Covid Diary In Monaco

March 18, 2020, marked the day when the Great Hibernation began in Monaco. This is when all non-essential business services were ordered by decree to stop operating to contain the spread of Covid-19. And an obeying population in the Principality entered house confinement with stockpiles of flour, ready pasta and booze while the economy settled down for a long spring nap.

One year on, and as France announced its third confinement for 16 departments, including the Alpes-Maritimes, we are still living in a state of pandemonium as Covid continues to rear its ugly head sparing no one who gets in its infectious way. At my request, one Monaco resident in her early fifties who tested Covid positive a few weeks ago, shares a diary of her time in self-isolation. It’s a reminder that no matter how exasperated we have become with the situation, the virus is no joke.

Thursday February 25
I have severe aches and pains all over, like a steamroller ploughing across my body. I put it down to my rheumatism as there is a cloud mass and the humidity rate is at its maximum. It never enters my mind this could be a Covid symptom as I have no fever, cough, or any other warning sign. The pain is unbearable all day so I finally take some paracetamol.

Friday February 26
The pain has eased and as clouds linger over Monaco, I tell myself that it was rheumatism. But today a slight headache starts. Still no fever or other symptoms, so I’ll pay attention when the sun returns to see if I’m still achy.

I start to wear a mask even inside my home and ventilate the house well. As a precaution, I avoid pretty much all contact with the outside, but I am not in quarantine as I haven’t taken a PCR test yet. I’d heard about more notable symptoms like fever, cough, cold, fatigue, respiratory discomfort but I don’t have any of these.

Saturday February 27
My aches have disappeared and everything is back to normal. I am still careful and keep my mask on all day, waiting to see if there is any evolution or any other symptoms popup over the weekend.

Sunday February 28
For my son’s birthday, we keep the celebration limited to immediate family but at a safe distance on my side and no hugs. Still no symptoms, no fever. A very slight cough starts.

Monday, March 1
I feel good, no symptoms, so we visit my parents for lunch to continue the birthday festivities. I tell my folks that I am not going to touch them; I stand far away and keep my mask on at the table as a precaution. We eat lunch with the terrace open to air the room and between each course, I wear my mask.

Tuesday March 2
A mild headache starts, and there are pins and needles in my legs. I feel a little short of breath. Is that a cough? By evening, I realise that I have lost my sense of taste and smell, which immediately sets off the Covid alarm. I am now extremely cautious.

Photo: Stephane Danna/DC

Wednesday March 3
I get a PCR test at 11:30. Obviously, I do not take the bus and wear a FFP2 mask with sanitising gel in my hand. I do my best to avoid everyone and not to touch anything.

I am stressed about getting the nasal swab but when I explain my anxiety at the Espace Léo Ferré Covid Centre in Fontvieille, they put me in the care of a very kind nurse who helps me and, remarkably, whose swab technique didn’t hurt at all. It is fast, orderly, unpleasant but not painful. And I get my results immediately: I am SARS-CoV-2 positive.

I was infected outside of my home but where? My guess is an enclosed private space where I let me guard down in terms of wearing a mask, which I see now I should never have done. You really have no idea who around us is carrying the virus.

The Covid Centre contacts my family and also asks me who I had been in contact with but luckily I had not met any friends or been anywhere. They takes the name and surname of my mother-in-law and my parents, whom I did see and arranges to test my husband and children.

12:30 pm and am back home. I stay isolated in my bedroom without seeing anyone. With a ban on leaving my room except to go to the bathroom, which is next door, I organise myself and try to plan my day. I have my computer, meditation tools, the TV, a stack of books and my phone as company.

Clearly, I can have no contact with my husband or children – not even with the dogs and cats. At night I am woken up by my pets crying outside my bedroom door. They don’t understand why they can’t come in to see me.

In addition to the loss of smell and taste, I have some respiratory discomfort, a massive headache and fatigue, which prevents me from staying awake after 9 pm.

I find myself watching “easy” TV shows that I would otherwise never watch but are a guaranteed distraction. I put myself in the shoes of the elderly who plan their days around their TV programs and meal times … since that’s what will be happening for me over the next few days. My husband and children bring my lunch and dinner to my room without having any contact with me.

For breakfast, given that I get up very early, I quickly go down to the kitchen with my mask and gel at 6 am (to the delight of the dogs and cats but without petting them too much). I drink my coffee and eat my toast with minimal touching and before leaving I put hydroalcoholic gel on everything and return to my room. I keep the windows open – the kitchen is freezing!

