I was so exhausted that I could barely get up from the couch. I figured it was because I had gone to two parties the past weekend and I was knocked out from all the revelry. Turns out I had COVID. I was a bit shocked when I saw the positive test results because this was my first time. Since I’d managed to avoid COVID for three years, I’d started to feel like I was immune.

I immediately contacted everyone I’d been in extended close contact with over the last few days. This included neighbors and friends at Westbeth. I canceled the memoir class I’m teaching at the Greenwich House senior center. I e-mailed my students and the two directors, who expressed concern and wished me well.

Naturally, I called my doctor and spoke to the physician assistant. She wrote a prescription for Paxlovid and told me to isolate for five days. Luckily, my case of COVID resembled a very bad cold. I was glad I’d gotten the booster shot in October. My initial symptoms were fatigue, sniffles and a scratchy throat. No fever. No coughing. I got the script but opted to hold off.

Within 24 hours, my phone was jumping with texts from friends in the building asking me if I needed anything. My next-door neighbor, SuZen, dropped off a care package of delicious homemade Portuguese soup and brown bread. She also went shopping for me at Trader Joe’s. I made a short list and requested their tasty vegetarian spring rolls, which I love. I know they are loaded with sodium but I didn’t care. I could indulge myself because I was sick.

My singing teacher, Eve, picked up a bag of sweet clementines at Whole Foods, so I could fill up with Vitamin C. She also got me two kinds of Ricola cough drops. Obviously, I would not be in the singing group this week but hopefully I’d be recovered in time for our holiday carol festival in the Westbeth lobby on December 22.

Homemade bite-size cheesecake and food supplies from a neighbor. (Photo by Kate Walter)
My neighbor, Halina, asked if I wanted her homemade cheese cake. I replied, “Of course.” About an hour later, she arrived at my apartment with a carton box of food. Not only did she deliver her exquisite, bite-sized cheese cake but she brought soup, fruit, cheese, crackers, rice, lentils, seltzer. I asked if I could give her some money, but she refused, noting she always had lots of food in her home because she was raised by war survivors.

When I texted my thanks to Halina, she wrote back, noting, “There is something comforting about being taken care of when you are sick” — so true — and added that it gave her comfort to help others. I wondered if her feeling was a form of “helper’s high.”

I fielded texts from other friends in the building, who kept checking to find out if I was O.K. and if I needed anything else. A fellow writer asked if I needed any reading matter. Fortunately, I had the new Stephen King novel, “Holly,” which I’d picked up at the Jefferson Market Library.

On day three I decided to pop the Paxlovid. I was not getting better and I woke up coughing — a new symptom. I was still fatigued and achy. My window to use this drug was getting smaller, so I sought advice on Facebook. A science writer urged me to take it, noting it prevented long COVID, and any side effects were preferable to that fate. So I ate a nice breakfast, put on my Celtic cross for good luck, then took the pills. Within 48 hours I felt much better.

I was good. I had food, drinks, books, medicine and an active support network. My friend Eve thought there was more community spirt in Westbeth now and wondered if the pandemic had actually brought us closer. It would be an ironic — yet wonderful — outcome if the isolation and the upheaval of the past three years made us more connected.

This outpouring of generosity and concern made me feel loved. I’m single and live by myself, and my two siblings are in New Jersey. My friends in the building became my family, ringing my bell dropping off supplies at my door.

I felt grateful to live in Westbeth Artists Housing, a community where residents really care about each other. The kindness and solicitude from my neighbors was the best gift I could receive at Christmas.