Living With COVID-19 in Puerto Rico Is No Joke. Here’s What It’s Like.


Graphic via Desirée Tapia for The Americano. Image via Raúl Rodríguez-Cardona.

By Raúl Rodríguez-Cardona

July 22, 2020

From dealing with shame and judgment to testing positive over and over again, this is what having COVID-19 looked like for one 43-year-old Puerto Rican man.

For those who complain, resent the lockdown, only think of their own interests or say this is a made-up thing because they haven’t met anyone with COVID, I’m going to express what might be perceived as an unpopular opinion. I see many irresponsible people around me, so I must speak up.

I was a victim of COVID-19. 

That’s why I had to spend the past two months in a house in the countryside of Puerto Rico.

I didn’t have the classic symptoms, like a cold, tight chest, or need to be placed on a ventilator. It could be said that, to an extent, I was asymptomatic. However, I suffered very strong inflammation below the knees, followed by ruptured blood vessels. Worst of all? I kept testing positive—for 59 days. YES, 59 days!! No one knows the pain I went through or how helpless I felt all that time, especially when Richard, my husband, also tested positive and recuperated immediately. 

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Here Comes the Shame

I don’t know where we got infected. Don’t ask me. It could’ve been anywhere: the supermarket, the post office, the drugstore, or at some of the few random hangouts we were part of over these past few months. We took care of ourselves as much as we could, and yet COVID doesn’t discriminate.

Is it our fault we got sick? Of course not. Is there anything we could have done better? Maybe. But there shouldn’t be shame associated with being sick during a global pandemic—one of the worst in recent history, to be precise.

Thank God we are now continually testing negative, so please don’t avoid me — I’m not a leper. Though I understand we all need to take care of ourselves.

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The 59-day lockdown was not optional, it was mandatory. For 59 days, only my cousin — who’s also my neighbor — would buy groceries and be on the lookout for me. Telling my extended family would’ve created unnecessary drama; in Coamo — in southern Puerto Rico, where I’m from — gossip spreads faster than the runners in the iconic San Blas Marathon.

I had to deal with insensitive phone calls and cruel behavior, opinionated neighbors, neighbors who are “more knowledgeable than the doctors,” and so on. All this time I couldn’t hug my uncles or ask them to stop by for a visit, as I love to do. 

Whenever I approached someone, I was terrified. The thought that people might stop by my house scared me. I felt anyone could get infected by me. I also felt committed to taking care of myself, understanding what was going on, and being careful for the sake of others. 

Not to mention, during all that time I only received two calls from the supposed “monitoring” program put in place by Gov. Wanda Vázquez and the Department of Health in Puerto Rico. I don’t know how this imbecilic government intends to have limits in place at the airport, or on the beaches. Nothing works in this “Macondo” of ours… but that’s another story. Though here’s some food for thought: The local primaries take place this August 9.

So don’t come to me with the drama that you can’t go to the beach, to the gym, to have a beer at La Placita or El Watusi. Don’t be irresponsible. Don’t be ignorant or a contrarian. Unless you’ve tested positive for COVID, it’s close to impossible to understand what it’s like to deal with this, to not know what can happen next.

What It’s Like to Have COVID

I’ve lived my life these past months as if I were in a 59-day-long movie, thinking about the future or what things would be like if there was no future. I’ve had to go through 10 tests every two weeks praying to God for that negative result.

That’s what being on lockdown truly means. I was lucky. I didn’t have chest complications, and the story could’ve very well been different. 

My way of helping others is by sharing my experience, so more people understand that we all must stay at home. When cabin fever hits — because I understand it’s real — buy yourself a case of Medalla, and CUT THE CRAP. Think about your family, about your mom, your dad. Deal with it.

RELATED: Puerto Rico Rolls Back Reopening Over COVID-19 Spike. Here’s What’s Closing.

I feel bad for my friends who own small businesses like I used to. I’ve seen many of them follow protocol. Like closing down their stores to respect the curfew imposed, and only reopening after the government’s official announcement to do so. Or requiring their customers to wear face masks and keeping social distancing measures inside their businesses. I understand that, sadly, this is the way things must be done now.

To the ones who don’t follow protocol, I have to say you are part of the problem, along with other irresponsible people traveling to the island. 

If you challenge lockdown orders, you are part of the problem. If you are one of those who politicize this problem and listen to political leaders who are minimizing the crisis, you are not only part of the problem — but you are also ignorant. 

I see many irresponsible people out on the street; people who say they’ve tested positive and carry on. 

RELATED: 45% of Latino and Black-Owned Small Businesses May Not Survive the Coronavirus Economy

All the same, if you live in the United States and don’t have a negative test result, YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS COMING TO PUERTO RICO!!!

That being said, I want to express my gratitude to a handful of angels who took care of us during this time: my doctor, who dealt with all of my tantrums and took my phone calls DAILY. Thank you, brother! To my friends and family who showed up with a call or a text every day. Your support and affection were and continue to be the most important. Thanks for your discretion and for controlling the gossiping masses. 

To the rest of you, take care. This sh*t is real, and it’s hitting the fan. Don’t think of yourself as Superman or Wonder Woman. A few days without the beach or some dumb hangout are not going to kill you.

***Feel free to SHARE, so people can perhaps stay safe.***



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