Covid-19: a pandemic chronicle

The alarm goes off and I reach for my cell phone on the nightstand. With my eyes half open, I turn off the alarm and begin to scroll through my social media and the news. While one friend posts a photo from his latest trip with a hashtag “saudade”, another friend tweets about Bolsonaro. On the news, I see photos from around the world: London, New York, Berlin. All the cities are empty; the imagens are familiar from a movie I have seen before. I stare at the ceiling. I think about my family. I think about Brazil.

The last time I saw my parents was in July/2019 — that was when I hugged my mom goodbye. Hugging is the thing I miss the most in this pandemic. Nowadays, touching is not allowed. In these days, there are only masks and alcohol — everywhere. People call it the “new normal”. In July, my father was at an advanced stage of dementia and I am not sure if he recognized me then. I say “was” because there is no more him. He is dead now.

I sit on my bed thinking about what I have scheduled for today. As a PhD student, there is not much to do, except write my thesis — which makes me think about the last time I got an email from my supervisor. It was three months ago. I take a shower and when I come back, there are new notifications on my cell phone. Someone liked one of my photos on Instagram; my friend sent me a piece by Ed Yong on Twitter and Amazon just sent a book recommendation via email. I think about my thesis.

I prepare breakfast while watching one episode of Grace & Frankie. When I lived with my parents, my father used to make me breakfast. I think about him every day. Half an hour later I wash the dishes and come back to my room. I open my notebook and the news about Covid-19 are everywhere. Many lives have been lost by Covid-19 around the world. As expected, this pandemic has brought up all the inequalities in our society. While Jeff Bezos is getting richer and richer day by day, the Brazilian Congress approves a basic income for the vulnerable — one third of the Brazilian population. Economists say that the GDP is going to drop drastically this year; Central Banks are injecting tones of money into the economy. This is an unprecedented situation like never seen before. I have to write my thesis.

I open the document “thesis.draft” and start to write from where I stopped yesterday — I was able to write two paragraphs the day before. The cell phone buzzes, and I see a new notification on WhatsApp: my brother is saying that our father is not feeling well. I ask about his symptoms and my brother says that he is coughing and having a hard time breathing. I think about all the comorbidities that are associated with Covid-19. I remember that my father smoked for more than fifty years of his life. He has emphysema and is 87 years old.

An hour goes by and I only manage to write one paragraph. I keep staring at the page and the bar is flashing. It flashes twenty-five times and then it stops. I think about my deadlines. I think about my father — I always think about my father. I wonder if he remembers me. I wonder if he is in pain. I think about my mom. I wonder what I’ll have for lunch.

I go to the kitchen and there is some leftover from yesterday: rice with broccoli. I will fry an egg and put on top of it. There is salad: lettuce, tomato and cucumber. My father was a great cook and seafood was his specialty. If I close my eyes, I can see him cleaning up the fish; removing the skin from the shrimp. “You cannot eat this black line from the shrimp. That is the intestine”. My father gave me the best advices. He was also my best friend.

After lunch, I lie down on the couch and rest for a couple of minutes. I think about time, its thickness. Now — more than ever — it is hard to measure it. What does the future hold? I wonder. I really do not know — no one does. In this pandemic, we know almost nothing. My thought is interrupted by another message from my brother: “we are taking dad to the hospital”. There is not much I can do. We are miles apart: he is in Brazil; I am in Portugal. I literally can feel the adrenaline going through my veins: my heart is beating faster and faster.

He has tested positive for Covid-19 and he is taken directly to the ICU, my brother says in another message. My cell phone is in my hands and I do not know what to think, nor what to do. I only answer “okay”. I am back in my room; I am staring at the notebook. I focus on my breathing: in and out, repeatedly. I think about my memories with my father. Is this the end? I start to cry — it is bigger than me. I still have to write my thesis.

I am not having dinner today. I will grab something later, maybe. I am taking a shower — I need to relax. I return to my bedroom and there is another message from my brother: “he is unconscious, intubated”. I sit on the chair and the anxiety is rushing through my body. I try to focus on my breathing, again. I grab my cell phone and text one of my dearest friends: “hey, my father tested positive for Covid-19, I am scared”. I cannot think about my thesis right now.

A few hours later, I lie down to sleep. I try to read a book, but it is difficult — it is hard not to think about him. I fall asleep and I am transported to a childhood memory: my father and I are walking in a park. There are no clouds in the sky. We are holding hands — I am on the top of the sidewalk and he is by my side on the street. For one second, I get distracted and twist my left ankle. My father catches my left arm in order for me not to fall from the sidewalk. I open my eyes and do the same movement, but now, I am on my bed.

I wake up before the alarm — I did not sleep well today. I put my glasses on and reach for my cell phone — this time, it is hidden under the pillow. I did not turn off the wi-fi as usual: I check the news and one thousand lives are being lost in a daily basis in Brazil. Bolsonaro keeps saying that Covid-19 is just a flu. He is the worse President ever, for sure. I open WhatsApp and I see that my friend answered me: she wants to do a video call as soon as possible. My brother also says that my father’s situation got worse: “he will need to go through dialysis”. As a pathologist, I know his organs are shutting down. I wish I could see him, but there is not much I can do. I think about the doctors and nurses that are taking good care of him. I think about their families. I pray for them and for my father. I think about God. Do I believe in God?

I am not hungry, again. I make myself some coffee and that is it. I go to my bedroom and bring the notebook to the living room table — the lighting is better there. I read some articles, but it is hard to focus on the writing. My PhD sounds pointless at this point. I cannot stop thinking about my father. The situation in Manaus is critical: new graves are being dug in the cemetery. The photos are disturbing. If my father dies, should he be buried or cremated?

After one hour of me trying to focus, a new notification on my cell phone comes in and I already know what it is. “He is gone”, says my brother in one short and direct message on WhatsApp. All of a sudden, I am drowned in pain and sorrow. The pain is gigantic; I can feel it in my bones. At this point, I am crying, uncontrollably. Memories are flashing through my mind. I knew that this moment was about to come, but there is no way to anticipate this pain. Death brings an exactness, a certainty that only a few things in life brings — only love, maybe. I think about all the families that have lost their loved ones. Now, I am one of them.

The first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in China, in January. My father died in Rio, on August 26th. According to the World Health Organization, more than two hundred thousand lives were lost in the United States. Brazil comes in second, with more than one hundred and ninety thousand deaths. The Covid-19 data in India is alarming: more than seven million cases are confirmed, and the deaths surpasses one hundred thousand people. It is a catastrophe. Families were destroyed; the unemployment rate has been increasing, and many businesses had to close their doors. This year will be remembered for its exceptionality.

My father entered the hospital on Saturday and left on Wednesday, in a sealed coffin. Only four people attended his funeral: my brother, his wife and two cousins. I was there too, via Zoom. His grandkids as well. SARS-Cov-2 is the virus responsible for Covid-19. It is microscopic, it is in the air; on the surfaces, and it kills people, like my father.

I write what I cannot forget