In Pandemic, Reflections

If you are an entrepreneur or a business owner who has felt the pressure of the pandemic ferociously, this story illustrates what it means to be a fighter in front of adversities. As co-founders of Spirited Navigators, Saadia and I (Kapil) have taken this situation in our stride and embraced it with positivity. We both have jobs outside of running our business, and juggling household priorities in our respective homes added complexity when Saadia was diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2.

Sometime early March of this year, we were ready to expand our business portfolio with added capabilities. Setting up a business from absolute-scratch with no external funding, meant investing your own hard-earned money from other jobs into your business. It took us a very long time to get to this point since 2017. With an incredible amount of hard work and perseverance, we finally got here, encountering a volatile situation that will re-define how we manage our business and personal lives.

While we enjoy our career-paths, building Spirited Navigators has been one of our greatest joys. To help people explore the world and see its positive impact on them, gives us personal satisfaction and fuels our passion for what we do. 

No matter how much one likes to plan, nothing prepared all of us for a global crisis to shake our psyches. You are not alone; whether you are a business owner or working to make ends meet, all of us are in this fight together.

Personal Trials and Tribulations

If you will bear with us, we would like to give you a chronological order (to the best of Saadia’s memory) of how our lives turned upside down in a few days when she tested positive for the SARS-COV-2, more commonly referred by the name of the disease, COVID-19.

Last Week of March – The Beginning

Towards the end of March, Saadia started to feel body aches (starting from upper back), but the pain worsened. Eventually, she encountered immense chest discomfort, which she could no longer ignore. As a result, on the fourth or fifth day of continuous chest pain, she made an appointment to see her primary care provider.

April 3, 2020 – Doctor’s Visit

Her doctor checked symptoms and sent her for blood work — he predicted that either Saadia has an autoimmune disease, or by process of elimination, could have fibromyalgia, both of which her mother suffers from. The doctor came to these conclusions from isolating physical pain areas and location where it stemmed from. Saadia also suffers from winter asthma, and when the doctor heard her lungs, he expressed displeasure. He took his time trying to understand what it could be. At this point, he concluded Saadia may have something more than seasonal asthma and gave her an inhaler to begin using to help with her breathing.

Her internal body temperature usually hovers between 96 – 97 °F. When the nurse checked, it was 99 °F; it did not seem alarming at first, but the doctor wanted her to keep an eye on it.

On the business front we began to notice that the current global situation started to impact our commerce. The first week of April was our target to expand our services to the state of California. We had completed our required paperwork but had not submitted them. Something held me back; my inner voice telling me to wait it out.  

This business move was going to cost thousands of dollars, and we were ready to take the risk because it would be well worth it. However, we noticed the sudden negative impact on the travel industry and knew it was a sign for us to hold off. 

April 4, 2020 – Fever

On the night of April 4, Saadia’s fever reached 100.8 °F and she had started to develop a bit of a cough. We sensed this was not a good sign, but miraculously the fever disappeared early morning the next day. She assumed things would be returning to normal, and considered this as one-night incident while not bothering to notify her doctor.

April 5, 2020 – Fever Returns

On the evening of April 5, the low-grade fever returned; this time, the cough had increased significantly. She ignored the warning signs and was pretty blasé of the situation at hand.

We became increasingly concerned about Spirited Navigators; no new proposals or requests flowed, and the industry was coming to a standstill. 

April 6, 2020 – Coronavirus Test

A lot had changed on this day. Saadia’s continuous fever warranted an urgent call to the doctor to explain symptoms, including loss of taste and deteriorating appetite. At this point, the doctor assumed she had the coronavirus.

It is important to note that the April timeframe was a month where doctors and scientists were searching for answers with little understanding of how the virus works; each case was a unique situation. The doctor asked whether she would like to be tested or preferred to ride it out at home.

Saadia opted to be tested.

The likely results from the blood work were also looming over her head.  From the potential diagnosis of autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, and COVID-19, we started worrying for best-case (or extreme) scenarios.  She went down to the doctor’s office during specific hours — they only see COVID-19 or potential COVID-19 patients during a two-hour time slot. Saadia was taken through a back-door, instructed not to touch a thing. 

The doctor observed and conducted a nasal swab test, which was anything but comfortable. The results would take 24-48 to arrive. In the meantime, she was asked to self-quarantine. Unfortunately, this meant her brother, who lives with her, meanwhile, had to do the same and could not go to work.

Saadia could not get her mind off work.  She works three jobs to make ends meet; for the US Navy, teaching Indian Classical Dance, and of course, as the co-founder of Spirited Navigators. Nothing I said mattered – her mind appeared to sway…vexation clearly visible.

