MANILA - I contracted Covid-19 - I do not know how or where - and so did my two youngest boys, who are both minors and unvaccinated against the virus.
I had been out of the house just twice the week before I tested positive on Sept 4, both times to buy groceries, and I had two masks and a face shield on even though I had been fully vaccinated.
It might have been at the supermarket. It might have been during those few seconds when I passed by someone as I took one of my long walks late in the afternoon.
It started with a sneezing fit on a Sunday afternoon and it got worse the next day. I woke up with my temples throbbing and my sinuses flaring. My throat was sore. I felt weak.
The next day, I lost my sense of smell. I was sniffing pungent things but even fish sauce did not register.
By then, one of my sons had started to cough. So, I finally decided to get myself and my son tested at home.
When we got the dreaded results, I had the rest of my household tested as well - my daughter, two other sons and our house helper.
It turned out my youngest son had Covid-19 as well.
I should have had myself tested sooner. But it is never an easy decision to make, considering what has been happening here.
The Philippines is seeing over 20,000 infections a day. With over 2.2 million cases and some 35,000 dead, the country has experienced the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in South-east Asia.
Everyone's Facebook wall here is looking more and more like the obituary pages of a newspaper. In the three weeks before I got infected, three journalists I knew died.
One of them was fully vaccinated. One day, he posted on Facebook: "Oxygen down to 88; please pray it goes up". Hours later, he was dead.
Having Covid-19 felt like Death had his hands wrapped tightly around my neck.
His grip had a number: 95. For Covid-19 sufferers, that number represents a line that could separate living and dying.
I am referring to the oxygen level reading on an oximeter. A reading of 95 to 100 means you are getting enough oxygen. If it starts falling to 90, something is wrong.
If it slides down to 85, you will likely end up on a hospital bed in intensive care. Below 85, there is usually no coming back.
I was lucky. I got my second dose of Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine in April.
Except for a sore throat and not being able to smell anything, I had no other symptoms.
I just stayed inside my room, used a throat spray and gargled warm water with salt. I felt weak and had a sinus infection in the first three days. But on the fourth day, I felt strong enough to do some stationary jogging inside my room.
But I was obsessively checking my oximeter. My heart sank when it dipped slightly to 94.
I also lost sleep, worrying about my two unvaccinated sons.
My youngest, at 14, had it especially hard.
He had been coughing infrequently, but then one evening, he began coughing non-stop. It was that deep, dry kind that saw him gulping for air.
Then, just before midnight, his oxygen level began dropping to as low as 89.
I wanted to take him to a hospital, but I knew he would be made to wait, maybe for days, in some walkway or carpark.
All I could do was pray and keep my eye on the oximeter.
By 3am, he was coughing less frequently. At around 5am, he finally managed to get some sleep.
I had him taken to a hospital later that morning. The doctors said his oxygen level probably fell because of an asthma attack.
They prescribed an inhaler and some antibiotics, and sent him home. He also got some one-time tablets to ease his breathing.
For good measure, he was also prescribed some antivirals, and I bought a small oxygen tank just in case.
My other son had it easier. He took common cold medicines: an expectorant, a cough suppressant and hefty doses of vitamin C.
We were just two days away from getting out of isolation when my eldest son started sneezing and coughing. He tested positive for Covid-19, too, despite being vaccinated.
Days later, my children's mother got the virus as well and so did her brother. Fortunately, my daughter and our long-time nanny remained in the clear.
As of this week, no one in my household has any symptoms. We can all smell and taste again.
And we are thankful for it.
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