Story By Alex Lim
It was the peak of the MCO when the viral numbers were climbing rapidly in Malaysia. We were all locked up in our respective homes while the police patrolled our streets, slapping fines or prison time on anybody found in the open without a valid reason.
One day, I needed eggs.
Since I had to make a trip to the supermarket anyway, I wanted to be a helpful neighbour.
So, I dropped a message in the residents’ WhatsApp group, offering my assistance to anybody who needed supplies as well.
A man replied, saying he needed eggs too. I noted the neighbour’s request, went to the supermarket, bought the items, went home, and passed the eggs to him. He thanked me and paid in cash.
My exchange with him lasted less than 3 minutes.
3 days later, I received a call from the Ministry of Health (MOH). My neighbour had tested positive for the virus and had just been admitted in the hospital. As is procedure, my name was submitted to them because of my contact with him.
The next day, I presented myself to Tanglin Health Clinic for testing.
The entire process was a drive-thru.
Multiple stations were set up in the parking lot, each one labelled clearly. I was to remain in my car at all times. There were 5 counters, and I was to drive from counter to counter.
At Counter 1, I submitted my IC (identity card).
Next, at Counter 2, I filled up a form.
At Counter 3, a medical personnel aimed a temperature gun at my forehead and took my temperature.
Then, it was time for the highlight of the experience. I drove to Counter 4 where I was to get a throat swab.
Here, I wind my car window down again. A lady stuck a cotton bud into my mouth and down my throat. I made choking noises. “Tahan,” she said. “Tahan,” she repeated as I wriggled to escape the agony. “Tahan,” she said again kindly when I made weird faces.
Finally it was over. She had my sample and I sighed with relief. I was free to proceed. Fresh from having my pharynx violated, I drove further forward to Counter 5.
At this station, I was given an A4 paper, a letter ordering me to stay at home. A quarantine order, if you will. I was also instructed to show up for my second screening 14 days later.
Below is a picture of yours truly with the quarantine order:
The quarantine order was more inconvenient than I first thought.
I didn’t think too much of the episode at first, nor the quarantine order. The way I saw it, the process was purely administrative.
But then the reality of the situation started to dawn. The quarantine order was going to be an inconvenience.
I live alone, so groceries were going to be a problem. I could engage a delivery service, but that was going to cost much, and I was on a tight budget.
However, it was necessary to break that scary chain of transmissions, so I complied full-heartedly.
Thankfully, I was cleared. When I turned up 14 days later for my follow-up, I was sent home and told to return only if I exhibit any symptoms.
I am grateful that my neighbour recovered too.
In many ways, the virus has changed me. Watching the death tolls and infection rates rise, it’s difficult not to think of the end. Is this all there is to life? I sometimes wonder.
We live life as if we are immortals. We scream and shout at work, building empires for the rich. We toil and we toil. But in the wake of mortality, is it all worth it?
I look at life differently now.
I’ve always loved my friends and family, but now, I feel like I need to see, meet, and embrace them. The 14 days of quarantine made me wonder—how does one love and feel loved in isolation? How does one hope?
Being without human contact can do a number on you. But at that point, not seeing my loved ones was what I had to do to keep them safe.
Having said that, during my quarantine, I had the privilege of receiving love parcels in the form of groceries and order-in cakes. These were reminders that I was still cared for.
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