The View from Quarantine: Daily Logs

Sara-Jayne Terp
Mar 15, 2020 · 19 min read

I was self-quarantined from 29th Feb to 13th March 2020, as part of trying to stop the potential spread of Covid19 in Washington State USA. These are my daily notes to friends from that time.

Day 4 of 14

  • Work quarantined me — they’ve banned me from the office/ work travel for 14 days. I don’t think I have *that* ’flu, but I’m going to take this seriously anyway and self-quarantine again (was quarantined last month with pneumonia…). Will share the boredom <del><del> experience with you.
  • Day 4 of quarantine, and I’m thanking my earlier self for putting food in the fridge, freezer and cupboards (because I also planned for services to get disrupted if a lot of people get sick — or more likely stuck at home like me). I do want to have a word with earlier self about the tinned salmon though. I know I like salmon fishcakes, but it’s possible to have way too much of a good thing, and I think I might have found that limit. Lesson: think hard about food variety because you’re going to get *bored*.
  • Also I rent, and someone finally turned up to fix my heating controller. What’s the protocol for when someone has to enter your home? We settled for me telling him i was unwell, then backing off to the furthest corner of the house whilst he swapped out the controller without touching anything else (I haven’t touched the broken controller in weeks). Lessons: Think about what happens if someone has to come into your home. And if you need things doing in there, think about getting then done now?
  • Days 2–3 were spent being sick with, probably flu, but also probably not *that* flu (fever etc but no coughing). My earlier self stocked up with a lot of food assuming that I’d be able to handle basic cooking like heating stuff up. TL;DR I couldn’t, and ate all the snacks and chocolates in the store cupboard. Lesson: add some open-and-eat foods (or lose your snack supplies).
  • Day 1 was where it all started. Flying back from DC, the passengers around me rearranged themselves so I got two sick girls in my row — as in they asked to swap seats so they could stay together because they were sick. One of them was being medevaced off as I left the plane (it was all a bit chaotic). I don’t think that’s how I got sick (1 day incubation seems… short…) but mentioning it was enough to hit panic buttons. Lesson: be careful how you message things.
  • So here I am. I have wifi, about 100 books and a kindle, a piano, guitar and well-stocked food and medicine cupboards (am going through a lot of painkilllers). I’m in a town, so food, Amazon and other deliveries are easy. I am however thinking about how things like tips will work under quarantine. How, for example, are you going to keep banknotes ‘clean’?

Update: The tips thing is interesting. I’m wondering if I should have added “put tip-level sets of banknotes into ziplok bags whilst I’m well” to the list of preparations.

Day 5 of 14

  • Day 5 of 14 in house, and I’m starting to feel a bit better. Time to plan what to do with the resources I find myself with. TL;DR today’s thoughts are about exercise, food planning, dress standards and leisure.
  • Food planning. I ate all the unhealthy snacks. whilst I was sick, but I do still have basic supplies. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that between keto breakfasts and cooking, I go through a lot of eggs. I’m down to my last 6 now, and am rationing them accordingly. Now kicking myself for not buying and rotating through large trays of them, or keeping egg powder in the cupboard. I also don’t want to end up eating ‘default’ food (the stuff you eat when everything else is gone) for days 10–14, so I’m going to menu plan today. People in other affected areas have been sharing cooking ideas online, and that seems a cool idea, as does an app for “I have these supplies and 14 days; what meals can I make…“. Lessons: menu plan for the days you’re stuck inside. Know the foods you eat a lot of, and look for alternatives if you expect to be stuck for a long time.
  • Exercise. Last time I was so sick that 14 days indoors was easy — hell, 14 days in the bed. on the sofa would have been easy, but this time I suspect I’m going to get restless, so I’ve started some light exercises — just sit-ups so far, but I’m going to add in some 7-minute-workout app sessions too as I start feeling better. I’m going to miss my daily walk around the lake — I’ve started looking at exercise bikes to gently burn some calories as I get better, and I’ve doubled up on the daily vitamin D. Lesson: being stuck inside means no sunlight; remembering the vitamin D.
  • Leisure. Evenings are hard — reading books etc is nice, but so too is being around other humans. Friends have offered to come stand outside my window and wave, which is lovely (I’m imagining now all the people stuck in houses getting into their cars and driving to wave at each other from their safe car-bubbles; that of course wouldn’t work for apartment-dwellers because shared corridors etc, but is a cute idea). Same friends were also part of a group of us who watched films at the same time online, with a shared comments channel. That kind of remote-but-together activity might be good too, if enough of us get stuck indoors at the same time. Lesson: remember to plan some leisure
  • Dress standards. Pajama days ended yesterday. I’m lucky — because I work from home, I’ve been through the “I can wear anything and work any time” cycle already. Part of not getting cabin fever is going to be keeping connection with ourselves, and little things like dressing for the day and setting routines can help.
  • And if anyone has any recommendations for a not-too-expensive exercise bike…

