Denial is another side effect of COVID-19
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Fareeza Haniff (seated) tested positive for COVID-19 in the latter part of December 2021, while I became ill earlier in November. Our experiences gave insights into the stigma and denial attached to the virus, both of which we had the unfortunate opportunity to encounter
Fareeza Haniff (seated) tested positive for COVID-19 in the latter part of December 2021, while I became ill earlier in November. Our experiences gave insights into the stigma and denial attached to the virus, both of which we had the unfortunate opportunity to encounter

LAST week, my colleague and friend, Fareeza Haniff, Editor-In-Chief at the News Room, wrote an article about her battle with COVID-19 in December, and the toll that it took on her family.

While her family was not infected with the virus, they were the ones who faced the brunt of the stigma and discrimination that have been so unjustly attached to it.

So much so that even the Haniff family business, a meat centre, suffered the backlash of Fareeza contracting the virus for the first time; a virus that has been among us for two years; a virus that can be contracted by a person merely taking a breath of “fresh” air; a virus that can infect any person, at any time, unless they live in a bubble with filtered air and absolutely no physical outside contact whatsoever.

Once Fareeza took to Facebook to announce that she had been tested positive for COVID-19, and warn those who would’ve come into close contact with her, the members of her community on the “West Side” of the Demerara River were more or less, concerned; less for her safety and well-being, it seems, and more about getting the family to shut down their business for fear of contamination.

All the while, Fareeza was confined to her room, starved of human contact and comfort.

As a COVID-19 survivor myself, I know the pain and extreme discomfort that comes with the virus. Aside from the fever that stops you in your tracks, and the aches that hijack your body muscles, I know what it’s like to be restricted to a single room.

Don’t get me wrong, I love curling up in my bed with my laptop and the air conditioning fan set on high speed, but, like Fareeza, I too only enjoy doing this by choice. Being forced into doing anything takes all the fun out of it. And let’s not pretend as if we don’t crave the care and attention of our loved ones when we’re sick.

In my case, my 11-year-old brother Irshan and I tested positive on November 22, 2021. I was experiencing the worst fever of my life; my eyes burned, my body ached, and I lost my senses of taste and smell. What I wouldn’t have given for a hug from my mother, only God knows.

As soon as I developed symptoms, my family and I went to get tested and immediately isolated ourselves from the rest of our loved ones, while I isolated myself from them, having been the only one displaying symptoms.

We were also forced not to have any physical interactions with my other brother Ashraf, his wife Alisa and my five-year-old nephew Arshad, who had recovered from the virus just a few months before. They live next door, and to not be able to wake up to my nephew’s banging on my bedroom door almost daily really broke my heart. It was also quite painful to not be able to hug my little brother at random.

This went on for more than two days. In the afternoon of the third day, we got a call from health authorities saying that everybody tested negative, except Irshan and me. It made sense, because he and I are always like two peas in a pod. After school, he and I would spend our days together, whether at my office, or at home.

Even though we were both positive, I was keen on staying confined to my room, while he stayed in his, because for some strange reason, I feared that if he was around me, he could start developing symptoms. Those fears didn’t last very long: Irshan soon developed fever and body aches. That night, around 11, he called me via video chat to say that he was beginning to get fever and was feeling horrible. I asked him to grab his pillow, haul his blanket over his head and run over to my room.

There, he and I would go on to spend the next two weeks. Every time his fever shot up, I would give him a paracetamol and signal him to the shower. Usually, after about an hour, he would be back to normal. This went on for the most part of a week, since Irshan’s symptom-period was much shorter than mine.

Still, I would stay away every night to make sure that his temperature was down and he was going okay. In the meantime, we had our gadgets to keep in touch with our loved ones, including my mother and sister who were overseas, and who were constantly worried sick.

During the family video calls, my mother would sometime try to put on a smile, desperately trying to hold back tears, but daddy would always chime in to say that he has everything under control.

Locked away in a room, we quickly developed a schedule: Irshan would spend a couple hours on school work, while I would catch up on my favourite shows, which was the only activity that kept me sane.

In the afternoons, Irshan and I would play Ludo and checkers on his tablet, before going on to talking to our loved ones for hours.

Like Fareeza, I too was quick to make the announcement on Facebook, because it was important that my friends and colleagues know that we had been tested positive, so that they themselves could get tested and prevent further spread to their loved ones.

DENIAL
We even made sure that our neighbours were informed of our status, and that people were on the lookout for any symptoms. What is important to note is that while Fareeza and her family were faced with discrimination, my family and I had to deal with people who were in denial.

Relatives and friends would physically show up and our home to check in on us and members of our West Bank Demerara community were still flocking our yard as per normal. I was appalled at how many of our neighbours randomly came over to “buss a lil gyaff,” wearing no masks and keen on implementing no preventative measures whatsoever, because “the virus ain’t real.”

I’m unable to count how many times I’ve been told, “the virus is a money-mekkin thing,” or “I can’t get duh. Ize drink ginger tea.”

My favourite line was perhaps, “Is mussy a case of the worms. Come lemme give yuh a shot ah high wine fuh knack it out; yuh gon good to go after dah.”

I’m yet to try the high wine concoction, but my father did make sure my brother and I were treated to daily teas made of ginger, fever grass and lemon, as well as coconut water and regular water. We also consumed lots of citrus fruits, and our meals consisted of mostly vegetables.

Nonetheless, I had persons from the neighbourhood call me to come outside, saying that I was wasting my sick-leave days locked away in a room, when I could be having fun, and making up for all the cancellations I was forced to make over the past year, due to commitments at work.

Suffice to say, it didn’t take long for me to realise that the people who lack empathy are far less dangerous than the ones in denial.

We can depend on the hyper-vigilant “posse” to keep us a little more alert, but if you surround yourself with people who are constantly in denial, then you may never know of the dangers that lurk. Denial has even led to some of the deaths in my community, simply because people have told themselves that COVID-19 isn’t real, and it therefore cannot affect them.

I know persons who delayed getting tested and delayed seeking medical attention up until the very end, when it had become much too late.

SPUTNIK MIGHT’VE SAVED ME
I believe that for the rest of my life, I will continue to say that the Russian-made Sputnik V saved my life. Those close to me are aware of my medical history and would appreciate the fact that my immune system might not have survived without the protection it got from both doses of the vaccine.

Even though I may face some travel restrictions because of the global politics being played with people’s lives, I will never regret taking the Sputnik V jabs, and like Fareeza, I too will continue to encourage every Guyanese to get vaccinated. Do not wait until it’s too late; we have lost two many lives, largely due to unvaccination.

If you have questions, do not be afraid; as a journalist, I can tell you that curiosity saves lives, so don’t be deterred by having concerns; direct those concerns and questions to the people in authority; there are hotlines set up to deal with your queries.

Do not harbour such little value for your life that you’d give up on vaccines altogether. Almost every Guyanese has been immunised against multiple illnesses including chicken pox and yellow fever, long before we could even learn to talk.

I know that Guyana wasn’t prepared for what March 2020 brought, both in the form of the six-month elections saga and the virus; both were unprecedented. In the case of the virus, I believe that Guyanese have become so accustomed to being God’s favourite that we were truly unable to fathom a deadly virus being able to spread to our pristine shores, but I pray that the years 2020 and 2021 have taught us enough to want to do better to protect ourselves and those around us.

The more we do that, the faster we can exit this pandemic and return to sharing hugs and taking breaths of fresh air, without the fear of death.

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