How to survive a coronavirus quarantine

Quarantine is one of the many waiting rooms of life, and its own special circle of hell for people raised with the illusion that we control our destinies. We prefer to believe that anything can be overcome if we just try hard enough. But there is no trying in quarantine. There is only the sitting, and, if you wish to retain your hold on your sanity, the letting go. What comes next? No one knows. That’s why we have quarantine in the first place.

By Day 4, I had stopped chasing the English-speaking official or frantically calling the embassy. The answer to every question I asked was “it depends,” and the one thing it did not depend on was me.

We began to follow the lead of the people around us, all Chinese nationals. We wore our masks to meals and took walks around the courtyard in the evenings, keeping our distance from the other inmates. (One does not fraternize in quarantine, even if one speaks the language.)

As the days slowly passed, we slid into a routine of cold showers and laying very still on the tile floor in between the twice-daily fever checks, trying to decipher the cartoons on TV.