That’s what the person on the phone told my wife. It didn’t come as much surprise since my son had been diagnosed with Covid, two days prior. We were supposed to be packing for our first trip in a year. It was going to be our first time to Okinawa. We were going to snorkel, eat good food and relax. Instead, I was going to have to go somewhere else.
Somehow my wife has managed to avoid getting Covid despite being around two Covid patients.
But for how long?
As such, it was recommended I isolate myself in a hotel for about 8 days. Room and board generously paid for by the Japanese government. For those of you unaware, my wife survived cancer last year. With her immune system being compromised, it was the right thing to do.
I’m still young…ish. I didn’t have any underlying issues. I should be fine.
But here’s the thing with this virus, you just don’t know. For the elderly or those with underlying conditions, it can be deadly. According to the data, roughly 2.6% of people struggle with Covid. Would it be me? Regardless, the last thing I wanted to do was infect my wife. The choice was simple – I packed my bags.
The following day, at 2:40, I got picked up in a white van. I sat in the back and was told not to talk to the other passenger. We sat in silence the 45 minutes to the hotel. When we arrived, the sliding doors to the reception area had been covered up to protect people’s privacy. They opened ever so slowly. It was like a scene in a movie.
We were ushered to sit in front of a window located next to the elevators. The staff on one side, the infected on the other. They communicated to us via a microphone. It was like visiting a person in prison, at least that’s what I’ve seen on TV. The only difference was that we were the prisoners, not those on the other side of the glass. That, and we weren’t prisoners, but patients.
Every new patient was given an Oximeter to measure their oxygen levels. We would have to submit our temperature and oxygen levels twice a day. The staff were very kind and explained things in a way even I could understand with my conversational Japanese.
After we filled out the paperwork, we headed to our rooms. I remember opening the door to room # 1116, my cell for the next eight days. Bed, TV, desk, chair, unit bath, mini-fridge, kettle and window.
At about 4:20 that day, I remember a chime echoing through the PA system. It was time to fill in our data using the online system Japan created to track those infected with Covid.
I had been given paperwork with the UR code that should have allowed me to input my data, but no dice. I couldn’t get past the first page online. Managed to get that sorted out later on.
About 30 minutes after what became our daily alert to input the data had gone off, I received my first call.
A nurse from inside the building was calling to check if I was feeling ok and if there was anything I thought they might need to know. As my fever was at 38.2 at the time, they asked me if I had any medicine with me because if I couldn’t get it down, then the symptoms might get worse.
I didn’t, so they asked if my wife or friend could organize to have some sent to me. I told them my wife was already putting together a care package for me as I had called her the moment I got into my room and informed her that I could receive packages.
6;30pm every night, just as at 7:00 am and 12:30 pm, an announcement was made over the speaker system to come down and get our Bentos, Japanese for lunchboxes.
I’ve always been picky when it comes to food, so I wasn’t looking forward to readymade food making up my diet for more than a week. My wife had kindly packed me two peaches, some rice, a few cups of yogurt, and her famous chicken noodle soup, minus the noodles to tide me over.
I still remember my first meal under lockdown. Saba fish, rice, pickles and egg. The saba fish was surprisingly good. I tried the egg, pass. Pickles, no thank you. Rice, I had a bit that hadn’t been covered with Yukari (a Japanese flavoring for rice) and threw the rest away. I wanted to save my wife’s soup till tomorrow, but I decided to treat myself. Still piping hot, yummy.
I took a bath at 9:30, watched a movie I had put on my computer and then called it a night.
Day 2 First Full Day
Today was much like yesterday, only longer.
I woke up at 5:20, no alarm needed. “Breakfast bento is ready” was the wake-up call that came over the PA at 7 am. I popped downstairs if for nothing more than a chance to stretch my legs. Four microwaves are located near the elevators on the first floor for people to wake up their food. Some use them, some don’t. I do.
