I complain constantly about the idiots who take COVID-19 lightly. Guys who post photos of themselves drinking maskless in bars that are open despite the order to remain closed. People who walk into Staples with their masks below their noses and below their mouths (see photo below). It disgusts me, and for two reasons. One, 570,000 dead. And two, December 22, the day I came down with COVID, had a 102-degree temperature for 13 days, and lost 30 pounds.
Nearly four months later, I’m 99% well, but I know a woman who isn’t. She lives in New Jersey, and she caught COVID-19 from her son-in-law. She will never be the same. I read about her story on a COVID-19 recovery Facebook group, so I’ll just call her Fay.
Fay is 89 years old, and although she lives alone, she’s taken care of by her daughter, who lives nearby and whom we’ll call Corinne. In early February, Corinne’s husband (whom we’ll call Mikhail) started showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“You’ve got to get tested,” Corinne said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mikhail said.
“It’s my job to worry about it,” Corinne said. “I’ve got my mother to worry about.”
“It’s just post-nasal drip,” Mikhail said. “Happens all the time.”
Still, Corinne continued asking Mikhail to get tested. She asked many times.
“Don’t be a nag,” he said.
“I’ve kept her well for a year now,” she said. “Let’s get you the test.”
“I’m not going to get tested, so forget it.”
“Let’s not give COVID to her now.”
“I don’t even have a temperature.”
“That’s not the only way to tell if you have it.”
“Look, I don’t like women who nag, get it?”
Corinne and Mikhail have been married for 30 years, but it’s only in recent years that she’s realized that he’s not the man she thought she married. He’s stubborn, narcissistic, and emotionally controlling, in her experience. Still, she stays with him for some unknown reason, perhaps momentum, or perhaps it’s the money.
A few days later, Corinne came down with symptoms, too. All three were tested for COVID-19, and unsurprisingly, they all came out positive.
Corinne had a really bad case. She had a 102+-degree temperature for three weeks. Her doctor diagnosed her with double-COVID-19 pneumonia. She passed out from the temperature, and her blood oxygen levels went down to 88, which is pretty bad (I had that reading a couple of times, too, so I know). She never went to the hospital, but she should have. Her lungs hurt so bad that she had to consciously force herself to keep breathing. For three weeks, she was too weak to get up from her bed.
Corinne’s mother had it worse, though. Corinne was too ill to drive to Fay’s house, so Mikhail drove over. He found her unconscious in her bed and called 911. She was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with double-COVID-19 pneumonia, too. Her blood oxygen level was precipitously low. She was bleeding internally in her leg and had to have blood transfusions, five in all.
After too short of a stay, the hospital decided that Fay could be transferred to a nursing home.
“But she’s not well enough,” Corinne said.
“Well, we don’t have enough beds,” the doctor replied. “We have 20 people in the emergency room who need a COVID bed.”
“Well, can’t you transfer her to another part of the hospital?”
“No, because she came in as a COVID patient.”
For the past three weeks, Fay has been in a nursing home. She cannot walk. Her memory is impaired. She can’t even sit up in bed. Her daughter hasn’t been allowed to see her mother because she hasn’t been vaccinated. Because of her own COVID-19 experience, Corinne is disallowed from being vaccinated until late May. The last time she saw her mother was February 24, nearly two months ago.
“I don’t know how long she can last,” Corinne says.
Although Corinne is now in recovery, she has lingering symptoms, including chronic pain throughout her body and “squealing tinnitus.” She has been diagnosed with an inflamed heart and it constantly races. She’s losing hair at an alarming rate when she showers. She has neuropathy on her left side.
“But above all,” Corinne says, “I have a broken heart because I have lost my mother. The woman who went into that hospital came out a completely different person she will never be again the same.”
After too short of a time, the hospital decided that Fay could be transferred to a nursing home.
Mikhail still defends his actions.
“You could have gotten the virus from anyplace,” he says.
“But we didn’t go out anywhere,” Corinne says. “Only you did.”