April 7, 2020 – Getting Worse

On this day, things took an ugly turn. Based on how much her symptoms had exacerbated, despite not having gotten her results yet, we knew with a surety that the virus had hit her body. Her condition had worsened to the point where she was barely able to get out of bed. She had lost the ability to move.  

Her brother works in the Emergency Department of a hospital in Essex County — one of the hardest-hit counties with COVID-19 cases in New Jersey. Although he showed no symptoms, the hospital appeared to have taken precautions as he would indicate upon his return home from work. Saadia was pretty confident that if she was positive for the virus, she had to have gotten it from her brother, which meant he had to be asymptotic. There was no way to prove this logic because due to lack of symptoms, he could not be tested at the time.

I specifically remember asking Saadia to take time-off from various responsibilities. She did not want to hear it, but the reality became clearer each passing day…Spirited Navigators was suffering too. This hurt her the most. Giving up on teaching (dance) would mean taking away her artistic ability to express her emotions. The only thing she had control over was her job at the Navy, where she continued to put her heart and soul into day after day.

April 8, 2020 – POSITIVE for COVID-19

Waiting on the results was burdening. It was five o’clock; no one had returned Saadia’s call. We waited impatiently. She became increasingly frustrated, and I was finding it difficult to remain composed. Not knowing also meant her brother could not return to work. The limbo was unnerving.

Half-past five, her doctor called. The doctor does not call you directly to give you good news; they have other people do that for them. He confirmed the result to be positive for COVID-19. He ordered rest, Tylenol (for the fever), and staying hydrated.

I remember on this day, I had a conference with one of the team members at work. To avoid sounding concerned or worried, I changed my tone to sound joyful – to ensure work is not compromised nor has a negative impact; I take this seriously. I was asked, in return, why my voice sounded so upbeat. This made me feel vulnerable and sad. 

April 9 – 12, 2020 – Can’t Recollect The Difference

A period of anguish and prayers. Things went terribly out of control around the clock. Saadia could not remember one day from the other. Days and Nights blurred. She started to vomit quicker than she could replenish her body with fluids. 

Saadia had lost most of her weight during this time (~10 pounds in seven days). Saadia couldn’t use the restroom on her own; she was using bladder leak pads. She also lost the ability to eat solid food. Although she was sleeping on account of the codeine in her cough medicine, she never felt rested because the sleep was persistently interrupted.

A new symptom had befallen on her: diarrhea. Her breathing was invariably shallow — something she tried very hard to be mindful of. We won’t bother mentioning the countless bedsheets, clothes, and blankets tossed because of her unpredictable vomiting.

Every day felt more miserable than the last, juggling her emotions between self-pep talk, prayers, and tears of despair. Repeating “It’s OK” to herself (and out loud) became her mantra. And when her mind couldn’t keep up with her body, Saadia profusely prayed and then cried. Her brother comforted her to the best any loving sibling would. I was in deep pain, watching her suffer – FaceTime conversations with her intensified into sadness, loneliness, and absolute helplessness.

We put Spirited Navigators on hold. Every business was rushing to apply for PPP (Paycheck Protection Plan). We didn’t. I was too consumed with Saadia’s health, and our business activities were severely impacted. At this point, I started developing strategies for 2021 and a new chapter for our business. This also meant, more time and energy will be put into securing a plan for life beyond the crisis.

April 13, 2020 – Trip to Hospital

I could not endure watching Saadia in pain; it was mind-numbing. I tried hard to avoid bringing up the word “hospital,” but I think it was time. When I did suggest it, she refused profusely.

She did not want to end up in a hospital for multiple reasons:

  • to avoid burdening an already overburdened system
  • to avoid exposure to potentially getting even sicker

Saadia was dehydrating faster and eventually accepted that she needed to go before she became more ill. When she arrived at the hospital, it was a scene like no other. The parking lot was deserted — empty except for a total of three cars, max. She spent an hour outside the hospital in the parking lot in a makeshift tent when she got there with help from her brother. They asked her questions and took her vitals outside. Even when the doctor came to see her, it was done outside. She understood why it had to be this way, but her physical condition made this a challenging experience.

When Saadia was finally admitted for fluids (and some medicine to help her keep food down), she was allowed inside — alone. Her brother would have to return home and wait for her eventual release. She was taken into a room all by herself, hooked up with needles, and left to lay there until her body had been replenished of essential fluids.

In retrospect, Saadia realizes that she should have gone to the hospital sooner because this was a critical turning point of her illness.

While the world stayed in mandatory lockdowns and practiced quarantine, social media activities amongst friends became more apparent with their newly discovered fascination to learn cooking. It was endearing to see this, to a point; juxtaposing this with the suffering I was witnessing over FaceTime with Saadia left me drained and disappointed.

