SURVIVING COVID BEAST
STAN HOME WEAR A MASK SELF DISTANCE
Rosemary Parkinson (who is still recovering from COVID-19)
Many people may know me through social media, many since childhood or recent friendship and then many because I have written three very large books. My life as a contributor and author shows, without a doubt, that I am a fearless adventurer who photographs and tells stories about all I experience. I am also one who some call crazy for going to the extremes just for a good story – entering places that others would be sensible about.
Some know me for my art that I really do just for my own personal fun. But mostly, I am told by a friend that I am known as someone who loves life to the fullest. I think all of the above is me in a nutshell, I guess. Always ready for the next chapter.
Last year all of that came to a halt and, unfortunately, continues to a certain point today. This wondrous life I have lived for such a long time, has become a day-to-day experience of a kind of hell. But let me star t at the beginning, for this new me, right now, is not a happy new me. Yet, I will be. I made a promise to myself. But if this story can help one fool to understand that this pandemic is not a game, that alone would make my having gone through it worth it all. THIS WONDROUS LIFE I HAVE LIVED FOR SUCH A LONG TIME, HAS BECOME A DAY-TO-DAY EXPERIENCE
OF A KIND OF HELL
ROSEMARY AND DAVID KIRTON
Towards the end of 2019 I received a commission to paint six very large pieces for a dear friend and her husband in Ft. Lauderdale. By February 2020 all were ready and my patrons suggested I bring them to Ft. Lauderdale myself, visit at the same time, enjoy a vacation and help them to hang the art. And so said, so done. I boarded Jet Blue happy as a lark.
Once in Ft. Lauderdale and the canvases where safely in the hands of framers, we were ready for what I love doing –venturing and eating! It would take two weeks for the canvases to be re-stretched and there was time to do much. However, within a few days I came down with a fever and a bit of a sore throat. Always ready for anything, I dosed with Paracetamol, spread Vicks all over my chest, brought my intake of Vitamins C to an excessive 3,000 mg a day, adding other vitamins to knock it all to hell. Within three days I was fine again and off we went to re-visit this seaside city. Party was on – everywhere we went along the seashore, every eatery, club, every inch of beach was filled with party-goers, Latin music, dancing in the streets et al.
And then I woke one morning to find both my friends had left for work. I had clearly slept long. Was not feeling myself so was glad to be home alone.
At some point during the day I suddenly began to shake uncontrollably. I immediately called my ‘adopted’ son in Miami, restaurateur Delius, who sent an ambulance for me and before I knew it, I was being roared through the city with screaming sirens to the nearest clinic.
After many tests of all kinds throughout the day, it was ascertained that there was nothing wrong and I was sent home – blood pressure a bit high, nada mas! At that time Covid19 was now entering New York and no one seemed concerned, and even if there was concern, there were no tests available for this virus anywhere in Florida.
From there, it all went downhill. If it was not fever one day, it was shivering with cold. Bouts of horrible panic when my throat filled with phlegm that caused me to feel that at any minute I would lose my breath and die. Bones aching, nausea, headaches, blood pressure all over the place; loss of taste, smell and worse than all of the other stuff, half of which I cannot remember, was the diarrhea – the little I ate literally went right through me. The loss of appetite had me eating only fresh blueberries, strawberries plus lots of water…if there is one thing I have always been very strong about is – the drinking of water. This is about all I could muster. Even soup made me gag.
Days of feeling absolutely alone, not understanding anything, the others at work all day, and to be honest, not even sure if they believed the terror I was going through.
There was so much going on so rapidly, it is difficult to piece together now all that took place. Everything just was scary all the time and looking back, exact details are difficult to remember.
Just understand they were the worst days of my life, for I believed every day, I was simply going to die in the USA – the latter being a thought that was in itself, a nightmare.
Then the news came that Covid19 was swarming Miami after going through New York harshly. Delius called someone I had met before on the occasions when we travelled to Miami – Dr. Debbie Holmes, Medical Director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Doctor Debbie took charge immediately – she was convinced I had Covid19 without a doubt but, unfortunately no tests were available in most of the country and definitely not in Miami.
Basically there was not much else that could be done that I was not already doing. The only thing extra she prescribed for me was Xanax to try and keep me calm through the ordeal; and her daily calls gave me a sense of being in good hands. I have so much gratitude for this incredible lady and Delius, for it was both that ensured I was okay daily – the doctor keeping me up to date with any new findings and both being the rocks I needed.
However, no attention, as wonderful as it was to have it, stopped me from believing death was on my doorstep and that would complicate matters even more. I had never felt anything like this in my entire life. The panic attacks grew worse and the other symptoms seemed lessened because of them. When that panic began, it was like strangled – the breath being sucked out of you.
I happened to tune in to well-known CNN Chris Cuomo who was televising from home where he was in quarantine, talking about his experiences with this dreaded beast. One of the things he was grateful for was an exercise given to him by a very respected pulmonologist in the USA, and he demonstrated it on the news for all going through the ravages of this virus: “Stand straight. Clasp hand behind neck. Breathe in as deeply as one can.
