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That time we were the first to get Covid


Amsterdam’s patient zero is a woman who just happens to have spent early 2020 in the north of Italy. She has a son who attends the high school which just happens to be Anja’s place of employment. Anja is the first person I know to be infected with Covid 19. I am the second.

Working in travel technology, my experience of the outbreak of Covid 19 was colored by coworkers wondering by the water cooler what all the fuss was about. The most vocal among them are Rotterdammers, a people known, if anything, for its no-nonsense approach to trouble.

Anja and I have a different disposition. Both of us have sensitive danger antennas. They were activated on numerous occasions since late last year, with us getting increasingly more worried every time the word “Covid” was mentioned on the news.

Still, by early March, I was coming into the office every day, telling myself I was being too cautious. Until one day…

Looking back, I suppose I’m lucky to have one colleague with an immunocompromised wife. I’ll never forget the way he leaned back in his chair when I came closer to ask him a question. Rightly so, it turned out, because within a day Anja developed a cough I had never heard before in my life.

I know it’s difficult to imagine, but travel back with me to the beginning of this year. “We’re fine, this virus won’t reach us. And if it does, it’s not life-threatening for most of society” the government said.

“Could you please stop calling, ma’am? I’ve told you before it’s just a mild flu for people your age, and we won’t be able to do anything for you anyway if you come in”, my doctor’s assistant said.

It wasn’t until two weeks in that Anja was invited to come to a pop-up testing facility. Not the ones we have now, but a doctor’s office somewhere in Amsterdam that had been turned into a quarantine zone, people in white suits everywhere. Two weeks after that, we had an appointment at the hospital, which had built a testing facility in the parking lot. I waited outside in a tent with a heater as Anja underwent a battery of tests.

The man who went in before her was admitted to the ICU. I prayed rosary after rosary, wondering how in the world I’d get the car home without a license. What felt like hours was really 18 minutes when Anja walked out of the facility. Her cough was terrible, but it wasn’t long Covid. Meanwhile, my Covid was barely a sniffle.

For a while, I used Instagram to chronicle our experiences. I was getting hundreds of messages a day, and sharing little stories on the platform was a quicker way of updating everyone. I was just going through the archive and noticed that, at some point, the Covid-themed stories just stopped. It’s because, after six weeks or so, Anja slowly started to feel better.

No long Covid, no long-lasting results, a little bit of tiredness. We’re okay again. Life continues as normal, except that everything is different. The travel industry has plummeted into a deep, deep crisis. The end of the school year was bizarre, and we’re enjoying the Summer with walks in the park and watching television. Anticipating that my career might be ready for a change, I’ve been busy applying for new jobs, and I just signed a new contract.

Nothing is the same.

But at least we’re okay. People around us have been getting ill, severely ill, some of them dying. Working from home isn’t ideal, specifically because we’ve turned our little shoebox of a living room into a two-person office, but we’re getting by. We have each other, and we have Ratched.