When I get back to my room, I am still shivering since everything is open. I continuously ventilate the room to the point of being so cold I wear my pashmina and jacket.

Even if I am not going to do anything, I plan my day, telling myself I’m going to spend a few hours with me. With my computer, I take the opportunity to finish some work I started in November but never had time to finish. I meditate and at least I know that nothing and no one is going to bother me so I’m really in the zone.

I phone my parents and check in with them to see if they are okay after my visit on Monday.

Thursday March 4
Today I still have some difficulty breathing, a slight cough, but no fever or aches, always this huge fatigue. I still plan my day so that I don’t get depressed about being locked up, I am so used to seeing lots of people. Friends send me little notes or call me, it’s really nice not to feel alone. It warms my heart as so many people ask if I need help.

The doctor from the Home Patient Monitoring Centre (Monaco’s Covid Centre) calls every day and asks how I’m doing and reassures me. It lifts my spirits to be able to talk to someone about what I am going through and who gives me advice. I thank the doctor.

I have to admit it is not easy when your family treats you like the plague. The kids absolutely do not want to come near me, which I can obviously understand. But still, it’s not a pleasant feeling.

Friday March 5
I’m a stranger in my own home, I haven’t seen my kids since Wednesday. Fortunately, the dogs and cats who come visit me, but it is a strange feeling. I am going meditate with deep breaths even though I am still having have breathing difficulty and a little cough. I have a very bad headache today but still no fever or body aches. I slept badly so I’m even more tired, if that’s possible. Still no taste or smell, I never realised how fundamental these two senses are. Under the doctor’s orders, I will do a smell rehabilitation exercise with essential oils. I was also advised to drink tea with thyme for the cough and respiratory discomfort.

Today I can’t see the point of eating as I have no taste. It’s annoying but tasteless vegetable soups won’t exactly satisfy me, crazy how loss of taste can lead to loss of appetite.

I think of the patients who are in the hospital in intensive care when I have the luxury of staying in my room and I calm down.

More and more, my thoughts drift to the elderly, who are isolated in their rooms and don’t see anyone. I am so lucky to have access to the internet to get away from it all. The day is long and it’s getting to be a bit much. Luckily today I’m going to watch the Buddhist monk and philosopher Mattieu Ricard, this will help my mind.

Saturday March 6
I have my breakfast early in the kitchen, 6 am, like every morning and I make sure to get back to my bedroom quickly before any of my family comes down to the living room. I have a massive headache today and still respiratory discomfort. A short, mild cough.

Like every morning, the doctor from the Covid Centre calls me. I tell him that isolation is starting to take a toll and it’s hard to stay locked up alone in your room with the TV as company with so many unappealing and depressing shows.

At 10:30 am I some sun on my terrace. This tiny moment of freedom really lifts my spirits, what a gift. Then the reality hits that the weekend is just beginning. It’s going to be a long, long day.

I tell myself it’s almost lunch time, followed by the news, followed by doing nothing … what a weekend. My headache is bothering me a bit. I slept badly.

At 1:44 pm, having not bothered to eat lunch (no taste buds, no motivation), I get ready for an hour of meditation in bed. I will travel the streets of Jaipur. And since there is a something positive in everything … my meditating will benefit from my fasting.

At 5 pm, I finally finish the famous job I started in November, I end the day on a high. I eat, watch TV and sleep, am exhausted. The dogs and cats are again scratching outside the door because they want to come in.

Sunday March 7
I did not sleep well and wake up exhausted with a headache, my legs hurt. Still no smell or taste. Coffee, sandwiches, hello to the dogs … then another day back in the bedroom.

Mentally it is going to be difficult, TV on Sunday is not really exciting. Finally I watch Pawn Stars, the reality show about auction kings in Las Vegas.

It is almost noon. I ask myself what can I do differently so the day doesn’t seem so long? Nothing, it’s hopeless. I organise a family Zoom to tell them I’m bored and we spend an hour talking. Seeing my family on the screen is better than nothing. I also have a birthday Zoom with friends. It’s so great to see everyone, even online.

1 pm is lunchtime and they bring me my meal on a tray, a delicious soup prepared by my husband and a tasty homemade cake.