Hold breathe to the count of 10 or more. Exhale.”
I swear this saved me from that phlegm that I could feel sitting at the back of my throat from entering into my lungs necessitating hospitalization and intubation, and probably bringing the end of me. These exercises also helped me to deal with the panic. Not stop it, but just help. I would force myself to walk slowly around the very large pool at the house every day, stopping every now and then to do this breathing exercise.
This routine became my daily dose of health until one day, as fast as the devil had visited, it was all gone. Three weeks had passed me by and suddenly here I was, alive and well. By now the world was feeling Covid19. The news was filled with it. I continued my exercises and when the test was finally made available a couple weeks later, Delius and I both went for the drivein experience. Cars were led through slowly, first for name, address etc, then to collect the empty sample bags; next was to receive, with head back as far as possible, a nose swab, then a throat swab – both placed in individual plastic bags sealed and tagged with the now printed information as to who they belonged to. The test was free. All staff, from the guy directing the traffic to those taking the tests, were completely covered from head to toe in gear – all looking like if they were going off to space.
Weeks later both of us received a negative result. I was told by the laboratory that testing negative did not mean that I had not have Covid, but I was assured that my experience certainly sounded like I had been through the ordeal and was now, as would be expected, indeed negative. I had lost 22 lbs and still had not much appetite, but was infinitely grateful to be alive. It was all over.
I saw on Facebook that Barbados was organizing flights home on Jet Blue for the stranded. On June 9th 2020, I finally boarded one thanks to the kind help of Sen. Hon. Lisa Cummins (now Minister) in Barbados and the absolutely perfect organization of both Consul General Neval Greenidge and Consul Marvin Brathwaite at the Barbados Consulate in Miami. The flight was in from New York where others were picked up for repatriation, and I must congratulate the airline for the seamless boarding and flight. I was in a wheelchair as I was still not strong enough for such a trip, so was helped all the way through.
Every other seat in the plane was used with space between each, masks were required, snacks delivered in zip-lock bags; the whole plane had been cleaned and disinfected at hospital grade and even the air put through a new system that ‘debugged’ near 99% of anything harmful. Kudos to them!
Once at Grantley Adams, there was a wait for temperatures, blood pressure and a swab test, but it was worth it.
Placed on buses I, with others who chose that destination, were taken to St. Lucy for a two- week quarantine stay. Here I must thank the wonderful staff for their amazing medical care making us all feel at home – in fact I actually did not want to leave, I felt so well looked after, all my fears nearly gone, the few left behind seemed to be manageable. Finally again, I thought this was the end of it all. I had lived through the worst and now was home. Little did I know what was in store for me.
During the first few days back on my beautiful island, I took time with my “roomie” from the St. Lucy quarantine to go to Bathsheba, soak in the waters and generally begin to feel human. Suddenly one day, the panic attacks that had never really left me but I had begun to conquer, began again in earnest. Pains in joints.
Every day a different one. Blood pressure doing its thing again. And now I began the many visits to Dr. Howitt in Black Rock, every time with something new. I was his first Covid 19 patient, one who now was in full- blown, what is now known as, Long- Covid. Poor Dr. Howitt, but I love him. He listened, took me seriously, studied all I reported, informing himself all the way. This crazy creative woman whose imagination can run wild in her paintings, was now in and out of his office, but this time, unfortunately, this was real.
Apart from the painful attacks on several areas of my body where because of my active life I had borne injuries, the worst of the worst were those panic attacks; and let me see if I can describe them well.
First my eyes would feel ‘ dirty’, slightly blurred, then the feeling that phlegm was rising in my throat would begin – phlegm that no amount of coughing was bringing up, just sitting tight in there giving the feeling that any minute choking would take place. Blood pressure would rise. And then between these two wondrous signals, up would come fear and then the fullblown panic attack. For those who have never had one, pray you do not.
When you are in a panic attack, every part of you goes to pieces, breathing becomes difficult, one feels that at any second your screaming heart beat and breath would be taken away… I tried everything. The exercise I had learned in Miami. Walking up and down. But these bouts were so bad, there were times when I would just run outside and hold on to a coconut tree begging for nature to help me stop this and not to let me die. I would cry my eyes out in fear.
It would take a mixture of transcendental meditation that I learned many years before, talking to myself loudly no matter who was around (even the monkeys that inhabit this yard would suddenly sit still and watch this ‘mad’ human) pacing and talking to myself until it was all over…and that would only be when the Xanax taken during the attack, would finally kick in – about 20 minutes into my suffering calming me totally in about another ¾ of an hour, leaving me exhausted and still in fear.
It would take many of these through the months ahead for me to learn to know the feeling that would be the beginning of a bout and catch it in time, so that the suffering would only last maybe five to 10 minutes if I was quick enough. It took months for those panic attacks to be calmed – I still get the odd one, in fact, I had a scary one in the car while driving, and had to stop and talk to myself, take a Xanax and wait. Living like this was a horrid experience in itself.