Still, Mikhail gives her no empathy, understanding or support. That sort doesn’t, of course. They just use words like freedom and liberty incorrectly and act like it’s a dog-eat-dog world.
On January 2, I had endured 11 days of a COVID-19 fever that sometimes reached nearly 103 degrees. I had lost 30 pounds. I was in the ER, trying to sit up straight while a doctor talked about how people “take a turn for the worse,” and wondering what the telltale signs would be that that it was happening to me. I didn’t want to take a turn for the worse. I still haven’t visited Paris, Texas.
When I drove home from the hospital at midnight with Claire, my hands were shaking.
On Facebook, I chimed in about how serious COVID-19 was, and some slimy Camp Auschwitz true believer chimed in dismissively.
“Chill out, man,” he said. “it’s just a virus.”
That very morning, pal, it was reported that over 350,000 Americans had already died of the virus. So no, pal, it is not just a virus, I told him, it’s more like mass death. My friend Luis Solorzano had just died the week before, leaving his wife and child behind him sick and without means of support, and my friend Joe Porper, too. It’s astonishing that there’s a political party that celebrates immorality, because hey, encouraging people to do things that will kill themselves and others is, in a word, immoral.
(If you’re interested in my current condition, scroll to the bottom. But the next few paragraphs are compulsively riveting, so I encourage you to give them a read.)
It occurs to me that some just look at the numbers and find a way on Fox News or some other gutter network to tell themselves that the numbers aren’t real. They find a way to misunderstand the human suffering. Whether it is their own stunted emotional development or just right-wing talking points, it amounts to the same. They’re disgusting. Over the next few days, however, I wondered if there was a way to make it real to them. Then I started reading the stories posted on my Facebook COVID-19 group and an idea formed. If you are brave enough to handle the truth, read on.
“I just want to thank all the prayers and support from this group during this horrible nitemare we are living. Days are excruciating and very long. Trying to recover all while making funeral arrangements for our loved ones has taken a toll on me. How do i move on? This is too muchthank you all from bottom of my heart may God bless u all. My Angels are now together rejoicing in paradise, pain n illness free. Love n miss my daddy n brother. Fuck Covid!!!! Sorry for my language. My family still recovering from this horrible illness.”
“Another update if you have been following my story,” one member wrote. “I need some reassurance. My heart still races up towards the 180s when I stand up, my oxygen is now dropping to 75. When I lay down I’m semi ok, I bounce around from 99-90. My resting heart rate was around 55 when I first got here and now it’s at 41. Now just recently my heart flies up when I’m sitting for no apparent Reason. It’s terrifying, but my oxygen stays level as long as I stay sitting. Talking about sending me home with oxygen when I’m up and moving. I’m scared.”
“This group has always been here for me as I suffered from Covid, suffered terribly. Now I’m suffering even worse. My brother Walt tested Positive last Wednesday and passed away last night, a healthy physically fit 70 yr old with no health issues. It only took one week to take my brothers life. This virus is so damn awful. My brother is the one with the hat on.”
“I turned in my heart monitor today,” another member wrote. “Over 48 hours I had about 15 events that required logging and pushing a button. I’m waiting for echo results too. But…what if there isn’t anything they can do? What of they don’t see a problem? What if what they suggest is extreme? What if nothing makes my heart better? What if it gets worse? What if I never get to travel and hike in another country? I had all these dreams when I had my kids of – when they are out of the house and on their own I would do all the things I couldn’t afford to do when they were home. What if this is it?”
Another: “COVID-19 still haunts me two months later. Yesterday, I had to have a cardioversion procedure that was successful. My heart finally beats in a normal sinus rhythm. For the last month and a half, I felt like I had just ran up a couple flights of stairs. With meds and prayers, I hope to stay in NSR and never go back to AFib. #covid19sucks”
“I’m thinking I may not have ashtma but instead vocal cord dysfunction. I have dysphagiq, chest pain with tightness, I run out of breath when I talk super easily ever since a few months ago. The ashtma inhalers dont work any more either. I have wheezing fits brought on by walking up the stairs. Would a respiratory therapist be a good option? I’m seeing one already this month. I also wish I knew why ny throat feels tighter snd throbs with pain. Any of you have that throbbing pain?”