Update: BTW I’m acutely aware of my privilege here. I’m relatively healthy. I have enough food. I have enough stuff. I can work from home. I have no children, animals or elderly people to care for. I’m hoping these notes are a base set, some “oh yeahs” to nudge people who might themselves be stuck at home for 14+ days in the next few months to think about what they might need to do now.

Day 6 of 14

  • Day 6 of 14 in house, and friends have started quietly messaging me that they’re self-isolating too, often because they’re in the at-risk groups. Nice to know I’m not alone. Not so nice to know that they’ll still be stuck, even when I’ve walked out of here on day 14. Am wondering if there are things we can do to help, as a group.
  • I’ve decided to try eating some of the default food before I’m desperate and have to. Default food: you know, that stuff that’s in the back of the cupboard that nobody can remember buying (or if you live alone you can remember buying but not why the heck), that sits there accusingly for months, or sometimes years. My excuse is I inherited a bunch of this stuff: I, someone who was travelling around the USA in my car, took over a rental from someone who was about to travel around the US, and he left me all his storecupboard supplies: mostly tea and tins from Trader Joes, but occasionally something like the bag of chickpeas and daal mix I’m now staring at. Actually, this feels kinda good. If you’re going to be stuck indoors, might as well use it as an excuse to clean up. Lesson: framing this as a cupboard clean-out can help.
  • I haven’t quite worked out how I’m going to take the trash out yet — it helps that I cook from fresh and recycle a lot, so the actual nasty bag is very small. I’m guessing some form of go out to the bin in the middle of the night, use some form of barrier to lift the lid, put out recycling the day after bin collection to give germs time to go away? Or perhaps just don’t take it out. Small practical questions for me, but ones that will scale when they involve apartment blocks.
  • I got a bit of cabin fever yesterday. My weight is stuck on a plateau and it’s deeply frustrating not being able to go outside and walk some of it off. I also started to get a little depressed/ disoriented, but I’m working my way out of that, and I’m not sure how much of that is from being stuck inside.
  • Also my heating controller is broken again. Going to rig it for the moment rather than calling someone back in.

Day 7 of 14

  • Day 7 of 14 in house and it’s time to rethink groceries. I’ve had a couple of friends offer to deliver food to my doorstep (you know who you are, and the offers were very appreciated, although the one from California is probably a bit far…) which was puzzling til one of them mentioned there are issues with deliveries in Seattle now. It’s going to be another week before I’m out of here, and a lot’s likely to change in that week (the first case exported *from* the USA just got recorded, and there are probably going to be a lot more people self-isolating for a while) so I’m going to try a grocery delivery. I started on Amazon with eggs, but they went to “not in stock” a couple of hours after I started my list, so it’s off to FredMeyer.com now. Eggs, coffee, cocoa, veg (yeah, the rock lifestyle!), storecupboard supplies to replace the emergency ones I’m eating through. Maybe also some fresh meat that isn’t some form of sausage (I grew up in Germany. The influence is still strong — plus summer and dried sausages are easy to store, and fresh ones have a long fridge lifetime).
  • Work sent out covid19 instructions yesterday. TL;DR 14-day self-quarantines if you’re coming back from an at-risk country, log all travel (business, personal and other — which I found strange til I remembered I work with diplomats) with work. Their instructions say if we get sick otherwise, we can go back to work 24 hours after our temperature goes to normal, and I worry for a second that they’ll insist on me travelling to DC next week, after I’ve got my head around isolation being a sensible thing to do. I don’t think they will. Lots of tech friends are reporting their companies going all-remote-work this month; so far the remote tech seems to be holding up fine under this. I find myself more keen to go to online meetings, but still introverted enough to want them to end after a sensible time. I’m wondering how the extroverts will cope.
  • Cheap and available testing would help with the “should I stay or go” thing, and yesterday Washington State announced they’d cover testing costs for uninsured people. As someone who’s been fighting to get health insurance here, that was a huge relief. I think it’s going to be a while before widely available is a thing though, so just going to keep staying here til day 14.
  • And I forgot which day it was today, until I heard the dustcarts outside. That makes it Friday. And time to think about what to. do over the weekend, before I’m stuck in here with nothing to do. Tomorrow might be a good day to go over the camping kit, clear some cupboards, do some spring cleaning and some of the other small jobs that never get done because I’m always busy doing something else.

