Jokes about having a refund of 2021 resonated with me. The new year has started on a trying note: I contracted Covid19 in Italy. Here’s my story and, with this post, I hope to share how we coped with Covid19 at home. Perhaps you would be able to pick up some emotional wellness tips for how to take care of your loved one(s) when you are ill. You may also find out about my own cross-cultural experiences coping with Covid19, being sick away from Singapore.
How We Contracted Covid19
Christmas in Italy is a big festival (like Chinese Yew Year in Singapore, with a lot of food and visiting of family, relatives and friends) but 2020’s was different, with the ongoing pandemic. The Italian government imposed restrictive measures to limit movement and mingling so the usual large gatherings were, fortunately for us in hindsight, off the table. The situation would have been much worse, if B’s brother’s family and other relatives and friends could congregate. So, it was going to be a small affair: B and I who are living in the same commune as his parents would stay with them for about a week for the Christmas holidays.
We had a beautiful lunch on Boxing Day, prepared by B’s mum: Tortellini with a wonderful chicken broth. With us, were B’s aunt and her boyfriend and all six of us had a cosy afternoon, chatting and enjoying delicious food. It was a nice gathering and what I would have liked before I returned to Singapore (I was scheduled to return in mid-January 2021).
We were alerted the following day that Aunt Z was down with fever but that overall, she was fine. Just a little concerned because she had visited B’s grandma before Christmas, we were hoping she didn’t catch the virus from the nursing home because Grandma E had contracted Covid19 from a new resident there.
On Tuesday, three days after Boxing Day lunch, we were back home and B was down with a sudden high fever. A few hours after him, my temperature shot up too. I was hoping it was influenza, but I suspected it to be unlikely because I had taken a flu vaccine before travelling to Italy. By then Aunt Z had recovered from her fever but had gone for a swab test, just in case. We waited with abated breath and was told on 30 Dec that she was positive, which meant that we were probably positive too.
How We Coped with Covid19
We coped with Covid19 supporting each other, taking care of our needs.
The first day we had onset of symptoms was unforgettable. Thankfully B’s parents were fine then. It was also fortunate that we had already ended the week-long stay with his parents and returned to our place; we wouldn’t pass anything to them if we were the only ones who were ill. It was a long night of high fever for both B and I, with chills and horrendous body ache.
Staying hydrated and getting as much rest as possible were our main mission when we looked after and encouraged each other the entire night. We did everything we could to try to keep our body temperature down, but the fever was very persistent. We made sure we had food and that we could experience as much comfort as possible (clean and dry clothes were pivotal as our bodies were fighting the infection).
My condition improved slightly after 2 days of high fever and I took over the cooking and the caring as B’s symptoms continued. Although I recovered more quickly than he did, B was always looking out for me and reminding me to rest too as I was hit by extreme fatigue for about a week. Meeting basic physiological needs and supporting each other provided the foundation of our path to recovery.
We coped with Covid19 at home with medical advice and nursed ourselves.
B’s advice to me was not to self-medicate the first day of our symptoms until we could call his family doctor the following day. There was paracetamol in the apartment and normally, I would have taken them in a heartbeat when I’m running a fever, but I decided to listen to B and let my body wage war on those pesky foreign organisms. At least for the first day until we consulted a medical professional.
When we managed to get hold of B’s doctor on the phone on Wednesday, we were told that we should take aspirin, instead of paracetamol. With the help of our neighbour, we got hold of some and my condition improved very quickly. B’s fever, however, returned with a vengeance and we had to purchase a pulse oximeter to monitor his SPO2 levels; the alternative was to call the ambulance and go to the hospital. He wanted to avoid going to the hospital as long as he could.
B remained in contact with his family doctor and was also prescribed with other medication to help with symptoms of pneumonia. His high fever finally subsided after 1 week. His SPO2 levels remain borderline at the time of writing but his condition seemed to have turned around, much to our relief. Following recommendations and advice from medical professionals helped us cope with Covid19 at home and ensured our recovery.
We coped with Covid19 with open communication. We dismissing any potential blaming behaviour.
Ensuring open communications between B and I is a ground rule in our relationship and we have always honoured it with respect, compassion and a sense of humour. There were moments when B had expressed guilt that I had caught the virus while with him. Realistically speaking, there wasn’t anything we could have done more to avoid the situation. To the best of our abilities, we were already practising safe distancing with others, limiting social interactions. Even to the extent of avoiding gathering with friends. Me catching a virus that had wreaked havoc in his family was not even blameworthy – we lost beautiful Grandma E to complications of Covid19 on New Year’s Eve and his parents were separately admitted to the hospital for pneumonia.
I took care to share these views with him and to offer as much assurance as I could. There was also no entertaining of any “Steph, see, I told you so. You should not have come/ gone to Italy.” Whether from B or my family. Blaming behaviour only generates dynamics of judgement and guilt and it is unhelpful. My own parents grieved the fact that I had caught Covid19; I heard about the whole slew of sadness, anger, bargaining, denial, acceptance when I got better. Yet, they and my brother demonstrated such grace and magnanimity as they did whatever they could do show care and concern for us and B’s family. No blame. Only love and respect.
