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Covid Stories

by Andrew Osta

I still remember how this whole thing started. I read about Covid in the news for months before there was any sort of a reaction locally, in my village on the outskirts of Oaxaca. Even when the virus was already very active in Mexico, my village continued putting on parades and public events. Then the first local case of Covid appeared and we were all told to wear masks. This went on for maybe six months until most villagers stopped wearing their masks and the authorities stopped insisting. By that time, many people have had the disease and nobody died, at least not in my village.

As an artist, I must say that I began to panic when it became apparent that the virus was serious. I thought that nobody would buy paintings anymore and that I would not be able to make ends meet. Galleries closed, social events got postponed, visits to my studio stopped. It seemed as though my blessing of being able to make a living as an artist had come to an end. However, a year later, I am still producing, and still selling. It is now apparent that our forced isolation had created more demand for art, not less. People want to be surrounded by beauty, because the reality outside is so difficult and surreal.

I guess I'll start with my own story. After staying indoors for months, I chipped a tooth and had to see my dentist. The next day, I went out again and met a friend from San Miguel de Allende in downtown Oaxaca. At the time, my wife and my daughter were away visiting relatives in southern Mexico, and I was alone with my son Nicolas. Well, three or four days after our foray downtown, I woke up with a horrible headache and Nicolas woke up with a cough and and aching throat. I treated him with raspberry tea and honey, as well as a hot bath, and he completely recovered by 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Not so for me. Intense tiredness hit me, so that I was not even able to walk to the corner store to buy food. The next day, my throat started hurting, and I basically spent most of my time watching movies and cartoons with my son. Of course, I warned my wife of my condition and suggested that she not return to the house until I recovered, but she didn't listen. She didn't take my illness seriously. In fact, the moment she got back, she left me with both kids and disappeared on business. This was the toughest babysitting I ever had to do, because by this point, I was barely capable of making myself a cup of tea.

Three or four days later, my wife and daughter began to feel ill as well. This is when I realized that I couldn't smell anything, and that my illness was indeed the famous Covid. My 1 year old daughter had fever throughout the night, but was basically fine by morning. My wife lost her sense of smell and taste, but recovered within about 5 days. My recovery took about 8. According to a video I watched, the virus gets weaker as it passes through healthy immune systems, which might explain why my wife's Covid experience was only about 60% as intense as my own.

As we eventually found out, many people in our village had also battled with the virus. Almost everyone acted responsibly and stayed isolated while sick, but one food vendor disclosed to my wife that she never stopped going downtown to sell food and drinks, even while having symptoms of Covid. An 82 year old Mexican man very close to my family tested positive for Covid and eventually entered into a state close to a coma with high fever. He claims to have no memory of a period of time spanning approximately 24 to 48 hours. During this time, his children came to visit, and upon seeing his condition, started arguing about how they would divide their inheritance. I know this because someone close to me was there. But the man didn't die – he fully recovered and currently has no consequences from the disease.

My 86 year old grandparents, who live in the Ukraine, also got the virus. They were being very careful for months, but on my grandfather's birthday uninvited guests came by to celebrate. A few days later, my grandmother began to feel ill. Another week later, my grandfather began to feel ill as well. I remember talking to my grandfather on the phone just before he and my grandmother were both taken to the hospital. He was very distracted and not very talkative. He told me that things weren't looking good, and he believed that he was going to die. Shortly after, he began having breathing difficulties, called an ambulance, and was eventually put on oxygen in an intensive care unit. We weren't able to call him anymore and could only communicate with my grandmother, who had a lighter case of Covid. But because she was in another ward in the same hospital, she had virtually no contact with her husband.

One day I called my grandmother and found her frantic. She wouldn't tell me what happened. “Is he at least alive?” I finally asked. “He is,” she said and hung up. I had to get the rest of the story from my parents. Apparently, my grandfather decided that he couldn't stand being in the hospital any longer. He disconnected his oxygen, went to the front desk, and somehow signed himself out. He then took a taxi to his apartment, where he spent most of the afternoon feeling relatively fine. In the evening, a debilitating weakness came over him and he found himself lying on the floor, unable to get up. He managed to call an ambulance and was taken back to intensive care and put on oxygen.

Thankfully, both of my grandparents recovered. They suffered fatigue and insomnia for a while following their hospitalization, but have by now returned to normal life. Most notably, my grandfather came back from the hospital transfigured, as it were, into a new man. We have all heard that it's impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, and we sometimes think that a personality is impossible to change once fully formed. My experience with my grandfather proved otherwise. I have always known him as a hard man, someone who never showed excessive emotion and rarely said anything kind, nice or even positive. He was especially hard on my father,. By the time he fell ill with Covid, the two of them were no longer on speaking terms. But after Covid, my grandfather changed almost beyond recognition. Speaking with him, I felt like I was speaking with a person I had never met before, a very kind, gentle, and sensitive person. In fact, he was hardly able to speak at all without breaking into tears. He spoke to everyone, including my father, using the most gentle and endearing terms. My mother said that she had never heard him speak that way with anyone. My grandfather marveled at the beauty of my children, although he could not remember their names, and was filled with intense gratitude for life in general. His joy and sensitivity faded to some degree after a few days, but his hardness of character never completely returned. He is now normal in every way, except that he is not a difficult person to talk to anymore. Today, he and my father are once again on speaking terms.

There are other stories I could tell, but for now, they will have to wait. Several people close to me have tragically died from the virus, and I know for a fact that it's something very real, although there are still people out there who believe otherwise. Please be careful and stay safe. My condolences to everyone whose loved ones were affected by Covid.

From Oaxaca with love.



Andrew Osta has long been one of San Miguel's favorite painters. He moved to Oaxaca in 2017, but continues to exhibit in San Miguel. His work is on permanent display in Hecho en Mexico (Ancha de San Antonio #8) and now in La Connexion Gallery (Aldama #3). His images are also available as hand embellished prints on canvas (directly from the artist).

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