New East Digital Archive

‘The smells are still gone, but I can walk.’ My ongoing battle with Covid-19

With Covid-19 showing no signs of slowing down, the misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the pandemic outbreak also continue to spread. This puts a greater importance on personal stories of illness and recovery. Polish-born Stockholm-based designer Domka Spytek tested positive last month and kept a diary throughout her isolation. She calls it “an illness of waiting”.

22 October 2020
Text and images: Domka Spytek

The first symptoms came on quite suddenly. I woke up one Saturday in September with a headache and a little muscle pain. I ignored the pain and brushed it off as PMS. After a few hours, I started to feel worse. I could barely walk. The headache was unbearable and the fatigue was like nothing I’d experienced before. I didn’t have a fever, but I did lose my sense of smell completely. For a couple of days, I could barely leave my bed. It was overwhelming.

After three days of feeling ill, I called a doctor and was advised to order the test. Luckily, in Sweden where I am based, these are delivered to your home and the whole testing system is well-organised. It took a few more days to get the results.

It is difficult to be both isolated and sick. You have to deal with what is happening to your body and inside your head on your own. Of course, I got a lot of support from my friends and family, who were checking on me over the phone, but it is not the same as seeing a person live. Looking back, I think this may be why I started documenting my body and keeping a diary. To feel less isolated. And less lonely in this illness.

When I tested positive, I couldn’t imagine myself lying in bed all that time. Covid-19 is an illness of waiting because you constantly have to wait for something. You wait for the strength to go to the kitchen. You wait for the smells and flavours to return. You wait to be able to leave your apartment. This was my own small trial of waiting. We are all waiting through this pandemic: for more data, for the cure, for this disease to be over or at least be less dangerous, for a new world with new values and habits.

For many who have not experienced the virus, Covid-19 still seems an abstract concept. If we cannot see it, we cannot relate to it. I am a product designer, but for this particular work, I turned to photography to allow other people to see this illness and the way it manifests in real life. Contrary to popular belief, not all young people go through it with no symptoms.

Regardless of the pain or the time of day, I continued to photograph my body and write about my battle with Covid-19, extracts of which you can read below. Slowly, I’m getting better. And I am still waiting…

I surrendered with no fight. Soon, all my strength and sense of smell was gone. What came after was the longest sleep of all.

I feel nothing. I have no strength to get up. I look at one spot on the ceiling and think about how easy it is to shrink. I’m sweating, but I don’t have a fever. Under three blankets, I can still feel an overwhelming coldness.

I called the doctor today. The nose drops should solve my issues with smell loss. Apparently, the dots on my throat are a good sign. I went to the pharmacy. I have never walked that slowly in my entire life. I ordered a covid test. It is probably nothing but a cold I caught biking. I can swallow, breathe and talk. It cannot be that bad.

The strength I had yesterday is suddenly gone. I can barely walk. I am holding on to the walls on my way to the kitchen. My nose isn’t clogged, yet I can’t smell soap or garlic. I sleep like a dead person. I can’t read. I can barely write. I don’t feel like talking.

The test arrived at my door. I washed my hands and took a sample from the throat. I thought of how unnecessary it is for the courier to be standing so far away. I am sure I don’t even have this virus.

I wrote something at night. Maybe it is a sign that my mind feels strong enough to be looking for words.

I tested positive and called the doctor right away. I may not keep my sense of smell for a long time. It is sad. I have to drink, eat, sleep, rest, and stay in. No medication is going to help. All I can do is wait and try to survive this. My whole body hurts, but I continue to document it, waiting for improvement.

Sleeping. A little bit more strength. I burnt something in the kitchen, but it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

I read Susan Sontag’s essay about metaphors of illness. I wonder what she would write now, this year. A short walk to the kitchen. Lying in bed. Headache. Longing. We are waiting for the ambulance, because M. started breathing heavily. I stay awake by her side. M. stays at home. Looks okay. My head hurts, but I know I have to write.

I slept badly. They called me in the morning to ask if I know that I tested positive, if I know what to do now, if I’ve left the house since taking the test, if I remember the places I visited two weeks before the first symptoms appeared. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not even going out to buy bread. I don’t know where I’ve been. In a shop, at a bar, seeing friends. I don’t know who was sick. I don’t know anything anymore. I stare outside my window, trying to watch the birds. The smells are still gone, but I can walk.

No smell. No fever. I’m walking. Coughing. I haven’t slept well. It’s raining today. I’m waiting for a letter from my grandmother. I don’t know if it is possible to write about it other than just with simple facts. Suddenly, I feel a pain in my chest while taking a breath. I can’t bend down. It hurts when I take air into my lungs. An ambulance comes. I’m going with them for a check-up. I have never seen so many cables. Blood tests. Lung ultrasound. Clear. No one knows why I feel the pain. No one seems to know anything. I am supposed to take paracetamol. When I fall asleep, the pain is still there.

I woke up angry. Angry at myself and at the whole situation. My head hurts. Two bruises on my arm seem to be a tiny price for knowing that my lungs are okay. And my heart. I am still writing and trying to do this waiting journal. Everyone keeps telling me they don’t know anything or that I just have to wait. I’m waiting. Stuck at home.

I wanted to go out, but I am slower than ever. It makes no sense to make any effort. Headache. A slight cough. I feel like I’m in custody.

Headache. Dreaming about being back to normal. I keep writing. I tried to do something more, but I feel so useless. I get tired easily. Like I got 100 years older than I was.

I guess this is the illness of waiting. My strength is slowly coming back. Perhaps the smells will come back too. I look through my window and wonder how fast autumn came. I go out. Slowly. One day at a time. I keep writing. And I am still waiting.

Read more

‘The smells are still gone, but I can walk.’ My ongoing battle with Covid-19

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‘The smells are still gone, but I can walk.’ My ongoing battle with Covid-19

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