Under ordinary circumstances, I don’t care very much for bin collection day, least of all the six-weekly uplift of all six recycling and general waste bins from our block. It might not seem like very much, but I have always resented the five minutes it adds onto my morning routine to bring the emptied receptacles in from the pavement. My responsibilities were even doubled recently when the upstairs neighbours who would put the bins out the evening before collection moved away before Christmas. None of this mattered, though, seeing that bin collection day presented me with the opportunity I had been waiting for since my isolation began more than a week ago.
Shielded by the cover of darkness and beneath a thin cloud of drizzle, I was able to leave my flat under the guise of taking the bins out; though unfortunately it wasn’t just a ruse and I did have to actually take the bins out. Still, it felt great to breathe in the fresh night air – even when it was tinged with the stench of rubbish that had been sitting in the bulging waste bins for weeks. Doing my civic and environmental duty had never been so invigorating. It felt similar to when I was walking to and from work during the strict original lockdown in April 2020 or, further back, in the days when I was smoking cigarettes: although what I was doing wasn’t wrong, I didn’t especially want to be spotted doing it and I would feel as though I had to almost sneak around to prevent any disapproving glances.
Isolation, like everything in life, brings with it its own set routine, and when you can break out of it, even for something as simple as seemingly mundane as putting the bins out, it is utterly freeing and thrilling. My daily routine while in isolation hasn’t been much to speak of. I’ve been tending to waken at what I’d consider a normal hour, when I’ll get up and eat my usual breakfast of overnight porridge oats with no fewer than 25 blueberries mixed in. Most mornings I have awoken with at least one affection from my mixed bag of Covid symptoms. Today it was nasal congestion and a headache. Since I’ve still been having some difficulty falling asleep at night and wake up feeling very fatigued, I’ve been going back to bed and playing a Spotify playlist whilst I doze off for another three or four hours. Even when I finally emerge again in early afternoon, I haven’t felt fully awake in more than nine days.
My days have mostly been spent watching dozens of YouTube travel vlogs on Sarajevo, Mostar and Belgrade. I can’t get enough of them, and when I’m not taking the bins out to the pavement, it’s the closest I can get to feeling like I’ve left my flat. As much as possible I’ve been trying to journal my experience in isolation, but it isn’t always easy when attempting to focus on something for more than twenty minutes or so tends to invoke the brain fog. That’s usually when I’ll listen to the Beatles album Let It Be once again. I must have played it about a dozen times by now. In the early evening, I have set aside 45 minutes for yoga and meditation, which has become a great deal easier – and cleaner – than it was in the early days of my sickness.
After eating dinner, I repeat my afternoon activities with some Netflix streaming thrown in, usually a handful of episodes of Seinfeld, before spending several hours repeating the charade of trying to fall asleep. It’s difficult to avoid the feeling that my time in isolation could have been more productive, but the alternatives have been fairly limited. Sometimes taking the bins out is the best you can do, and that’s fine.
I registered yet another positive lateral flow test today, and it really had to be the most pathetic positive result ever recorded. It just might be the most feeble thing I’ve seen. The line was threadbare, best described as a ghost of Covid – which by tomorrow it effectively will be. Even if an LFT shows me as being positive tomorrow I will be free to leave my self-containment providing that I don’t have a fever, and not before long. Ten days have never felt as protracted as they have this year.
There has been much to learn from and reflect over during this last week-and-a-bit. For example, I used to be concerned that I didn’t know how to take a lateral flow test properly when I was returning negative results despite suffering from a heavy cold, but now I can be sure following seven positive outcomes that not only have I been doing the LFTs correctly, but I really did just have a cold – at least until recently. It’s strangely reassuring to know that I have been swabbing my nostrils in the right manner all along.
I believe that after this experience I can comfortably offer the advice to anyone who will listen that it is a good idea to make a sensible meal plan before being forced into isolation. I hadn’t done this, but my failure to have a Covid meal plan in place did result in me learning that mince can be a more versatile meat than I had ever allowed myself to imagine.
Perhaps the most important thing I have learned during this whole ordeal is that – no matter what it is – if you can breathe through it, it can’t be that bad. Even if your breathing is pretty fucked up.
For ten days all I have been able to think about is being allowed to leave my flat again. Not just for a brief walk around the communal garden or to haul the bins through the close and out to the pavement for them to be emptied. I’ve been craving a social interaction beyond the last one I enjoyed ten days ago when the young woman at the test centre calmly explained how I was to put my nasal swab into the solution so that it could be sent off for diagnosis.
In my mind, there are grand plans to take advantage of my newfound freedom from tomorrow. I’m going to arrange a trip to Bosnia and Serbia as soon as I can. It likely won’t be the full train trek around the Balkans I was planning for prior to the pandemic, on account of the arduous testing that would be involved when going from country to country, but I figure I can split it up over a couple of separate trips. In the meantime, I can see myself walking all over the place and participating in all sorts of different social activities. It will be life like I’ve never lived it before. Of course, the reality is that I will be back to striding to and from the war memorial with my earphones in every day. And since tomorrow is Friday I will be in Aulay’s at the first opportunity, toasting the freedom I haven’t had in ten long days. Things will quickly return to the way they were before I ever had Covid. And I can hardly wait for it.