“Does/did anyone feel like somone is holding your throat and squizing it but without you necesarly having difficulty breathing? I have one of the new variants of covid-19 and I feel a lot of pressure on the sides of my throat and keep being worried that I can’t breathe well but I think I can. It just confuses me when I feel like I’m being held around the throat (besides other coughing etc)”
I got COVID on March 17th, 2020. I received a negative test on May 1, 2020. Last night, I had a disturbing situation. I woke in the middle of the night with diarrhea. As I was on the toilet, my heart completely stopped beating. I started feeling weird. When it restarted, it was beating very weakly. Then irregular heartbeat started. I realized that I was about to pass out. I tried calling my husband for help, but my voice was weak. The next thing I knew, I was face first in the bathtub. I must have passed out. By then, my husband was helping. I asked how he knew that I needed help and he said that he heard me fall. I didn’t know that I had fallen. I went back to bed, and realized that I had diarrhea again. This time I started sweating and I was so hot. Then I was freezing cold. Then I fell asleep. I didn’t realize that it was a serious situation. The internet says that I should call a cardiologist. My med school son-in-law says that it sounds like low blood pressure. Covid was such a long time ago. I function normally during the day, then bizarre situations happen at night.”
“I remember calling 911 when my Oxygen dropped to 74% and them making me sit outside in the cold as they checked my vitals. They put a non-rebreather on me and that is the last thing I remember until I awoke several days later. When I woke up I was still on the non rebreather and my 02 levels went down every time they tried to wean me off oxygen. I remember the doctor coming in and saying they had one last drug to try to help my lungs. It was a steroid and it ended up helping me. I was hospitalized for nine days.”
“Please keep our long time family friends(they’ve been family to us since I was 10 years old) in your prayers! Poppy, Lauren, [last name redacted] & Jill’s daughter, was only 9 years old and passed 3 days after being diagnosed with Covid. My heart is so broken.”
“This seems a bit odd.. I still do not have my taste or smell. HOWEVER I don’t know if you can say that exactly things that I can “smell” all smell the same… They smell of raw meat, my laundry soap… All meats (all my food with meat tastes raw) but I cant taste any other flavors. However I can’t smell like a dirty diaper or scents or anything of the such. Or my brand new baby and her baby smell This whole thing is sooo odd…..”
“Yes I had my retinal hemorrhage while in the covid unit..”
“Need some advice please. I had COVID last year in March, was in the hospital for several days. Took quite a while to recover at home. Now i have a bunch of new things all at once. Thyroid nodules, Diverticulitis with very high inflammatory markers (CRP was 72 and took 3 different antibiotics to get rid of inflammation. Before this was diagnosed I was super fatigued for several months with pain all over). Now I was just diagnosed with Carotidynia (pain in my carotid artery). My neck hurts and my jaw. This can’t be a coincidence, all this happening at once. Is there a clinic in San Francisco that specializes on long haulers?”
“My 43 year old brother has been in the hospital since Jan 8th, ICU since Jan 12th, and on an ECMO since Jan 20th. He’s not married, so my sister and I are doing the best we can to manage his household. Anyone else have loved ones essentially in a coma? My sister is the main point of contact, she calls every morning and most evenings for an update. He’s allowed 1 single visitor so our other brother goes mid-afternoon, and collects an update from the nurses and occasionally he’ll get to talk the doctors or specialists. It feels so… Helpless. And there is so much I don’t understand about what is happening, especially since he’s been on the ECMO. Though my brother doesn’t have a significant other, he has very close-knit relationships with friends and coworkers. We set up a Caring Bridge website to keep everyone informed, but if we don’t give a status update every 48 hours, people get really demanding and kind of pushy towards us and it adds to the stress. “I’m just sitting here at my job, someone asked me how my brother is doing and he had a particularly not-great weekend… Talking about it started the water works and I’ve been trying to stop crying for the past hour. Life just feels like varying degrees of awful and scary right now.”