I came back to my room and ate the two tiny wiener sausages and two slices of bread. Breakfast comes with a tiny jelly that looks good, so I throw it in the fridge to cool down and have it later as a mini snack.
Phone call comes in around 9:45, nurses checking on my condition. Temperature still elevated.
More TV. Lunch. At 3 pm, I get a call from the front desk. My care package has arrived and I can come down and get it. Just in time too because tonight’s dinner turns out to be sweet and sour pork, one of the things I really don’t like. I decide to open one of the salads that were delivered earlier that day. It’s amazing the things you miss when you’re stuck eating Bentos – anything fresh is divine.
Watch another movie and finish off the rest of the season of the TV show The Expanse. Hit the hay around 10:30.
Day 3 Laundry
Decided to venture down to the laundry room today. Was told to bring lots of 100-yen coins to use the machines but it seems they’re free. Just shove your clothes in, hit start and you’re good to go. 31 minutes popped up on the screen, so I set my alarm and head back to my room.
My alarm goes off to remind me to get my clothes out of the washing machine. I do so and proceed to put them in the dryer. Back up to my room. Turns out 60 minutes isn’t enough to dry all my clothes so I keep some of them in the dryer and leave them in for another 30 minutes.
The rest of the day is pretty much a repeat of yesterday.
Day 4 Something New
Had enough of TV so I decide to whip out my VR headset instead. Being locked in a small room for an extended period of time is no fun, but VR can help as you feel as if you’re climbing Macchu Pichu or kayaking with the penguins. Silly fun, but a welcome escape.
Some games such as Superhot VR and Whiplash need space, but some games can be played seated, so I opt for one of those. I get about a quarter the way through and my Quest lets me know my battery is running low. Good thing too, my eyes are beginning to feel the strain.
After lunch though, as I spray Poo-Pourri in the bathroom, I suddenly realize I’ve lost my sense of smell. It was there just an hour ago as I enjoyed the second salad I had been sent over. I try one of the jellies I have in my fridge, turns out I’ve lost my sense of taste as well.
Decide that it’s been long enough and finally shave off what passes for a beard. I feel like a new man. Amazing what a difference a shave can make. I decide to also trim my hair with clippers. Feels good.
Day 5 The Call
I receive a call from the health center today. They inform me that the next 72 hours are critical. As long as my temperature stays below 37 degrees without medicine over that time period that I’ll be released on Wednesday.
Time has started to drag on. Don’t really feel like a movie or watching TV, nor do I feel like playing VR. Decide to take a nap instead.
Rest of the day unfolds like the other days, only slower.
Day 6 Kindle
I pick up my Kindle and finish a book in a few hours. Easy as there are no distractions. My second care package arrives, and not a moment too soon. I had run out of all fruits and yogurts. The kiwi fruits, salads and grapes come in handy though I can’t taste any of them.
Day 7 One More Day
With any luck, I’ll be out of here tomorrow. My temperature is holding steading and it’s been three days since I have felt any effects of Covid. Time to finish off the VR game which I started the other day.
Day 8 Today’s the Day
My temperature has been 36.6-36.7 for 72 hours. I’m good to go, only I haven’t been contacted by the health center about my departure. I get the call around 9:40 in the morning. Every time they call me, they seem nervous because they see my name and worry I can’t speak Japanese. I can hear it in their voice when they know I speak conversational Japanese, it puts them at ease. My Japanese is not as good as it once was, but I get by.
My wife has told me the washing machine is on the fritz and it’s too old to get fixed so as soon as I get out we’ll be getting a new one. I decide to do one last load of laundry before I leave and save having to wait till our new washing machine arrives.
Just my luck, it seems everyone wants to do their laundry today. I have to wait an hour to use the washing machine, as someone’s forgotten about his clothes. Sigh.
I manage to get most of my clothes dry before my 4 pm check-out time. I strip the bed, turn off the fridge, empty the kettle and a few other items on the list I was given when I first checked in. Reading Japanese sure came in handy during check-in and check-out.