We coped with Covid19 respecting one another, accepting constraints
Since the beginning of our friendship, B and I would compare our experiences with different systems of governance and cultural practices of our countries of origin. There are things we both love to like and dislike in our respective countries: they actually make for good conversations, as we expanded our worldview. We have always treated our respective cultural background with respect.
In crises, it would be normal for anyone to default to their most familiar ways of doing things to deal with anxiety, uncertainty and stress. I knew, however, that it would be unhelpful to criticise the Italian healthcare system (B did most of it as he was disappointed and anxious for his parents) and request for things to be done the “Singaporean way”. I am in Italy and I accept the Italian ways of doing things. I would have wanted to slap myself if I heard myself repeatedly saying “In Singapore, we….”
My close friends who have been supportive through the online space have also been respectful when asking about treatment options and alternatives for me. They withheld assumptions and listened with openness and their empathy and encouragement lifted my spirits as we struggled with the virus. Accepting and respecting the constraints that I had helped me cope with Covid19.
We coped with Covid19 focusing on the essential stuff
I witnessed B’s steely focus when we both fell sick. For him, the essential thing was to ensure that his parents were well and that he and I were taken care of. He made sure we met our basic needs for food and rest, called his parents twice a day to check on them and stayed in touch with his doctor. Everything else was noise and could wait.
I adopted this approach as well, reciprocating the caring of B and providing daily updates to my family back in Singapore, so they don’t stew in anxiety nor fill up radio silence with imagination run wild. I did not do any work, although a part of me was worried about it. I postponed my appointments (thankful for understanding clients!) and took my time to reply messages from my friends.
When I was recovering and regaining my energy, I occasionally wondered if I should do more work or read more. But I consciously made the decision to focus on healing. Not sweating the small stuff and focusing on the essential ensured that my limited physical, mental and emotional energy were conserved for recovery. (If you would like, you can read more about how rest can help us work better in the long run on my post on “Rest when you are sick“.)
We coped with Covid19 drawing support from loved ones
What helped me cope tremendously was the support from loved ones. My family showed a lot of love and support through calls and messages, advice and suggestions. It helped that my brother’s a doctor. His willingness to be available despite his busyness meant that I was able to seek his professional opinion on some of our health concerns. This was especially helpful when B’s and his parents’ oxygen levels were borderline low. In addition, love and support in Italy through B, his parents and friends (everyone would ask about me whenever they called him) boosted my mental and emotional health.
We coped with Covid19 with emotional regulation strategies
It was certainly a very stressful time. I was focused on taking care of our health and basic needs, but I found myself often worried. I was worried about my own health while also anxious about B and his parents’ symptoms. Ridden with guilt as well, for making my family in Singapore worry for me. Sad that Grandma E had died. When I could, I would practise mindfulness and lean into my emotions. Emotional coping was part of how I coped with Covid19.
Another approach I can share here is Marc Brackett’s RULER framework. The acronym RULER stands for Recognise, Understand, Label, Express and Regulate. These steps are easy to follow and when approached with curiosity and openness, helps us face rather than avoid our natural human experiences. Crying is one of my go-to ways of expressing my emotions and B has grown to be a trustworthy safe space to hold my tears. There is no judging and only compassion and this helps to regulate my emotions with ease and validation. When we are ill, emotional regulation helps us with our mental health and our overall health.
Reflections on Coping with Covid19 and Recovery
The Covid19 virus is easily transmissible, and it can affect our health. Each and everyone of us needs to play our respective roles in limiting the spread of the virus. I have never underestimated this virus and have always believed that the conservative management of the public health policies in Singapore was for the greater good. It had also generated a lot of awareness about the illness and heightened our vigilance.
Knowing and undertaking some calculated risks to be in a country that was often in the news for a worsening Covid19 situation could have been questionable by others. Even as I was very ill, bedridden and suffering, my mind was clear that I would not have changed my decision about being in Italy with my partner. I had been cautious, vigilant, respectful and practised good hygiene standards with regular handwashing and mask-wearing. I am thankful that I have been able to cope with Covid19 at home and heal from this infection without any severe health consequences. Also, I truly believed that I survived it to be able to continue to say that I live with no regrets for making this decision.
My close friends would have heard countless personal sharings of thoughts and feelings about how the Covid19 pandemic had robbed me of 2020. The icing on the cake was that I was sick with it on the last few days of 2020 and eventually had my swab test taken at a drive-in on 31 Dec 2020.
Thanks for reading my experience coping with Covid19 at home in Italy, a home away from home Singapore. For now, I have to remain in Italy until I’m fully recovered and confident that I can have a negative test result. My original plans to return to Singapore in time for CNY had to be shelved but I’m just glad for good health.