“So…2021 has kicked my a$$. I got Covid at first of year for 2 weeks of yuck and then Jan 26 I had a double bypass. I am so short of breath, no stamina, and now the darn constant headache is back. Ugh! So many prayers for everyone affected. I just want to feel good for one damn day!”
“Did anyone develop psychosis after their diagnosis? I am three weeks plus post-test and I feel like I am losing my mind. Every sign and symptom is pushing me over the edge. I have been to the ER twice in 48 hours. The first time was for chest pain and pressure. They did all these blood tests and found my ddimer was high so they did a chest CT scan to rule out clots. That all came back perfect. My next visit was a total panic attack over my chest and the doctor basically said I was crazy and having psychosis and gave me anti psychotic medicine. Is anyone experiencing this severe anxiety? I’m scared.”
(If you’re interested in my current condition, I’m nearly 100% now. My main symptoms is a lung limitation that is so small that I really can’t gauge it now (it shows up on my chest X-ray, but my doctor hasn’t quantified it for me). I also have night sweats and have to change my wet shirt during the night, sometimes twice. However, I’ve been walking for exercise for over an hour for nine straight days, and really, how sick can you be if you can exercise at that level? As you’ll recall, I lost 30 pounds during my feverish phase of COVID-19, and I think I’ve gained back about five or ten pounds, but not all of it. Hey, I don’t want to gain back all of it! Before COVID, I was carrying a few extra pounds, so staying at a lower weight is no big deal. What is a big deal is saying no to sour cream on burritos! That’s what I ate in mid-January when my fever broke and my appetite came back. Now, I’m back to avoiding too many juices, using too much olive oil, buying too many different types of wonderful cheese, and topping off every meal with chocolate or gelato. Did I mention that I’m avoiding those things?
I’m back to working on my computer and will be having a comeback Zoom magic show soon. I try not to overdo it, and when I feel tired, I stop. I don’t have to charge hard into every workday. And because of Claire, I don’t have to. Life is good for us introverts.)
Today, I was browsing on Facebook on my COVID-19 recovery group when I happened upon a debate about masks. It’s amazing the stupid propaganda that people try to pass off–just a fancy word for lies–and all just to make a political point.
The woman who wrote the post, Jane, wrote: “My friend wore her mask into hospital for a check up. Her oxygen was only 50%. They told her to take her mask off and measured again = 100% oxygen. Advised not to wear one as a result.”
Just a quick check of the Mayo Clinic’s website will tell you that a reading of 50% is impossibly low. You’d be dead. In fact, “values under 90% are low,” and Healthline says that people with severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which people die from every day, often maintain “pulse ox levels” around 88% to 92%.
“If oxygen levels are below 88 percent, that is a cause for concern,” saysChristian Bime, MD, a critical-care medicine specialist with a focus in pulmonology at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. If you see readings at or below this level, you should contact your health-care provider immediately or go to the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.”
I told Jane about this, as did about ten other members of the recovery group, and eventually, she considered that her friend might be lying to her. Hey, it happens.
Anti-maskers make up this shit. I’ve had anti-maskers lie to me about lots of similar things. They want to be able to do whatever they want whenever they want. They don’t care if they breathe on me and spread COVID-19 to me and my mother dies. Or I die. Did I mention that I caught COVID-19 on December 22 from a 20-year-old who was wearing his mask under his nose?
This COVID-19 of mine has been a wild ride, like a Tilt-a-Whirl or an evening with Amy Winehouse. It started on December 22 with a 102.7-degree fever, which went on for a maddening 13 days, me staring into space and moaning, When will this be over? Once the fever broke, I stepped on the scale and realized that I had lost 30 pounds. I soon realized, however, that I was on the road to recovery.