Update: I really wasn’t expecting the food obsession, but it seems I’m not alone.

Day 8 of 14

Day 8 of 14 indoors.

  • Health/activity: Rough day. Was going to get up, do loads of things around the house, do some sideproject work but lungs and brain just weren’t working right this morning. Still in pajamas; slept away a large chunk of the day.
  • Friends: friends are calling, texting, chatting more. We talk about what to do with the weird foods in our houses — lovely country friend (country = used to looking at pantry, going “WTH do I do with this lot” because nearest store is at least 30 mins away) has loads of suggestions for the chickpeas (I’m going with curry).
  • Life: it’s an interesting exercise, being stuck at home with all your junk, unfinished projects and little jobs to do, and not being able to go out and ignore them. Facing them (and doing some of them) is a little like facing myself. Who am I when everything else is stripped away? Where do I go when I get out of here? etc. Regardless of what the virus does, if we end up in China- or Italy- style mass quarantine, I’m not sure we’ll all be quite the same again. Half a lifetime ago my brother in law, who spent most nights out when his kids were small, opted to sail round the world with them, and found himself contained in two hulls, 24/7 in a close space with his family. It changed him a lot (for the good: it was a TV series if you ever want to see the full horror unfolding) — but I expect a lot of other people haven’t thought through yet what it means to spend 2 weeks alone with themselves / close family alone.

Day 9 of 14

Day 9 of 14 indoors.

  • Health: Still can’t sit up at my desk for long, which sucks because I need two screens open for work. Have to remind myself that recovery takes time. Can’t wait to get outside again and start walking some of this junk out of my lungs. I guess I just talked myself into that exercise bike. Which is now a rowing machine, because when I get out of here I have a bike, but no rower at home.
  • Also health: my local uni requires proof of measles vaccination. I couldn’t find mine, so I’m halfway through MMR vaccination (there are two injections, a month apart). Measles is much nastier than Covid19 and was circulating around here too — if you’re worrying about that, then think about this too; if you don’t know if you’re immune, local pharmacies (I’m wandering into Walgreens) can do the blood test or jabs.
  • Food: converted all my chicken stock supplies into chowder (dried chowder mix — good store cupboard thing). Almost out of milk — switching to the longlife. Ate plate of bacon for breakfast, can hear bachelor friends going ‘shrug’. Local friend venturing out to get groceries (partner is sick) is going to pick some up for me too, so restock on eggs, yay!
  • Work: I work from home, so I have a head start on this, but still lost my rhythms a bit last week. Going to start limiting my work hours next week, and starting end-of-work-start-of-home rituals.
  • I’m not sure how useful these notes still are to everyone else to be honest. If Italy is anything to go by, mass quarantine is coming, and my hope when I started was to trigger “yeah we need to think about” thoughts among my friends, from the things I forgot about or have problems with. I maybe wasn’t a great example because 10 years of mapping disasters plus a year on the road and living here alone for the past few months set me up pretty well for shutting the front door and not coming out for 2 weeks (except for forgetting the pestle and mortar — darn that I can’t grind my spices!). But I’ll keep logging, just in case.

Update: friend dropped off food. I can’t remember the last time I was so grateful to see another human being, even if it was briefly, and at a suitably large distance. And they brought eggs — so many eggs — and veggies!

Day 10 of 14

Day 10 of 14 indoors.

  • House: toilet failed this morning. Fixed it. Everyone does have a basic toolkit in their house, yes? I’ve done most things except large pipes with an Ikea kit
  • Food: boy do I have a lot of food. Asking a weightlifter keto friend with children to pick up some meat and eggs for me means I get steak every day this week, but I love how hard he worked on matching my diet. I now have so many eggs that I can indulge in favorite treats like a fish souffle tonight (yay, a good use for some of that tinned salmon). Also the cook-all-the-things obsession has now turned into more careful thought about my diet. Several of my friends are working hard on their weight and doing really well at it, and it’s time I lost some of mine too, so whilst I’m stuck here away from snacks and treats I’m going to try intermittent fasting (thanks F!) — eating at 11 and 5 or 12 and 6 only (depending on when I wake up) each day. I’ve stuck “11 & 5 only” postits on the fridge and cupboard doors, just in case I try diving in for snacks. Also I’m running low on coffee filters: will definitely add those to my emergency kit.
  • Community: my neighbour walked past my house coughing yesterday, then met outside with friends? family? Where I live is one of those boundary places — a liberal university town in Trump country, with Qanon and Infowars bumper stickers. Uni I teach at has put out Covid19 instructions; word I see on some local community boards is that this is just flu, nothing to get excited about, so I guess we’re seeing both behaviours here. We’re also midway between two big red dots on the Covid19 map (edit: not any more — the Canada dots moved from city to state?), so will be interesting to see how it plays out.
  • Work: starting to gently nudge workplace about remote working etiquette and procedures. So far, I’ve been the only remote person, mitigating it by flying to DC every other week til I got sick. Now everyone gets to learn what it’s like being on the outside looking in… hopefully by building a new virtual ‘inside’.