The world was suffering, and people were protesting to keep businesses open. Keeping our business afloat was the last thing on our minds. Our focus was different. Not only were we experiencing the effects of the virus intimately but we had distant family members and friends collapsing to this deadly virus.  

April 14 – 17: Battle Continues 

The battle continues and struggles ubiquitous. Fever decrease, her taste buds slowly returned, and she started to gain a false sense of improvement. Saadia is a positive individual, so any small improvement screamed r-e-c-o-v-e-r-y.  This is how she thinks. She paid the price for these misgivings, too – the violent coughs followed by vomiting continued to remind her that she was far from healing.

The struggle of government lockdowns to save lives vs. putting bread on the table for families became a moral and ethical dilemma. Conversations with friends and catching up with the news became a harrowing experience that shall never be forgotten.

During her “rest” period, Saadia wished she could have read books (one of her favorite pastimes); she couldn’t. The constant headaches made it impossible. She tried to listen to audiobooks on Audible; she couldn’t. The lack of focus made listening to anything unbearable. Saadia considered watching a show or movie; she couldn’t. The combination of headache and lack of energy was a disastrous combo for visual aid.

She could not take deep breaths because it was physically impossible. After every vomit session, she felt like her heart would burst out of her chest, and her brain would crack through her skull. Thankfully, neither happened, but the pain was treacherous. 

Cries were more pronounced and became louder because she did not know if her body would survive this much torture.

Saadia spent weeks in bed with nothing to do but lay in her misery, not because that is what she wanted to do, but because she physically could not do anything else. It’s complicated to put that feeling into words unless you are going through it yourself or seeing someone in this state — it is nearly impossible to comprehend.

My work in the corporate environment was getting insanely heavy. I remained focus and fully committed. When companies started to enable virtual platforms to work-from-home during the lockdown, naysayers became increasingly negative. They began ridiculing the approach and criticizing their family members because life seemed more complicated to handle domestic duties alongside work responsibilities daily. Work is now home, home is now work, and homeschooling is the new norm. This resulted in people losing the ability to differentiate between work-life balance and practicing common-sense. I have worked from home for many years through different corporate giants, so the challenge to be on the receiving end of this from people who had never done it was interesting and perplexing. I acknowledged and understood the challenges for those new to this environment.

April 18 – May 2:  Recovery Process (Not So Fast)

Saadia had been on the other side of the “worst of it” for a couple of weeks, and this is what the process consisted of:

  • random violent coughs, followed by vomiting (less than before); she was still taking codeine
  • seemingly good days filled with many bad hours
  • just plain bad days
  • sleepless night (she was up the entire night consecutively for days)
  • lungs that were still filled with the virus – her brother, who is a Medical Student, listened to her lungs with a stethoscope daily, and could again hear the same crackling that her doctor heard.
  • any form of overexertion lead to a relapse in symptoms. Overexertion related to activities such as:
    • teaching dance (online)
    • cleaning/chores around the home
    • cooking
    • talking for a prolonged period
    • taking out the trash (she found joy in taking out the trash, albeit painfully)

Every day, we ended our FaceTime conversations and attempted to go to bed after praying, that maybe tonight she will be able to sleep, that perhaps tonight she will be able to take deep breaths without the chest pain, or maybe she’ll wake up feeling better, and that feeling will last a full 24-hours.

We did not know when she would feel better — each day, she pushed herself a little more than the last, and the result was the same: the body was not ready. We remained vigilant and attempted to stay calm, but finding a healthy balance was a real personal challenge.

I would call Saadia throughout the day, and she communicated with a heavy heart for not being able to support Spirited Navigators or help keep our business afloat through these difficult times. She would then ask me how my day went at work. None of this mattered to me; I just wanted her to get better. What hit me was how much she cares for other people than her problems she is going through. This moment was selflessness at display. She has always been this way, but the gravity of the situation shed a brighter light on my perception.

May 3 – 11: Intense Chest Pain and CT Scan

Symptoms began to ease, however slightly, her cough and chest pain hit a plateau from which it was not making any progress. Chest pain became more pronounced, which became worrisome as it would fluctuate between a 5 and 8 randomly, on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (unbearable). Saadia has a high threshold for pain, so her 8 could be a 10 for most people.

Another call to the doctor was made, and she was put on steroids to see if it would help. If the medication did work, it indicated Asthma-related diagnosis; otherwise, she was given a prescription to get a CT scan. 

As per Saadia’s insistence, the doctor advised that she could go out for walks again — with a mask on, inhaler in tow, and practicing the apparent social distancing. Guidance from the doctor was clear and strict; as long as she stopped when her body was not able to keep up, it was okay. The first time she went for a walk, she was able to do 12 minutes. Unfortunately, though, the side effects of that walk (onset of violent coughs) returned.