Still, recovery from COVID can be long, maddening, and difficult. In a Facebook recovery group, I read of the difficulties that people were having in their recovery, and it was terrifyingly easy to find horror stories:
“Positive in July,” one wrote. “Intubated. Rehab. So many problems after. High heart rate, like 170 sitting down. Higher high blood pressure. PVC’s [an abnormal heart rate] that would need an ablation procedure to fix….”
Another wrote: “This has got me to the lowest point in my life and I have been told I have at least another year of recovery….January of this year I was an avid gym goer at least 4 times weekly and 50 lengths in the pool after to be subjected to this and I’m like a 99 year old. I am actually worse now than when I had covid in March/april. Over six months and they can’t work out what damage it’s done. I’m in and out of hospital with breathing and the last one brought up acute musculoskeletal pain in my chest. I’m on two walking sticks as I’ve lost the feeling 90% in my right foot and severe pain throughout my body and left foot can hardly weightbare….I’m having to pay private to get to the bottom of it all. Literally bedbound….”
Still another wrote: “Did anyone come up with something to make your hair stop falling out?”
And every couple days, someone announced that their loved one had passed away, He’s with Jesus now, he’s breathing freely now.
That was it, I had to get out and about. This in itself was a feat, because just a week earlier, I’d walk up and down the stairs once and get winded. Let me rephrase. By winded, I mean that it felt like there was a staple in my windpipe that was sitting on my breathing like John Goodman. My lungs, it seemed, were not able to take in oxygen as rapidly as required, which was what made me gasp.
But I was determined. I walked outside.
Maybe I can walk a few houses down and back, I thought.
Walking down the concrete stairs was okay, as long as I kept it to the pace of a museum visitor. Then I started walking on level ground, slow and steady, Don’t be ambitious, I told myself. It wasn’t even like exercise, it was like strolling with no purpose at all, like a 3-year-old. About 100 yards out, my staple was starting to bully me, so I turned back. Don’t be ambitious. When I reached the concrete steps, I started the climb, and that’s when the staple really started to abuse me. Don’t be ambitious, dammit. By the time I reached the top of the steps, I was gasping for breath.
That evening, I wondered whether this would be permanent. I had seen a report that COVID lung scarring never goes away, and that it happens in 90% of cases. I wondered if the rest of my life would look dramatically different than I had imagined. After all, I had been a vigorous exerciser all my life, bicycling every day up my 7-minute hill, which I call Homicide Hill, and then launching into my hourlong regular route. I am proud of my fitness. I took photos of my sweaty face earned from an hourlong ride on a 111-degree day. I imagined how very, very clear my hardy arteries were.
But unexpected things tend to knock akimbo “the best-laid plans of mice and men,” as Walt Disney put it.
This was in mid-January, and every night, I would wake up with my mouth completely dried out like a rice cake. I was struggling to walk and brush my teeth. I was just getting my appetite back. I wasn’t looking good (see below).
Still, I believe that you can exercise your way out of anything, even death (if only for a few years).
The next couple days, I walked 200 yards.
After that, I increased it to 300 yards, and there was a price to pay, which expressed itself through the staple in my esophagus. I gladly paid it.
Then on to 400 yards, or about the distance of once around a high-school track. I stayed at that level for five days. A couple times, I walked my mother’s dog when she came over. The dog stopped and smelled every little plant and stain, allowing me more than my share of rest.
At the end of the 440 yards, there was a hill in a park. It was steep, in fact, steeper than I would have attempted to ride up on my bicycle. Still, I had to test my limits. At the top, I panted like crazy and stood up there recovering for 10 full minutes.
The next day, I crossed the street and lengthened the walk to 20 minutes at a faster pace. Stayed at that distance for three days.
Then 30 minutes, and then 40 minutes.
Four days ago, I started walking for a full hour. Granted, it was all level ground, and today, I was trucking along 10% more slowly than my pre-COVID walks, but hell, man, it was an hour! And somehow at the end, there was no staple in my esophagus; I wasn’t gasping.
