The editorial schedule of my columns forces me to try to look a couple of weeks into the future. Not just any future, but yours. The hope is that what I decide to write about today exists in the intersection of evergreen and relevance that will make it interesting enough for you to want to read it some days down the line.
Today’s a bit different. As I write, I have Covid, but I’m confident that by the time you read this it will have exited my system. This essay is about what I learned from having it. So I’m writing this in the past tense. Which means I’m predicting my future here.
I managed to avoid Covid for the first two years of the pandemic, but then I tested positive and got sick in late April. Here’s what I learned:
1. Two years ago, I was scrubbing takeout and grocery store orders with disinfectant wipes outside my front door before I brought them into my house. And then, once I had moved them to a kitchen counter and then from the counter to a shelf or the fridge, I would disinfect each surface.
Today, this is considered hygiene theatre. We know enough about the virus to understand that incessant wiping of surfaces prevents the spread in the same way push-ups prevent snow. Back then, so much was unknown, so much (justified) fear, that the theatrical felt practical.
Getting Covid was scary. I’m in good enough shape to play basketball three times a week with men half my age. But I’m also 43 with an autoimmune disorder and I live with two unvaccinated vectors of infectious disease called children.
It’s less scary now than it would have been in May 2020, and not just because I’m vaccinated. It’s because of the oximeter I bought after reading Mara Gay’s harrowing essay on contracting the virus. The oximeter has been an anxiety-alleviation machine, assuring me that my oxygen levels are fine.
Contracting Covid is also less scary because of what we now know about treating it: which medications to take, which activities to avoid, how much sleep to get. That knowledge wasn’t as available two years ago.
I’m worried about long Covid, which still exists in that nebulous unknown. But worry (what I have now) is manageable. Terror (what I had then) is not.
2. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that after two years of not getting Covid, I thought it just wasn’t going to happen. Like maybe I was lucky enough to have a natural immunity. Or perhaps that two years of hyper-vigilance – of masking everywhere, of eating at an indoor restaurant only once since March 2020 – bought me immunity. A bit like points accumulated after paying your credit card bill early. I was obviously wrong. But it’s still a nice thought to have. Makes me feel like a wizard.
3. I have apparently contracted a mild form of the virus. “Mild” is a funny word. Mild implies mundane, unremarkable. But my mouth still hasn’t forgiven me for the time I tried the mild sauce at a restaurant, only to learn that “mild” there meant “incinerating your oesophagus so that it drains through to your feet”.
I’ve had worse congestion, worse headaches, worse fevers, worse coughs, worse sore throats and worse bouts of fatigue, but what made this mildness so disconcerting is that I had these symptoms all at once. It felt like I had five different mild viruses. Like if seasonal allergies and mono had a baby.
It also felt like (heavy sigh) a box of chocolates, with a new surprise every few hours. (“Oh, I guess we’re done dry coughing today? Why are my bed sheets soaked? Wait... is that vertigo? I didn’t know we were playing the ‘Is that wind or diarrhoea?’ game.”)
4. My entire household tested positive, so we quarantined for a week. There were times when I sat on my front step to get fresh air and some neighbours, dog walkers and other passers-by would try to speak to me.
I’ve learned to be more tolerant of small talk. I don’t consider it the ingrown toenail of social discourse anymore, but, for obvious reasons, I wasn’t in the mood. Most people read my body language and kept moving.
One person didn’t, though, and stopped to hold a conversation, even as I stood up, backed away to my door and kept my mouth stapled shut. And then, mid-question, I turned around, opened my door and went back inside without saying anything.