Day 11 of 14

Day 11 of 14 indoors. Only a few more days before I get out… and it seems the rest of the country goes in? Will have to make the most of my brief bout of freedom — maybe go for a long walk for a day.

  • Social: Quarantine presents arrived from England yesterday: gluten-free cookies and a robot kit. Thank you Wittons (Dave, Gemma, and the lovely terrors!)- although I did have a strange moment of “this isn’t the machine mat and wafflepress I ordered”. I usually keep to myself at home — I live on a hill, and keep blinds on the uphill windows drawn, but today I opened them all, and am now living openly, Netherlands-style. I wonder if this is going to become normal too, while peoples’ only view of other humans is their neighbours.
  • Practical: bright sunlight and open blinds means I can see the windows need cleaning outside. And I can’t go out and do them (I live in a townhouse — I can’t do this job without going too close to neighbours). Another small thing to do before we’re all potentially inside for a while. That, or getting some magnetic window cleaning things.
  • Health: I started coughing yesterday. Dry cough. Went “ah dammit”, then realised I’d opened the windows to air the house and sat by them to get some fresh air. Stopped coughing a little while after I closed the windows. Already hearing about people panicking over seasonal allergies (including an aircraft turning back because other passengers were worried), don’t want to do that. Took my temperature — definitely not a fever; at 95.5 is nearly the opposite problem. See from friends’ posts that thermometers are in short supply now too. Oh, and started intermittent fasting (eating at 11 and 5), and lost my first pound on the scales.
  • Food: I’ve started drinking tea in the afternoons. I have an enormous collection of strange teas, and I finally cracked and started opening them. It’s been… mixed… I keep forgetting to take the tea steeper out on time, and one of them was quite vicious to my throat. I have a tray of pork shoulders from friend’s delivery but don’t want carnitas, so I’m going to try an instapot variant on apple cider braised pork — if you think you might get quarantined at some point, it’s not a bad idea to check somewhere like allrecipes and see if there are recipes you’d like to try, and if you have the storecupboard ingredients to support that.
  • Community: this is getting real, but there don’t seem to be any community guidelines out there. Should we get the old gang back together?

Day 12 of 14

Day 12 of 14 indoors.

  • Community: People outside are finally starting to take Covid19 (or at least the response to it) seriously; I spent a lot of yesterday and today fielding questions about what was happening, how to prepare, what to buy or cook if they get stuck in quarantine (am going to make a big post out of all these small ones, honest). Some links from just today:
  • https://amp.cnn.com/…/what-matters-coronavirus-i…/index.html
  • https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-ten-reasons-why-you… — basically, just be sensible and we’ll get through this.
  • And tech https://stop-covid.tech/
  • But really, this is all about community. https://www.curbed.com/…/coronavirus-prepare-home-neighborh…
  • Work: Watched dayjob center launch from afar, starting with CEO saying “this doesn’t work so well with faces on a screen”. Yeahright it doesn’t — not when you’re all in the room and nobody thought to have a backchannel from the room it doesn’t, but sigh. We have much to learn still from our early experiments with worldwide hackathons.
  • Health: Dry cough started again this afternoon, but stopped after half an hour. Weird, but temperature was 1 degree up from yesterday, taking me to normal, so yay.
  • Fitness: a rower arrived, but I didn’t know which rower. Getting plenty of exercise just carrying, unpacking and putting it together. Still intermittent fasting, but weight stayed the same as yesterday (boo).
  • Neighbours: friend brought beer, chocolate and home-made bone broth round; left it on the doorstep and retreated to a safe distance to chat. Also solved the question of which rower — he went to the neighbours’ house, and found the original rower still outside their door. We now have one each, which is going to be handy if we’re both stuck inside. I met my neighbour too, at a safe distance. Student at my uni, had an intruder and came over to warn me about him. Have swapped numbers, and had a chat with her about prep for probably Covid19 measures.

