COVID-19 has affected every aspect of life worldwide, including the Caribbean. At the southernmost tip of the archipelago, Trinidad and Tobago had 114 cases of coronavirus as of April 17. In the extreme north of Jamaica, cases exceed 143. In addition, different national territories are under some form of confinement or orders to stay home.
In the midst of this “new normal”, citizens have been recounting their experiences through social networks. The three examples highlighted here are different: one is a gripping account of a COVID-19 survivor, another is a traveler who was quarantined at a state facility, and the final testimony is that of a teenager with autism who writes about coping with self-isolation.
All have had to seek strength deep down to overcome adversity.
The “zero patient” of San Vicente
Described as “a 34-year-old woman, mother and Sanvicentina lawyer,” Ranelle Roberts-Williams was the first confirmed case in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines after testing positive for COVID-19 on March 11, 2020.
After her recovery, she recounted her experience “not only to reassure those who have questions or fears but also as part of (her) own therapy after what she calls a” painful ordeal. “
On March 10, the woman contacted the island's Ministry of Health, Welfare and Environment to report a persistent dry cough that worried her as she had just returned from the UK, where COVID-19 was rapidly converting in a pandemic.
Although initially they did not believe him, he insisted until they did the test and immediately went into self-quarantine, which prevented the potential spread of the virus:
I dare not imagine what the consequences would have been had I not insisted that I be tested for COVID-19 after having been told that I ‘did not fit the criteria ', as I would have been commuting daily and conducting business as usual.
I dare not even imagine what the consequences would have been if I had not insisted that I be tested for COVID-19 after having said that I did not “meet the requirements.” I would have been commuting daily and doing business as usual.
The pain of his diagnosis was exacerbated when he discovered that his medical confidentiality had been violated:
My name and photos were being circulated on social media (…) Imagine having to cope with a medical diagnosis for an emerging virus, while being in isolation away from your family and loved ones, with your business and staff impacted, while much inaccurate and malicious rumors are swirling around about you and your family.
My name and photos were circulating on social media (…) Imagine having to face a medical diagnosis of an emerging virus, while isolated from your family and loved ones, with your business and staff shocked while inaccurate rumors are circulating and malicious about you and your family.
Although he revealed that “isolation was difficult and an emotional roller coaster,” his symptoms were mild and he recovered without medical intervention. For her, the consequences of unauthorized disclosure of her medical information were far worse than the virus itself, including the fact that those who were never in contact with it were stigmatized.
After 23 days in forty, Williams is fully recovered and tested negative twice in a row. However, he had some advice for his Sanvicentine compatriots:
STAY AT HOME. Be kind to one another. COVID-19 does not require the stigma attached. Desist from shaming and discriminating against suspected or confirmed cases and their family and persons in quarantine. (…)
No man is an island. We need each other. It is important to let our loved ones know that we love and appreciate them. Leadership involves listening and making and communicating critical decisions with humility and with empathy.
STAY AT HOME: Be kind to others. COVID-19 does not come with a stigma. Stop embarrassing and discriminating suspected or confirmed cases and their families and people in quarantine (…)
No one is an island. We need we a they. It is important that our loved ones know that we love and value them. Leadership involves listening, making and communicating critical decisions with humility and empathy.
Quarantined in Trinidad and Tobago
In an anonymous letter to the editor of Wired868, the virtue of empathy appeared in a patient's description of forced quarantine.
Life in quarantine is sometimes being disappointed by the lack of empathy of your fellow countrymen.
Sometimes quarantined life is disappointed by the lack of empathy of your compatriots.
Noting that the fact that he is being asked to quarantine at a state facility is “first and foremost a national duty (…) for his safety and that of his compatriots,” the author also acknowledged that it is more difficult to manage, “and it is not safer ”:
It is policing your co-residents because your health depends on them as much as it depends on you. It is reminding 21 other mates to: wash their hands after their vitals, before going to the fridge or to our make-shift kitchen counter, to not pick their nose, to keep on their masks, to keep their distance when they speak to you .
It is to watch your colleagues because your health depends as much on them as on you. It is remembering 21 other colleagues: wash your hands after your vital signs, before opening the fridge or going to the kitchen counter, not touching your nose, keeping in your masks, keeping your distance when they speak to you.
The author saw the unpredictability of quarantine as one of the most difficult aspects, but found comfort in prayer:
It is loving the God you cannot see and hating the neighbor you can. (…)
It is being ostracised by those you thought were friends and being ‘befriended’ by some who are not. It is trying to keep your physical health while feeling the loss of your mental health.
It is being part of the forgotten; not positive for the virus so you can be treated — but seemingly ineligible to return home.
It is loving the God that you cannot see and hating the neighbor that if you can (…)
It is being condemned by those you thought were friends and making friends with someone who is not. It is trying to maintain your physical health while you feel the loss of your mental health.
It is being part of oblivion: not testing positive for the virus so they can treat you but apparently not fit to go home.
Amid so much despair, the author highlighted a positive fact – the best of humanity:
It is pleasant when the strong console the weak, when you can still see gratitude from co-residents in spite of the grumblings. It is seeing loved ones outside drawn even closer in spite of the physical distance.
Life in quarantine is knowing that this too shall pass.
It is nice when the strong comfort the weak, when you can still see the gratitude of your companions despite the complaints. It is seeing loved ones on the outside get even closer despite the physical distance.
Quarantined life is knowing that this too will pass.
It is unclear whether the author remains a temporary resident in the COVID-19 quarantine center.
Having special needs in isolation
Each person experiences isolation differently, as Rowan McEwan, a student at the prestigious Queen's Royal College in Trinidad and Tobago, can attest. In his causeaneffect blog, McEven describes himself as “one of the many Caribbean teens living with autism.”
Although he admits that learning of the first COVID-19 case in Trinidad and Tobago was “devastating” to him, he also says:
Throughout my life, I have overcome multiple barriers to get to where I am, and the one I’m currently facing is no different.
Throughout my life, I have overcome multiple barriers to get where I am and the one I am facing now is no different.
Despite his determination, life in quarantine is arduous, to be sure. He misses school, the place where he socialized and which was his refuge:
To not be able to visit this place at all was truly painful. And it wasn’t just school that was off-limits either. The entire outside world was suddenly beyond my grasp.
Not being able to go to this place was truly painful. And it wasn't just school out of reach. Suddenly everyone outside was left out.
As a former refugee from the Libyan civil war, McEwen's isolation, under the current measure of staying home by Trinidad and Tobago's COVID-19, brings back bad memories of when he and his family were “trapped at home, living in fear constant”.
There is no doubt that life in seclusion can be horrendous, but perhaps the strictest measures are now, and soon the world will be able to emerge from this pandemic, with fewer deaths and a greater appreciation for our shared humanity.