having a tea and snack from the hospital cafeteria and later we graduated to a nearby vegetarian restaurant. Slowly I began enjoying the hospital visits and began to wait for the next check-up eagerly. Its true that man adapts, heals and overcomes anything – whatever fear or trauma. We were slowly progressing to how things were before COVID when the second wave started. Around the same time, my third trimester started.

Work was a very good distraction; I could lose myself in my work – finding out bugs for an application that is going to be used somewhere in the US. But the morning news was always increasing my anxiety to the peak. Thousands of people dying, everyday I could see at least one pregnant woman’s news of death following delivery complicated by COVID. I imagined my children without a mother, my husband slowly moving on in life with another imaginary woman and my children living life miserably. I hated myself for going to pregnancy when there is a pandemic going on. I was absolutely terrified of leaving my elder son. I was often in tears after reading the newspaper everyday (mostly due to hormones as I say to my husband now), and my husband told me not to read news everyday if I can’t control my fears. Anyway, the second wave started waning slowly and we were still safe. I gave birth to a baby girl, becoming a mother for the second time. Honestly, I was still worried when the doctor and nurses touched me or the baby, the fear of contracting COVID-19 seemed to have taken hold of me by roots. After one week from getting discharged, we didn’t contract the virus, thanks to Almighty. That seemed to boost up my confidence so much.

After postpartum rest, so many days of remaining indoors with an infant and a toddler, I got vaccinated and that seemed to inject me with a new found courage to venture out from home. I started going to supermarkets, textile shops etc (warily though). After one month, we even started going out with our 3-year-old, and he was so excited that we just had to take him out again. For the child’s sake, we took him to parks, less crowded shops and even restaurants. Generally, we all got a confidence that things are going well, no need to be worried about going out if we are careful etc. Even our parents started coming out with us sometimes, that was the absolute reminder that things are slowly but surely coming back to normal. We celebrated Christmas by going out with both kids (the younger one now 5 months old), ate outside and still we were good. Naturally, we went outside on New Year’s Day also. The next day, my daughter woke up with a stuffed nose, by evening my son had a runny nose and by next day he developed a fever and I also had a cold and blocked nose. We never suspected anything COVID related, such was our confidence. Gone were the days when I used to lose sleep when my husband sneezed or my mother-in-law had a cold and I wondered if it was COVID. Yesterday night, my head was almost ready to explode with headache and I asked my husband for some pain balm. He brought something and applied on my forehead. With a sudden jolt I realized that I am not getting any smell. Warning bells rang non-stop in my head and I started trying to smell different things – soap, shampoo, perfume, baby wipes, Vicks, Dettol and even kerosene. Nothing. My mind went blank – in shock or fear or some divine sort of courage, I don’t know.

Guilt took over in a few minutes. I cursed myself for going out with an infant and a 3-year-old to restaurants. My husband was lamenting over how we were going out more nowadays. My brain was planning on how to manage two kids who are sick and myself without taking help from asymptomatic family members which included elderly and weak ones. At the same time my brain was chewing over the disastrous things that might happen if something happened to me or kids or anyone, and how I can live (or die) with that. My super multi-tasking brain was giving me courage at the same time – people have endured worse; children are less affected and we are also normal human beings who are NOT immune to COVID like others. Somehow, we waited till morning and got tested. As I sit here, contemplating whether I am having COVID-19 (which took millions of lives around the world) or just usual blocked nose, I couldn’t help but think that I can’t stay indoors any more. Even if I got the virus or not, I simply can’t live in fear and waste moments of precious life. My son’s happiness as he runs around a park, or the look of wonder when my baby girl sees moving cars for the first time, or the sparkle in my husband’s eyes as he eats his favourite masala dosa from his favourite restaurant – all these are more important than fear of the unknown. Casually but with caution, we will step out. Will you?

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