I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess, because over the last month, it’s been a steady march towards improvement. My taste and smell are fine. I don’t have a forever migraine the way that some long-haulers do. I never had a tube threaded down my throat. And although I’m at Day 41 and am still having symptoms–some lung limitation and a chest X-ray that the doctor doesn’t like–I know it ain’t gonna kill me. I don’t ever rave about gratefulness, which has become so much the rage, but hey, maybe now is the time to start.
A year ago, I went to the wake of a longtime friend, the fabulous magician Brian Gillis. Being a professional magician myself, I was in my element. There must have been 200 magicians there, swarming around this grand old house in Redondo Beach in their fancy shirts and trading stories about the recently departed. The amount of untamed ego in that house could have powered another SpaceX failure.
Towards the end of the evening, I sat down on white plastic chairs in the dark backyard with a magician named Luis Solorzano. A sweet guy, Luis has been a headliner at the Magic Castle for the past 20 years or more, as have I. Physique of an aging linebacker, although I’m sure he never played football; he was a lover, not a brute. Luis had a deck of cards in his hand and, as magicians do, started showing me miracles.
“This move is original,” Luis said, and showed me something that blew my boat flat out of the water.
Original means that Luis invented it. That is, before Luis came up with it, it didn’t even exist. That’s rare in the world of magic, and he was rightfully proud of it. The published repertoire of magic began in 1584, and he was planning on adding to that repertoire with this brilliant deception.
Luis and I talked about card moves, and then moved on to the business of magic. I told him that I was performing magic every week at the 5-star Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and he couldn’t help but frown.
“Oh man, I wanted that gig!” Luis said.
Luis wasn’t jealous, he just loved performing.
Luis is one of the most soft-spoken magicians you’ll ever meet. When he performs, he doesn’t fill the room with his ego, as so many performers do–are you listening, Christina Aguilera?–he just quietly charms the hell out of them. By the end of the show, people are bowing down to him. He makes everything seem like a miracle, including his smile.
Luis and I have something important in common. Within the last month or so, we both caught COVID-19. I’m well on the road to recovery, with my only remaining symptom being limited lung function, which ain’t no small problem, trust me, but also ain’t gonna kill me.
Luis also came down with COVID-19 recently, about 10 days ago. And now he’s dead.
In my fight against COVID-19, I consulted my regular doctor, but I also had a secret weapon. I consulted an acupuncturist.
I had been going to Dr. Wu for several years, and he had punctured my skin many, many times. Not once did I leak. Because of our relationship, he allowed me to text him with my symptoms, and he responded with herbal prescriptions and advice. Every morning, I would wake up and text him what was ailing me.
“Temperature 102.7, SPO2 90, 12 hours of sleep,” I would text.
“Sleep as long as you can,” Dr. Wu wrote back. “Use Tylenol for that high fever, and if it gets above 103 or the SPO2 gets much below 90, go to the ER.”
And then he would text back with advice that helped, trust me, helped quite a bit.
Of course, traditional Chinese medicine works on a different system. It’s ancient wisdom that goes back millennia. They take your pulse, which can be categorized in any of 30 different ways: slow, floating, wiry, thready, surging, and the like. They look at your tongue in a much more detailed way than Western doctors do.
And, I hesitate to mention, they also look at your feces. If you think about it, it makes sense that one’s health could be detected on the formation of one’s effluent, although Western medicine seems to pay that little mind. The gastrointestinal system’s end product is effluent. As the product passes through the body, it is formed by many organs, fluids, processes, and in fact, all aspects of one’s health. Viruses affect effluent, too, as does anxiety, foods, and medical conditions. Western doctors never ask about your shit, but the good Chinese practitioner considers the look of our feculence to be essential information.
Thus, I started taking photographs of my lovely creations on my cell phone, and on Dr. Wu’s recommendation, texting those photos to him.
Of course, there is a protocol involved in the transmission of such lurid photos. You don’t just wake up at 7 am and forward the good doctor one of your productions unannounced. It’s not a good image to see before breakfast. Thus, you have to pave the way.
