Recently, within a week, my younger daughter, then my elder daughter and now my wife have tested positive for the virus.
In April, I felt the virus would get me soon, so I wrote a will to my family that partly said: “If the virus attacks me, please stay away from me, alive and dead. We will pray together for the last time, in the driveway, with masks and at the six-feet apart distances. I will drive my car to nearby Fairfax Hospital, report to the Emergency office, and start texting — no emotional phone calls — about my developments. If I die, please make arrangements for my cremation; no funeral, no burial, and no mourning gathering. When the virus disappears, please bury my ashes in a grave in the Muslim section of King David Memorial Garden in Falls Church.”
Now, three members of my family have tested positive.
Two days after spending the night with us, our younger daughter called her mother and told her she had a fever. The mother advised her to take a test, and the test came back positive.
Thanks to the Fairfax County Health Department, we were soon contacted. We answered detailed questions and were given elaborate advice, websites and links and asked to fill out daily online update forms.
Then our other daughter, who lives in nearby Fauquier County, called and said she tested positive. Fortunately, she had not visited us in a month.
Soon, my wife started coughing and feeling sick, and, because of crowded nearby test centers, she had to go to Fauquier County to be tested. It was positive.
My wife and I started the following arrangements: separate bedrooms, separate bathrooms, separate dining areas and separate offices. My wife, a senior nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital doing office work from home, has the dining room, sits in the family room and uses the adjacent bathroom. I, a correspondent for a Saudi magazine out of London, have the downstairs den and the adjacent basement, with sofas, a television and a bathroom.
We asked the Fairfax Health Department about arrangements in the kitchen and were advised to use it at separate times, wipe countertops and cabinet handles and spray the area. After exchanging text messages about the nightmare of cooking separately, we were told we could use the same pots and pans but separate utensils.
As I spray and wipe, I wonder about my relationship with my wife of 45 years, the mother of our three children: Is she a danger, an enemy, a symbol of death? Sometimes I have visions of the viruses coming out of her nose and mouth, flying all over the house. When I do the daily house spray, I avoid the bedroom where she sleeps, though I am tempted to get closer and spray her while she is sleeping.
It sometimes becomes surreal. My hearing and her distance vision are weak. I have to get close to her when she speaks or when I want to show her something. We can’t talk much or leave the house, so mostly we communicate through texting.
As I threw away one empty spray can after the other, my wife and children complained that I was paranoid about cleaning and used excessive disinfectants.
It was probably a combination of excitement, puzzlement and naivete of someone who was born and grew up in a village on the Nile River in northern Sudan, about 6,000 miles away.
Whenever I check WhatsApp’s small group of my villagers, I feel I am more worried about them than they are. Recently, there was a video of my brother’s daughter’s wedding. I didn’t see one single mask, and people were hugging and kissing during a very happy singing and dancing event. They seem resigned to the fact that no vaccine will reach them soon. To protect themselves, they resort to the native medicines of herbs, spices, weeds and plants that I still remember after all these years.
(My father was the village’s shaman and used Prophetic medicine, in reference to the practices of Prophet Muhammad).
Following the villagers’ group suggestions, I tried the three-step “Water Cure”: First, boil very salty water in a pot, bend over and smell deeply so the vapor goes down your nostrils. Second, put some water in a cup, add a little cold water and gurgle to clean your throat. Third, dip your fingers in the water and rub your neck. More important, when you start, say “Bismillah” (by the name of God), and when you finish, say “Alhamdulillah” (thanks to God).
Back home, I panicked when I found that our stock of sprays and wipes was running out, and learned that nearby stores had none. I called my children for help and panicked more when I checked Amazon and found it was out of stock of my favorite.
Will I be protected until I receive the supplies? Will I be alive until I get my vaccine shots?
Trying to be positive, I am now dreaming of two coming days: the first, hopefully in February, when I will drive my car to the nearby Safeway or CVS and get vaccine shots. The second, in late April, when, with hope, we can return to our family’s 20-year-old tradition of almost annual Caribbean cruises on what will be the first day of my wife’s retirement.