Once I had that in control, there were many other things to deal with over and over again but at different times or different days: excruciating pain in joints, teeth that sometimes felt like they were going to fall out, gums that would turn red and painful, diarrhea at times and constant bladder fills at any given time, no matter where I was. And then my latest – almost three to four weeks with the most painful swelling on my right knee that no matter what Doctor gave me, it had its own life until it reached its pinnacle – not being able to even touch the ground without my hollering. So I was forced to stay in bed angry, unable to paint, even move.
Then I remembered I had some CBD oil from Miami, clove oil that my Jamaica sister, Norma, had used on her fingers for arthritis, and I decided ‘physician heal thy self’. I made up my own mixture – CBD oil, clove Oil, Vicks Vaporub (which I use daily to keep my nostrils air-conditioned – too funny but it works) and Hot & Cold Balm. All together I plastered this all around my knee, and having discussed over the phone with my doctor about the anti-inflammatory Cataflam pills, took those three times a day. I used my office chair to get me around from bathroom to bed, my daily ablutions done from there. Food was anything that I could keep in my small refrigerator for easy access. I have a kettle, tea, coffee, cocoa (to help me to sleep when taken with Melatonin) and, once the four days of excruciating pain was over, and I was able to think. Painting my canvases has helped to take my thoughts into more positive places.
At the minute of writing this, I can walk very stealthily, being very careful not to give my knee more than it can bare.
This is the long road of Covid 19 that just does not end once one tests negative. I might have been lucky not to have been intubated when I actually had the beast. But I can assure that Long-Covid has made up for that.I have taken time and studied every little thing so that I am aware on the best of the best that the internet offers from scientists. I follow my very patient doctor’s order (something I never did before), am very careful with humans, reaching the point that I do not want visitors in my private quarters, those who are forced to come in must wear a mask and keep their distance.
Once I am able to drive again, I will continue as I did before, wear a double mask, stan’ home (easy now), and mostly when I have to go to the supermarket, ensure that I stay a good distance from other humans. Science has proven that I have now reached the point where I could get Covid again, I could fall with the new strain and I could die from it. I have crossed my arms and told the devil to leave me alone, I will fight so hard, it is going to have to retract.
I live by my government’s rules, following them to the T and making my own because I am an intelligent person. I continue to look after myself with all the vitamins I have been taking throughout the ordeal that I swear helped – Vitamin B3 (liquid), Vitamin D3 (liquid), Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc, women’s Probiotic Cranberry, Turmeric, Vitamin C (a lot). I still get tired easily, so I rest when I am. I still feel edgy out there as others do not seem to follow protocols too well and at my age I cannot afford another of these trips, and I am weary because of it.
There is so much more to tell but it is a daily thing. I have been chided, mocked if you will, for being so careful, being over-protective. I was even once told this is all a hoax, that I am being ‘a sufferer where there is no need’; have even had my intelligence insulted by those who consider themselves homeschooled scientists, but until all of this is over, and this fat lady can sing again, it is what it is and I intend to beat this my way and that is: Do as those who are qualified, tell me – even if it changes daily. Covid 19 and its after-effects indeed change daily.
None of us, from the little man in the street to the top scientist of this world, know exactly what it is, where it came from, or where it is going. No sense for anyone to fill social media with personal thoughts on the matter that purport to save the world. Nobody, but nobody wants or should to go through what I (and others) have. No one should be forced to walk in my shoes. I cannot plan a thing. Not even a painting. All I can do is accept what my body tells me and do what I hope will help me. Right now after writing all of this, I am shaking and trembling just from the memory and trying to explain my journey so others can learn. What happened on this island during Christmas and Old Year’s should never take place again. Those who still do not follow the rules should be ashamed. Your disobedience has caused heartache, even death, for those who you were supposed to love. I try not to be angry, and forgive, but it really is hard. Maybe you can now try to better citizens. And for those who have given up all to help the country, I commend you and am grateful too. I feel for all the healthcare workers, all those who continue to try and save people. They are the heroes who must feel insulted to see those who could not care less, continue to do what they please. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for putting their lives at risk every day.
There are now many suffering through what I am who have their disbelievers too, making them feel like they are going crazy. They are not. Sorry. They, nor I, are lunatics. We are Long-Covid Patients who need to be heard, who need to be protected, and who need all of those who today are healthy, to remember, tomorrow THIS COULD BE YOU.
So please, please know this is serious business. Our beloved Prime Minister, Mia Amor Mottley and her team are doing their best to protect us all on this little island – there is only one thing to do: STAN’ HOME, MASK UP, KEEP A DISTANCE. The party can wait. Covid19 will not.
Rosemary Parkinson is the celebrated author of Culinaria: The Caribbean, Nyam Jamaica (2009) and Barbados Bu’n-Bu’n (2015); and has been a contributor to several magazines as a food and travel writer.
ROSEMARY AT WORK
ROSEMARY AT BATHSHEBA BARBADOS