I say goodbye to my room and head downstairs. I expect to leave with the gentleman who came in with me, but he’s not there and in his place someone else is. What happened to the other man? No idea. Maybe his stay was extended? Maybe he needed to be hospitalized? I’ll never know. I don’t have much time to think about it as the staff opens the front doors and I taste the sun on my skin for the first time in eight days.
It’s 11 minutes to the station. I’m winded by the time I get there. I feel weak and am sweating but decide to stand on the train. I send an email to my wife “ETA 4:53.” She replies, “I’ll be there.” She’s waiting for me when I arrive. We head home as I’ve been told I can start working tomorrow.
In a nutshell
8 days. 24 Bentos. 6 movies. 2 seasons of TV shows. 4kgs lost. 2 senses lost. 1 unique experience.
Being isolated with Covid for me was boring. A whole lot of quiet time. 8 days for reflection and being alone with my thoughts. As I’m a father, husband, handyman, chauffeur, owner, speaker, and writer, it was indeed rare.
Like everything in life, there are always lessons we can learn from our experiences. Here are mine.
Lesson 1: Practice Gratitude
In 2004, my wife and I found ourselves trapped in our room as the tsunami that ravaged South East Asia came ashore where we were staying. It’s still a miracle that we escaped with nothing more than a few scratches considering the room itself literally imploded. That experience taught me to appreciate what I have. This time was no different. I appreciated all the staff at the hotel organizing food for us and helping us get settled in. I appreciate my wife sending me two care packages. I appreciate my wife’s food even more. I appreciate my son working hard both in the pool, at the dojo and at school. He’s shown me what hard work even at a young age can achieve. Two black belts, one in Karate and another in Aikido, by the time he turned 12 on top of all his swimming medals. Take the time each day to appreciate what you have. It’s amazing how this simple exercise can impact the rest of your day.
Lesson 2: Love your family and friends
These are the people that have the biggest impact in your life. They make our journey on this big sphere hurtling around the universe worthwhile. Remember to tell them. At the hotel, I made sure to write to nearly everyone and let them know what was going on. Had things taken a turn for the worse, I would have written a follow-up, more serious message. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.
Lesson 3: Keep busy
I’ve always liked the proverb, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” It’s important to keep yourself busy. Especially with a virus such as this none of us know just how it will affect us. Some people don’t even know they have it. Others need to be hospitalized. Sadly, some don’t make it. For most, however, it’s a heavy flu that knocks them out cold. It’s merely a roll of the dice. You can’t fret about it, instead, keep your mind occupied. Deal with each issue as they arise.
Lesson 4: Relax
Stress can be a killer. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of stress: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Learning how to release stress and keep calm under intense situations whether it’s in the boardroom or at home will help you live happier, healthier lives. With Covid, there’s not much you can do except let nature take its course. Eat well, sleep well and do things that will help keep your mind off of the situation.
Lesson 5: Health is the key
My friend’s Covid journey was nightmarish. His oxygen level dropped. His fever spiked. In his words, “I felt like I was dying.” Thankfully, the worse that happened to me was a slight fever (which was the weirdest fever I’ve ever had) and a loss of taste and smell. Health is something we take for granted. People don’t love hitting the weights. They don’t love the burn of our muscles aching, or dripping with sweat. What people do like are the rewards – the six-pack, the strength, the endurance, the looks from others. Health is its own reward.
Lesson 6: Smile
Every day we wake up is a reason to smile. It’s one more sunset. One more chance to talk to our loved ones, one more opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, another chance to find a new restaurant, or meet someone that could change our lives. If those aren’t reasons enough to smile, I don’t know what are. Life is one big adventure. Every day we can change the direction of our lives; to start writing our memoirs, to build a website, to call a friend we haven’t talked to in years. And smiling is where it all begins. It tells the world, “Hey, I’m ready to give it one more shot.”