When I contracted COVID-19 back in March 2021, I was working as a news reporter in Saint Lucia. In fact, I had been working in that role for 2 years and not once did I ever really focus on stories of health and safety. When talk of a new virus all the way across the world began in 2020, I found myself being the local ‘COVID reporter’. I suppose it was kismet that I would fall victim to the virus myself.
I got tested on a Tuesday and got my results two days later. In a small country where resources in the health industry are scarce, that’s actually a short wait. I spent the next 2 weeks in isolation - all by myself in the unoccupied house of a family member. By all indications, my case was pretty mild. I had no fever, no cough, no chills, no body aches, no eye pain. I did, however, have one of the tell-tale signs of COVID-19: no sense of taste and smell. In fact, that’s how I suspected I was sick in the first place.
Contrary to all sorts of medical opinions to rest and take it easy, I spent my entire isolation period working from home, conducting interviews over the phone and writing news reports to help out my tiny team back at the office. My grandmother (an amazing lady) would bring me lunch every day despite me only knowing what I was eating because I could see it.
In my days alone, I would walk around the house trying to smell things: perfume, air freshener, alcohol, chicken, fish, ANYTHING! It was probably on day 4 or 5 that I realized the fish my grandmother brought for lunch tasted and smelt weird. It’s been a year and I still can’t describe the taste. Somewhere in between rusty, rotted and just disgusting.
As the days went by, and even after I was cleared from isolation by a doctor, I discovered more and more things that were just horrendous. Chicken, fish, pepperoni, bread and anything made from flour honestly, cucumbers, eggs, sausages, kale, broccoli, garlic (my favourite thing), Irish potatoes, green bananas, brown rice, cabbage, cereal - all disgusting. I should note that prior to contracting COVID, I was already a picky eater.
The smell of people cooking these foods would make me want to throw up. Sometimes, I would get a headache as well. I developed horrible eating habits since most of my options were now out of the window. I became a vegetarian by force. I felt weak and developed issues with gas in a short space of time. After tons of my own research, I discovered I had one iteration of Long COVID known as parosmia. It’s a disorder that distorts your sense of smell - and by extension, taste. That’s because the virus attacks smell receptors in your nose and they may not regenerate normally after recovery.
While not having many food options was super frustrating, what was perhaps worse was the impact Long COVID-19 had on my mental health. I think we don’t often realize the role food plays in our social life. It was hard to make dinner plans with my boyfriend or my friends. It was hard to grab a quick bite on the way home after work. That used to be a big part of my routine.
With limited food options in Saint Lucia, I would often just stay without. I cried about it a ton. The entire situation frustrated me regularly.
I contracted the virus less than a full week after my first vaccine dose. I wondered whether I would have been spared this year long suffering if vaccines arrived in my country sooner. The online ‘remedies’ failed to work. The Health Ministry never seemed interested in documenting my plight, and that of people with similar issues.
One year later, some foods have grown a tiny bit more tolerable, but it still isn’t normal. I never thought I would miss eating eggs this much. I think I’ve forgotten how bread should actually taste, though I eat it now. Overall, it’s been a really hard thing to deal with as a 23 year old.
With the pandemic seemingly coming to an end, or maybe another lull, it can be easy to forget that people are still affected by the virus in unseen ways. I’m not the only one on my little island with Long COVID. At this point, we each have to deal with it in isolation. I’m happy for whatever little progress I’ve been making, but I’d really like to eat some fried chicken!