Visit from the virus

Nyssa Pierre -
Nyssa Pierre -


She thought she had sinus problems, but when Nyssa Pierre lost her sense of taste and smell, she realised that what she really had was covid19. But Pierre was one of the lucky ones who had mild symptoms, and only had to stay in state facilities for a few days. Here she reports on her experience and offers advice on what to expect – and how to prepare for it.

On the morning of August 23, I was startled out of sleep by an expected phone call. “Ma’am, this is the ambulance service. We are on the way to take you to Caura.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly or if it was a dream, but after being convinced this was really happening, I was given an hour to pack my things and head into state quarantine. Imagine my shock: I’d only been confirmed covid19-positive three days before, and was waiting on the call from authorities to confirm my results and explain the process to me, not a call to say they were coming to pick me up!

As someone with no dependents and an expert procrastinator with a well-developed knack for panic-packing, I was quickly able to (over)pack my life into two suitcases (one for clothes/shoes and the other for dry food/snacks/drinks) and a massive tub of every possible toiletry I could need over the two weeks I was told to plan for.

Truthfully, had I had other people or pets to concern myself with, I truly don’t think I would have been able to jump into that patiently awaiting ambulance under the watchful gaze of my new neighbours.

As case numbers increase, the likelihood of you or someone you know needing to go into self- or state quarantine is high.

So my advice? 3Ps. Plan. Prepare. Pack. Whether you’re at home or a “guest of the State,” you will need to plan for that, whatever it looks like. Children will need to be cared for, pets looked after, elderly parents, the convalescent and those with special needs planned for.

I had the good fortune of a network that could mobilise very quickly and immediately jumped in to help, but planning would have made sure I didn’t – ridiculously – end up with work dresses and sweaters in my suitcase in the height of my panic…totally unable to wear them in a hospital.

Coping with covid19 at home

Well, before we go ambulance-chasing: fortunately CMO Dr Parasram made the sensible decision to implement at-home quarantine. There are many people like me who have recently tested positive and many others I met at both Caura and the UWI step-down facility (Canada Hall) who are either asymptomatic or exhibit very mild symptoms and, once responsible, can safely quarantine at home for free.

Much of the world’s media has painted a grim picture of covid19 and while the virus has claimed many lives and affected the long-term health of some patients, the vast majority of us will recover.

I know every experience is different and for me, the worst of it was two days of nasal congestion and a total loss of taste and smell that lasted for almost two weeks.

What it does mean, though, is that all of us immediately need to examine what at-home quarantine might look like for ourselves and our families.

Can you truly isolate at your home? It is possible to have a separate bathroom? If not, what do sharing and sanitising protocols look like? Do you have adequate cleaning supplies?

What about your meals? How you will and your family eat safely as you quarantine? Should they be housed elsewhere? Should they kick you out for the required period? While at-home quarantine may be less traumatic and way less exciting than a Sunday-morning ambulance ride, it still requires discussion, preparation and planning, and that starts now.

State hospitals and hospitality

If your symptoms are moderate or severe, the health services will pick you up to take you to a medical facility (Caura, Couva etc).

Though doctors and nurses will work round the clock to return you to good health, this also requires planning on your part. Whatever comfort looks like, take it with you. Think about your average day and night-time routine and pack those things with you.

If you’ve ever stayed in a hospital or lived in a communal setting, you know the drill. There were six beds to every block of patients, my ward having three or four blocks. Though there wasn’t much privacy, other patients were respectful of individual areas and personal property.

Take your own soap, shower slippers, snacks/quick meals you like and lots of water. Don’t forget any medications you already take, but be sure to disclose them to your doctors. As I’ve learned and read, the virus is truly a strange one and doctors are still figuring out how it interacts with certain drugs. Help them to help you.

Take entertainment. You’re going to need it. Openly admitting to overpacking, I had my laptop, iPad and many books.

In UWI, where movement was much freer, I went on a walk and saw fellow “guests” playing cards with each other. Oddly, there’s an atmosphere of togetherness and camaraderie being in this unprecedented space together, so also prepare to make friends.

In contrast to Caura, my experience in Canada Hall (and shared by those in Freedom Hall, close by) was reminiscent of my first year of university. The rooms are small but comfortable and afford the privacy that Caura did not. I’m told that hall in particular was recently upgraded and truly had a modern feel, with each room having ample cupboard and desk space and a welcome added bonus of your own fan! It’s the little things…

I’ve been asked abouythe food, a lot. I will say that if you’re a fan of salt and seasoning, this won’t be an easy stay. Take salt and pepper with you and use the allowance of friends and family drop-offs.

Lastly, you’ll probably not want to see a piece of bread for a while by the end of it. So be sure to take or have the nation’s “vital supply” brought for you.

Help them to help you

Truthfully, as an event planner with a lot of new-found time on her hands to think, I began to calculate the possible cost of my new “accommodation.”

From the processing of my testing by CARPHA and the Ministry to Health, to the ambulance operators who called to tell me they were on the way, the guards, nurses, doctors and cleaners at Caura and UWI to the catering of three daily meals, bus drivers and army personnel, the cost of quarantine is high.

The human cost is high as well. All those people I just mentioned? Yep. They’re tired. They’ve been at this for months, and with this most recent surge will be working round the clock until community spread is contained.

Speaking of costs, we haven’t even touched the effects of closures of offices and business places for safety and sanitisation when a positive case is discovered.

So while we may all be tired of Ms Rona – as the virus has not so affectionately been named – it seems she is here to stay for a while…like the “longest January with the longest stretch before payday after a particularly expensive Christmas and a short Carnival season” kind of while.

Not only must we continue to adhere to the guidelines outlined by local and international medical professionals, we now need to couple that with being prepared for Ms Rona to knock on our doors.

We cannot afford, on many levels, not to plan for this unwelcome visitor. But we must also not live in fear of her. Sit with your families, closest friends and neighbours (socially distanced or on Zoom, of course) and truly work out what at-home or state quarantine may look like for you and your circle.

Don’t forget about catering for pets, paying statutory bills and stocking up on (not hoarding) cleaning supplies. Have some easy-to-prepare meals and water at hand. Lastly, though we’ve all got a bit lazier over the last few months, there’s a lot to be said about keeping as healthy as possible and strengthening your immune system.

So whatever that looks like for you, do it. Do it safely, smartly and responsibly. Don’t forget the 3Ps:Plan. Prepare. Pack.

Stay safe, TT!

Since this piece was written, the CMO and Minister of Health commendably announced voluntary state quarantine, free of charge, for covid19-positive people whose living arrangements do not allow for effective at-home isolation.


"Visit from the virus"

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