Day 13 of 14

Day 13 of 14 indoors. I’m almost done here. The rest of the world, the rest of this country, is doing this thing now, and there is plenty of advice out there, plenty of firsthand experiences.

  • Equipment: I ordered a ham radio today; I’ve had a license and callsign for a while now (thanks ToorCamp!) but that’s not useful without equipment. I also grabbed the solar panel charger I’d been meaning to get for camping. I don’t expect to use either of them this time, but it’s never a bad idea to be overprepared. We’re dealing with one slow-moving global disaster, it wouldn’t take much on top of that (cascade fault, now is definitely not the time) to bork this place badly.
  • Community: I thought about my neighbour coming over yesterday — I think she probably did because with all my blinds up it’s easy to see I’m sat here working. I went to all my windows today, to count all the houses I could wave at someone in from here — there are 5 close enough to do that to, with more across the valley if we both use banners and binoculars…
  • Work: we were trained on zoom and microsoft teams today; the technologies, but not the realities of suddenly becoming a remote-only organisation. I’ve tried talking about culture etc, but ironically I’m remote, which makes it harder to get listened to. Will see how it all pans out.
  • Health: I’m still fighting to get health insurance, but there’s hope now. And quarantine becoming real means there are organisations like https://grokker.com/individuals doing lovely things like making their cooking and exercise classes available, which is good because despite the intermittent fasting, my weight is still firmly stuck. And I’m starting to feel a little insignificant and useless, which is probably a good thing because it means better minds than mine are now taking over.
  • Practical: I haven’t seen my postbox for 2 weeks. Most of my bills are online, and I use a virtual mailbox for most things, but I’m still wondering what’s hiding in there. Hopefully not too many more hospital bills (it’s America — they never seem to stop ’til they stop)

Day 14 of 14

Day 14 of 14 indoors. Last day before I can go outside and… erm… buy some more food before coming back inside again?

  • Mental health: I cried my eyes out and ate half a pack of cookies yesterday afternoon. Just because we’re in a crisis doesn’t mean that life doesn’t go on. We’re still human. We still get people trying to take advantage of us, still get our hearts broken, still fight, love, get passed over, ignored. Burglaries will still happen, domestic violence (and yes we as a community really do need to think now about how we protect the vulnerable amongst us, as we lock ourselves in), rape. I was just sad — a bunch of stuff happened, I’ve been alone for a while, needed a hug, and it’s going to be a while before that can happen again. It’s probably going to happen to you too, so it’s a good idea to start some sensible mental health disciplines. A 10 minute meditation app every morning helps me (I use insight timer — the “just for tomorrow” meditation); writing in a journal for 10 minutes. Exercise helps (that’s really why I have the rower). Reaching out to friends. Having routines. And just trying to be gentle on yourself during this time. It’s not a normal time. We’re not all going to be as productive as we can. As nice as we can. As loving as we can. We just have to do what we can, and look after ourselves when we need to.
  • Community: Woke to sound of someone coughing this morning, so I guess my neighbours aren’t getting better. I’m not sure how I could check without exposing myself or them though. Friends are sharing links to art sites, and doing a work from home lunch Zoom meeting, which I love.
  • Work: First remote team meeting today. We’ve been told to look professional by putting something like a bookcase in our backgrounds; one of the guys called in from a beach (he’s on holiday) so I said it was okay if he could find two books and put them together behind him — or a magazine, or just some writing would do in a pinch. Humour is going to help us. People have got used to the idea of working from home now. Willow’s notes https://twitter.com/willowbl00/status/1238151828639895554?s=20 and gitlab’s guide https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/guide/ look good — I also ticked off more squares on the WFH bingo card than I’d like to admit to https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/working-from-home-during-a-global-pandemic-bingo
  • School: Met with colleague with school-age kids. Yes, yes, you do have to plan for them being stuck at home with you for 2 or 3 months now. I’m still writing my university classes for this term, and rethought them after reading this guide — TL;DR is that students are going to be in non-optimal places to study, maybe working to get by, without good equipment, and we have to write our courses to allow for that too. https://anygoodthing.com/2020/03/12/please-do-a-bad-job-of-putting-your-courses-online/

So strange that this is my last day. I’ve seen estimates that this bug hangs around a lot longer than 14 days, so I’m going to live as though that’s still a possibility til there are enough test kits for me to really know. It’s been an arc, being stuck in here; an arc that a lot of people are just starting on. I hope that my arc, and my writing helped a little in getting people prepared a bit for their own home incarcerations. Good luck peeps. I’ll be outside in (for?) a short while.

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