By Lorenzo Martín Martínez
HAVANA TIMES – I went to visit a friend on December 28th, who had just come from Spain, and I spent the afternoon with her, seasoned with an excellent wine she brought back. We ate lunch together and caught up on the gossip from here and there. One of the things she told me was that she had caught COVID in the last week of her trip, although she wasn’t too sick. Her symptoms were mild, barely affecting her respiratory tract, which was maybe thanks to the fact that she had been vaccinated. Only a slight cough gave it away, but she was already testing negative with tests.
Two days later, in the middle of getting everything ready for dinner on New Year’s Eve, I began coughing and having shortness of breath. I didn’t think too much about it and carried on. But when I woke up on the 31st, I felt so bad that I could barely get out of bed.
I checked myself thoroughly and concluded that I had been infected with COVID. This scared me quite a bit because I never got the vaccine, I don’t trust vaccines that are created quickly when vaccines need years of trials and studies.
I thought about going to the doctor, but I soon gave up on that idea. COVID-19 tests aren’t available at polyclinics and hospitals, and medicines are much harder to find. This COVID-19 business is already a thing of the past and when you go to the doctor, they tell you to drink lots of liquids and rest, without doing any tests. There’s no prescription for any medicine, because you can’t even find painkillers at the drugstore to bring down a fever.
My plans definitely had to change. Expecting a lack of appetite, I put away the piece of pork that I’d already marinated back into the fridge and took out some chicken to make soup and broth. It’s very important to keep yourself nourished when you’re sick, but lots of illnesses take away our appetite, making things worse.
I’m the kind of person that never gets sick, so I never keep any medicines at home. This meant I had to go out and look for them before my symptoms got worse. If my respiratory system really does get hit hard, I’ll have no choice but to go and try to be admitted into a hospital, in the meantime, I’ll try my best to get everything I need on my own.
I left quite early to see if the kiosk where medicines are sold at the market, was open. Thank God, they were still working, and I was able to find some of what I needed. I needed to get medicines to bring down a fever and ease a general feeling of malaise. I also needed a strong antibiotic like Penicillin or Azithromycin in case there was an opportunistic pneumonia. Another thing I needed was a thermometer and some kind of asthma pump to try and help with my breathing and a cough mixture to help to get rid of the phlegm. Another thing I needed to find were some root vegetables for soup and some fruit to make juices and give some vitamin C, which is very effective at beating a cold.
I was only able to buy malanga, plantain and pumpkin. Malanga cost 80 pesos per pound, and pumpkin and plantain cost 50 pesos. A few pounds hurt my pocket hard, but it’s all for my health. Anyway, this was going to be my food for next three or four days until my appetite comes back. Five pounds of each would be enough. Nine-hundred pesos and that’s just the start of it. I couldn’t find fruit anywhere and I had to end up buying a couple of 1-liter cartons of juice for 450 pesos each. I hoped medicines would be cheaper.
Those hopes were dashed. The kiosk is a kind of drugstore with imported, expensive medicines, but at least you can find whatever you can’t at a state-run pharmacy. To tell you the truth, they have an impressive assortment, from vitamins for children to antibiotics, creams, and a lot more.
I bought Aspirin, a bottle of 30 for 650 pesos, at the drugstore. I also found a thermometer, for 1500 pesos. I bought Paracetamol for the aches and pains that come with a cold for 800 pesos. I also bought painkillers for 600 pesos, and Azithromycin for 900. Thanks to the salesperson’s help, I came across a neighbor who had a bronchodilator to help open the airways. That cost me 800 pesos.
I spent over 4000 pesos in total on medicine, that’s a whole average wage for a Cuban. Getting sick is definitely bad business here. My New Year’s budget no longer existed after so many expenses, I’d figure that out later, my immediate priority was getting healthy again.
I had a high fever, felt generally unwell, had a lot of coughing and zero appetite for the next three days. I was almost about to go to the hospital. I didn’t go because I never really felt like I couldn’t breathe, except for the cough, plus the fever broke and began to go down after the second day.
Up until day 3, I didn’t manage to eat anything but the broths I’d made with the chicken I had left over. I then began to slowly add root vegetables to the broths until I had a proper soup like we say in Cuba: with all of the stops. The fever left when my appetite came back.
The cough lasted a few more days and then slowly went away on its own. The general feeling of being ill left for at least another ten days. It wasn’t until January 14th or 15th that I began to feel like I had the same vitality I normally do.
I hope I didn’t infect anyone, I locked myself at home and self-isolated completely. I called mom and explained, she was quite worried, but I calmed her down with regular calls asking for some advice about the soup or fever, and even though I knew the answers, but it made her feel useful at that time.
I managed to give excuses to my neighbors and get away with not opening the door. Finita, who was the one I worried the most about infecting because of her old age, even got upset with me because I didn’t open the door. But I then charmed her with a piece of cheese that I gave her and some silly excuses about a woman who was staying at my house, and she didn’t want to be seen because she’s married.
Once my health came back, I got back to my life and telling you about the vicissitudes of regular Cuban’s everyday lives.