We felt properly sorry for ourselves. Initially annoyed and disappointed that, despite having followed all the rules, been sensible and cautious for the last two years as well as being fully vaccinated and then boosted, we had still both managed to catch Covid-19. And also hard done by, having to spend a week in self-isolation (longer if we still tested positive) just at a time when many countries are talking about learning to live with Covid and considering reducing if not abandoning various regulations and restrictions. Then tense and hyper-aware of every new symptom, wondering whether that cough, that sneeze or that muscle pain was the first sign of something much worse to come. And finally just plain miserable about feeling lousy, with neither of us up to providing tea and sympathy, plumped pillows and homemade soup for the other, but both of us just plodding along together, longing for the virus to leave us.
Paradoxically, our gloominess actually increased as our symptoms began to ease and we both felt almost back to normal – especially when first Mr Blue-Shirt and then me three days later still tested positive a full week after our respective initial tests. For it was as we started to feel better and keen to do more than just shuffle from bed to sofa and back again with just the occasional detour via the kitchen that the sense of confinement really started to bite and we felt trapped in a kind of no-man’s land between illness and wellness. Self-isolation was starting to feel all too reminiscent of lockdown, only without the laughs.
It was almost exactly two years since the word had entered the global lexicon; two years since the world had started to close its doors in response to the relentless advance of Covid. But despite the fears and the uncertainty, we had drawn comfort from the sense of solidarity and community and from the knowledge that we were all in it together, suffering the same anxieties and enduring the same restrictions while all distracting ourselves with quiz nights on Zoom and all keeping fit with Joe Wicks workouts. And even a year ago, when lockdown was still the primary means of slowing the spread of the virus, movement, work and play were all still tightly restricted and vaccine programmes were only just starting to gain traction, it had all still felt very much part of a collective effort; very much that we were all in the same boat and all pulling in the same direction.
But now, even with relatively elevated (but rapidly falling) case numbers, the ongoing booster campaign and continued health measures, that sense of solidarity and collective endeavour has dissipated. And as the virus shifts from pandemic to endemic, from acute to chronic, battening down the hatches and staying at home, even in still super-cautious Italy, is the exception not the rule. Everyone is – quite understandably – focused on returning to normality, re-building their businesses, picking up their education and re-starting hobbies. Zoom quizzes have passed into memory, online events have gone. And self-isolation is now very…isolating.
I suppose that sense of isolation was in some ways a positive, a sign of just how far we have now come. But until Mr Blue-Shirt finally tested negative on day ten, we found it ever more difficult to look on the bright side as lunches with pals were cancelled, hikes with our walking group missed, hair appointments postponed and shopping trips abandoned, and pruning the hedges became our sole outside activity. However, while Mr Blue-Shirt was once again permitted to re-join the human race, my incarceration had to continue, and my envy of his ability to do mundane things like get his van taxed, take the hedge clippings to the tip and even just go to the supermarket was intense. So it was with huge trepidation that after three further days, during which I felt more trapped and cut-off than ever, I took my own day ten test. And when I finally dared to look at the slim white cassette, a huge wave of relief washed over me as in the narrow result slot was displayed a single pink line. Seldom had such an unequivocal negative felt quite so positive.