A Fear Untold

It was not the best time to have a fever.

But I had it.

It was hours after I did some grocery shopping, for which I had lined up for five — ruthless — hours.

My fiancee, Kath, called it a sinat and asked me to take a rest. At her mom’s advice, she prepared ginger tea with lemon and had me take some Bioflu (“Not ibuprofen!”). She was panicking, muttering she really should’ve gone shopping and not me who is asthmatic.

“I don’t have cough and shortness of breath,” I said, reassuring her — but really nervous at the same time. Isn’t covid-19 supposed to have an incubation period? Aren’t symptoms supposed to appear at least two days after exposure? If this is — heavens forbid, covid-19 — then maybe I got this two weeks ago, before the lockdown?

It’s bad when you’re a chronic overthinker.

That night, I carefully noted that I didn’t have chills, but any draft of air felt noticeably cold. Thankfully I slept like a baby. But the next day, the fever came back (or maybe it just didn’t leave?). We didn’t have a thermometer, but I knew what’s normal temp or not. Worse, I found the left side of my neck swollen and red.

It was sunburn.

I concluded the fever had been due to severe sunburn. After grocery-shopping, I carried three bags with both hands, right while the sun was at its apex. I would hide my face from it, exposing my nape.

It was sunburn. Just a sunburn. With a side effect.

The next day, however, I started to feel tight in the chest. I suddenly felt aware I was heaving deep breaths. I didn’t hear any wheezing sound — wheezing is part of an asthma attack — which is bad. This may NOT be asthma. Maybe it’s worse. My heart skipped a beat.

Did I get infected? But I was obedient and stayed home and went out only to get food! Do I have to go to hospital? Can my fiancée accompany me? Am I going to die?

I told you being an overthinker is inconvenient.

And what does “shortness of breath” mean? Is it the same as one experiences when having asthma?

I read as much as I could about the virus and its symptoms. Trouble is, the more information I got, the more I sensed that there is still a lot more to know and that nothing is certain. When the spectrum of manifestations of the virus is from having none to having severe breathing difficulty, it’s quite haphazard to say you’re virus-free unless you get tested.

So I took a puff out of my trusty inhaler. I had it since an asthmatic episode last year. With 200 actuations, it can last me maybe one or two years, if I effectively avoid my triggers.

I could hardly notice any difference in my breathing after that one inhalation. But I didn’t want to take another, else I might grow dependent on it.

I took more rest.

Fortunately, my throat was alright, my body didn’t feel weak (I was just sleepy, but maybe it’s the paracetamol working), and most importantly, I didn’t have cough.

When I called my mom, she also dismissed my symptoms as my body’s terrible reaction to having been trapped indoors for weeks then suddenly getting exposed outside without meal and water for almost half the day.

I felt relieved. Mothers know best, after all.

But on the third day, and on the fourth, the “asthma” repeatedly appeared. I was gasping for breath, kind of. So I began to doubt myself. Is this really just asthma?

Overthinker mode was on. When you say the disease’s symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, do you mean all of them at the same time or one or two at a time? And in that order, or not really?

I was drowning with questions, and Kath was starting to worry again. But I admired the quiet strength she acquired since two days ago.

“Maybe you should call the hotline,” she told me, after I brought up the idea.

But I couldn’t bring myself to dial the numbers. My dread added to my breathing difficulty.

“I don’t have cough, and I’m not feeling weak,” I told her, unsure.

“You better call, or else we’ll be worrying the whole time” was the reply.

So I called. 155–200. PGH’s hotline. Since PGH was practically my “teritoryo” until two years ago, I preferred it to DOH’s hotline which is scarily called “COVID-19 HOTLINE” in capital letters. PGH seemed more approachable.

I’m just going to consult, that’s all. I’m not gonna die.

“Hello, I’m not feeling very well.”

The operator asked for my basic information, then the symptoms. I also told him about my adventure to the supermarket some days back. And my asthma meds.

“No body aches or sore throat?”

“None.”

He asked to be excused for a few minutes. He probably sought advice from his superior. I had a feeling the operator was a young doctor, or maybe a nurse.

But I was nervous as hell. The silence was killing me.

When he came back to the line, he said, “It’s most probably just your asthma, sir.”

Sweet Jesus!

I didn’t hear much anymore of what he said next. “Stay home” something, “call us if it gets worse” something, and something more. What’s important for me then was the fact that he dismissed the possibility it’s covid-19.

But those few words were enough for me to be at peace again. It was like getting a full blow of cool, freeing oxygen into my lungs.

Lesson? It sucks to be asthmatic.

And I really should’ve taken breakfast and water and prepared for a five-hour queue at the supermarket that one time.

I’m feeling okay now. And for the first time in my life, I’m glad to have asthma — just asthma.

That ordeal taught me another — and deeper — lesson. And that is: Life is fragile, appreciate every moment.

When I was still heaving breaths, end-of-life scenes already started to appear. Dying unmarried to the love of my life, crying in contrition and isolation, awaiting judgment and clinging to a frail hope. It’s a terrible train of thought. But maybe good to jolt me back to realizing the real valuable things in life: the little things of love, the soft voices of loved ones, the silence of understanding and being understood.

Going through that health scare hadn’t been easy. But, thank God, I got through that tunnel stronger and more appreciative of each day.

It’s still not the best time to have a fever. But it’s always the best time to count your blessings, especially your loved ones and your every breath.