Steroids did not help, and on May 11, Saadia went to get a CT scan of her chest.

May 13, 2020 – CT Scan Results

There were many anxiety-ridden days, but this was something else. I remember being on edge strangely, and I had a one-track mind; “she better be okay!” – that is all. 

New stories and cases of COVID-19 emerged, suggesting that the virus could potentially cause other respiratory system problems that had me disturbed. 

The CT scan showed both her lungs and her heart in perfect condition. At this point, the doctor attributed the chest pains to costochondritis, caused by the violent coughs endured for weeks. Doctor’s prescription: Two weeks of no physical exertions (her walks would have to wait) & Advil regularly until the pain goes away. If this persisted into another two weeks, then she is to call her doctor.

Saadia often gets upset at me, for keeping her in check and ensuring she is following the doctor’s guidance, and also taking things slowly. In return, she persists by talking about the next big things for Spirited Navigators and worrying about my day-to-day workload. We shall live to appreciate these moments for each other, because this is a testament to a great partnership and building a more robust business relationship together.

Gratitude & Reflection

We have had time to reflect these past few weeks.

Saadia and I have had our share of disagreements about the business model and ways we want to build Spirited Navigators. For the most part, we kept our discussions healthy and meaningful. There were times we had conflicting approaches, but it took many years to build a trusting relationship. Through this entire ordeal, I reflect on the great work we have achieved. We have to re-energize and re-start with new changes coming ahead of us. Our business may have had a lull, but this has forced us to look at life differently. This meltdown has taught us to be grateful for what we have and learn from our errors.

To all the people who have prayed for Saadia and sent in beautiful messages for Spirited Navigators’ future, we are grateful to have you in our lives. From family members, friends, coworkers, and even strangers near and far, we are blessed with an outpour of love and prayers during this whole ordeal. 

At Spirited Navigators, we have received an outpour of kindness and support from our clients who were aware of Saadia’s condition, and we are eternally grateful to each of you. Reading your positive messages got us through difficult days, and the appreciation of our work gives us a path forward to continue to support you by strengthening our relationships.

Last but certainly not least, we would like to express our most heartfelt gratitude to the front line workers — those in the medical field, including but not limited to doctors, nurses, technicians, scribes, janitors to those ensuring our everyday needs are met by going into work and risking their lives every day — including but not limited to grocery store employees, sanitation workers, mail and postal services, delivery drivers, maintenance workers and many more. Your hard work does not go unnoticed and amid such a global crisis, you are the shining stars!

Looking Ahead

We hope our story illustrates a sense of optimism and can convey that sufferings today only makes us stronger and grow from our experiences.

As we begin to navigate back to all the changes that are coming, specifically within our travel industry, Saadia and I remain exceedingly conscious about ensuring we make decisions to progress with keeping safety as the first and foremost concern.  Our work is cut out for us, and we aim to fly higher. 

While we had to put a halt on many of our new and exciting services planned for this year, SN Weekenders, service offerings in California, and SN Photography to name just a few examples, we are working towards debuting them and much more in 2021.

One of the most prominent takeaways for us during this pandemic has been about the impact on our planet and what a stark difference it has undergone while we have been in lockdown. As a result, we are planning a few initiatives that will allow us to give back to the environment and society on a larger scale. 

Whether you are searching for a new job, own a small business, or struggling to maintain a healthy balance in your current work-home life, we realize times are tough right now. We are with you, but keeping a positive mindset is the key. Things may not be the same as before, but working towards new goals and a ‘new normal’ is going to take adjustments. Please don’t lose faith. We will get through this.

Showing 2 comments
  • Caroline Sokoloski

    Dear Kapil and Saadia,
    I truly hope that Spirited Navigators can come through this crisis unscathed, but I’m sure your work ethics and love for the business and each other will certainly help in any respects to help it recover, if need be.
    I remember Saadia saying in her Facebook post that the doctor considered her symptoms moderate, that made me upset, as I know she pushes herself all too often when she should rest. I’m glad she didn’t push herself too much, which would have resulted in her becoming worse. I’m glad she’s on the mend, and I know a lot of it is because of your, and her brother’s, strength, love, and belief in her.
    May God bless you all as you all recover from this worldwide crisis.

    • Spirited Navigators

      Dear Caroline,
      Thank You for your beautiful wishes for us. It has been trying times, and I agree, it made me upset too to learn Saadia’s condition being termed as ‘moderate’. I questioned it. It has been difficult to convince her to slow-down, but she is working hard at this. We have to continue to remain positive and remain careful of what is ahead of us. Your love and support have given us immense strength…it can’t be said enough!

      Team SN

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