Today is Fête des grands-mères. I am not a grandmother but I feel like one who can’t leave her room. The day chugs along but it has been very hard, I have a headache and fall asleep at 7 pm, totally wiped out. I think my sense of smell has slightly come back because I can smell the rose cream on my face.

Monday March 8
International Women’s Day. Have a brilliant day everyone. And to me, too.

Headache still there. My sense of smell has not fully returned. It’s so weird that I can smell my face cream with essential oils but not my coffee.

The Covid Centre checks in, she’s like a friend as this is the second time that I have come across this very kind and caring person. She asks me to again stay in my room today.

Okay, it’s decided: today I’m going tidy-up the room – and then my head. It will take the better part of the morning, making the day go by faster. As I’m cleaning, I realise we have so many useless things in our closets. I imagine it’s the same for the closets in our head.

My family did their second PCR test in 5 days. They are still negative, thanks to social distancing and my isolation.

This afternoon, I decide to prepare my next meditation trip. What if I reflected on beauty? Women’s Day inspires me and a quote by Giorgio Armani comes to mind: “Elegance is not about being noticed, it’s about being remembered.” I love this expression.

Tuesday March 9
The day starts badly. I am bored with this persistent headache. I have not regained 100% of my sense of smell and it’s unsettling. My coffee still has no taste. You have to understand, I love this time in the morning when I savour my coffee and its aroma. Even the simplest pleasures have let me down.

My phone alarm reminds me that I have a Zoom work meet at 10 am. Great, my head is bad but at least I’ll re-existing in the world. A little make up, it’s been a while.

By noon, my meeting is over and I’m waiting for my meal tray to be brought to my room. I think about the meeting, it went well and was constructive. One thing bothers me, though. Why would I think for a moment that seeing the world behind a screen would give me the sense of “re-existing”? I have never ceased to exist. I exist! I am beautiful and well in this non-virtual world.

My meal has been served and I am going to do my meditation. I am tired and my head still hurts. Being stuck in your room gives you time to think. Anyway, I’m the kind of person who takes internal and external journeys. 7:30 pm lights out.

Wednesday March 10
5:30 am wake up, shower, flavourless coffee, same old, same old: headache, fatigue. One day turns into another. The doctor from the Covid Centre tells me it’s almost over, as I have no symptoms.

That’s encouraging but the headache refuses to leave and I’ve been locked in my room for a week. My impatience to get out of here is growing. What to do today?

The room is tidy, my work from November is finished, I don’t have the energy to revising my songs for my next class or get out the guitar. Doing nothing is starting to weigh me down. Or rather not moving physically is starting weigh me down. Going out, walking my dogs, breathing the fresh air outside, walking in the mountains. This is what is missing. Existing – breathe, eat, feed your mind, meditate – is not internal.  For me to exist I need to be out there and one with nature, with the universe.

I understand now that my bedroom is my place of rest. In fact, this week has allowed me to do just that, a time just for me, I was pampered for a whole week. I have found the silver lining in having Covid.

Zoom meeting at 5 pm. Headache, reality hits. 7:30 pm and I’m going to sleep.

Thursday March 11
The Covid Centre is going to call soon. I prepare my list as an eager student, I have to get out, even for a little bit, I need to. I have no fever, no body aches, no cough, no more difficulty breathing, my headache is gone. My taste and smell have semi-returned, I can smell my coffee!

I am back! My body and my mind warned me but I didn’t listen. So I was forced me to take a break. Thank you body for this inner journey which will allow me to appreciate other moments in life. Thank you for healing me. Thanks to me for being me.

Not allowed out yet but I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Friday March 12
My coffee this morning is not déjà vu, and in fact, it’s more delicious than before, no longer a ritual but a pleasure. I watch the sunrise, I listen to the birds, life has never ceased to exist, it is amazing how we view things that are most important. How we see ourselves, and others and life.

The doctor at the Covid Centre tells me I can go out. Zero symptoms. Wear a mask and respect social distancing. No shopping or going in closed spaces for me until Sunday. I am going to walk my dogs in the mountains! I am going to breathe deeply! I am healed. I am free.

March 18
Days later and I am still exhausted. Impossible to stay awake for an entire day and am in bed by 8 pm. I sleep soundly till 7 am. I have never have been so tired. I have started walking and exercising again but honestly, with a lot of difficulty still. But I have a life outside my bedroom.

See the government website for more information should someone in your bubble test positive.

Merrily Lustig-Tornatore

Merrily Lustig-Tornatore with friends Debbie and Mary Lynn at No Finish Line.

I first met American Merrily Lustig-Tornatore at Stars’n’Bars on November 3, 2016. It was election night in the US and MonacoUSA was hosting a party in the days when it was normal to have a room full of mask-free people sitting on top of each other, drinking from the bar and cheering on a country that was once synonymous with democracy.

“I decided that the only way Europeans and the rest of the world could know who Americans were was to be exemplary and bright and funny so they would not get the wrong idea by seeing Trump,” says the long-time Monaco resident.

Born in New York, Merrily moved in 1964 to Killington, Vermont – via boarding school in Switzerland with a couple of months in Karachi and also in Paris – to be a ski bum. “I got my Vermont real estate licence in 1971 … I think!” 

What a unique name. “When my parents were married, in the Forties, there was a cartoon in the Sunday paper with a little girl named Merrily who had long reddish-blond braids. My father liked her so much that I ended up being Merrily and having to live up to her reputation.”

Merrily comes from a line of accomplished women. In the Thirties, her mom started Airlines, the first in-flight aviation magazine, and was a speechwriter at NASA for the associate administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight for the Apollo program.

In 1983, she had just received a “hard-earned” Emergency Medical Technicians accreditation in Vermont when she got a call from a family member in need. “My mother’s sister who ran Society Magazine for Société des Bains de Mer needed help so away I went to Monaco. It was really an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Working alongside her aunt, creative genius June Quin, and her financial guru husband Mark, Merrily replaced her cousin Vally who had left for London. “You name it, I did it. Having been brought up in the publishing business, it seemed second nature. I think I learned to read by helping the family proofread.”

In 1986, she met Rémy, her first aid instructor at the Monaco Red Cross and “after a long engagement” they wed in 2009. “You can never be too sure you have made the right choice,” Merrily laughs. (Rémy retired two years ago as director of First Aid for the Monaco Red Cross.)

Merrily has been a member of MonacoUSA for over 20 years and also serves on its Board. She has laid the memorial wreath for association to commemorate when the  517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team led the liberation of Monaco from German occupation on September 3, 1944.

She was also vice-president of the American Aid Association of the French Riviera, founded in 1948 “to assist American citizens who find themselves hospitalised, jailed, resident in retirement homes or facing other temporary financial difficulties.” For years, Princess Grace worked personally both with the association and with the former American Consulate in Nice, assisting Americans living in the region. The association, which shut down in 2019, had strong ties with the Monaco Red Cross and its social work and youth outreach.

Following the Bastille attacks in Nice in 2016, Merrily spent ten days in Nice as a First Aid volunteer with the Monaco Red Cross. “We were helping the psychologically wounded and sat with people until a professional could see them. There was an American woman who came in with an aura of pain, and I just sat apart offering to translate if necessary. If I ran into Americans, I would help them liaise with the consulate in Marseilles if they so desired.”

Merrily’s current claim to fame is to have received the Covid vaccine yesterday in Monaco. “It is absolutely fantastic, considering the world population, to be one of the first people to have the honour to live in a place where I am so well treated.”

Merrily getting Covid vaccination at Espace Leo Ferré on Wednesday.

She was contacted by letter from the Ministry of State (see letter), signed both by minister of state Pierre Dartout and minister of health and social affairs Didier Gamerdinger, explaining who, when, how and why to get vaccinated. The letter invited her to make an appointment if she wanted to get the vaccine. Additionally, there was a full page of information addressing “Les Vaccins à ARNm” – how it differs from a traditional vaccination, benefits, possible side-effects and so forth. It states that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna (EU-approved this week) are the vaccines that will be used in Monaco.

“The organisation of the campaign is fantastic. I phoned, it took ages to get through, and said YES. They called Monday and asked if I could come in Wednesday. I was so excited, I could hardly get the words out.”

Merrily says she becomes livid when people don’t wear masks. “Being really short and OLD, I occasionally walk into a grocery store and what not saying loudly, ‘SVP, mettez vos masques sur vos nez!’ It feels great. I’m too small to hit so they usually obey.”

Her vaccination appointment was for 9:20 am and she arrived 10 minutes in advance to check in and be interviewed by the doctor with the usual questions.

“I told Rémy after I got the Covid shot Wednesday morning that if I passed out during the day, don’t blame it on the vaccine. It could very well be because of the on-going election debacle in the US.”

2016 US Election Night at Stars’n’Bars.