“SPO2 93, temperature 100.7, 12 hours of sleep,” I texted one day, “and can I forward a photo of my latest three BMs?”
“Sure,” he texted back.
A few minutes after I sent it, Dr. Wu would give me an evaluation. If I were still an infant deep in the Poopy Stage of Development, my self-esteem would hang on his praise. But I’m a grown-up, dammit, I can drive and write checks and make poor decisions, and when he came through with a “Much improved,” I texted back with a happy emoji, and perhaps, if I’m honest, not just because I was improving, either; I’m proud of all my creations.
But think about this. You’re making two or three masterpieces every day, taking a photograph of each one. Once you have that battalion of photos on your phone, it creates a quandary. One day, for example, I wanted to text a photo of myself to a friend to show that my weight loss hadn’t been scary. It was a good smiling photo. But when I pressed ATTACH PHOTO, there were all these photos of my other gastrointestinal artwork.
Oh my God, what if I press the wrong button?! I thought. What if I send an ugly photo to my 83-year-old cousin Ruth rather than the photo of me?
“What is the meaning of this?!” Ruth would ask in horror over the phone. “Is this what your…type thinks of as funny? Oh my goodness gracious, your late father would be terribly ashamed of you!”
Worse yet, I dreaded sending an ugly photo to a prospective magic-show client, someone who had asked for a magician who could perform Zoom magic for their corporate sales meeting.
“Attached, as promised, are photos of my magic show in action,” I would write.
They might report me, although to whom is unclear to me. The Poopy Police? It seems like doing something like that should be illegal, but I just can’t put my finger on which silly statute it would violate.
A few days ago, Dr. Wu offered a bit of insight into how to read your ghastly sequeliae.
“The thinner the BMs are, the unhealthier you are,” he said. “In general, you’re looking for well formed.”
“Do you mean like sculpture, like in the shape of a Degas ballerina?”
“It looks like your sense of humor is back to normal,” Dr. Wu wrote back. “You’re getting better.”
Never been in the hospital. Exercise every day. Don’t think about death. Don’t even like the word, death death death, ugh. I don’t want to mention how chronologically close I am to death, but suffice it to say that I remember the insult to food that was Velveeta, and yes, I ate it and loved it.
But when I was stricken by COVID-19 last December 22, the prospect of death suddenly became real. I was laying in bed, my temperature vacillating between 100 and 103, gulping Tylenol to lower my temp, staring into space, thinking, “Is this how people die?” At that point, 375,000 Americans had already died of it.
Once you start thinking about the final blackout, I mean in a real way, suddenly, pathways open up in your mind that you never knew existed, like an undiscovered country. I began walking those pathways. People were telling me to watch a lot of Netflix, but often, TV was too intense for me. I preferred to watch nothing except the afternoon light gently playing off my ceiling and walls. Every so often, I heard a truck drive by outside. Extreme boredom was the dominant sensation in the room.
One day, my mind meandered to who would be happy if I died. C. immediately came to mind. She has always been mortally jealous of whatever I’ve done. Years ago, she was a perky brunette chick with modest ambitions. The last time I saw her, which was about 10 years ago at a party, I hugged her. It was a peace offering. She just stood there, arms lowered, like How long do I have to hold my breath? At my funeral, she stood over my coffin and thought, Long overdue. That’s what I saw in my fevered daydream, along with bugs that I knew weren’t there.
In the middle of the night, I would wake up, my mouth completely dried out like a rice cake, my shirt drenched in sweat. Still happens, because even at Day 32, I’m not quite well yet. At bedtime, I still have to lay out two dry shirts to change into, sequentially, during the night. And two dry pillowcases, too.
Caine came to mind. He would be happy to hear about my death, too, delighted, in fact. In 7th grade, I went over to his house to listen to a horror album by a strange man named Arch Oboler whom Caine absolutely loved. Caine was a misfit who hated his platinum-blonde mother. Before leading me downstairs, he called out to her.
“I’ll be downstairs, slut!” he said.
There was a room down there with a record player, and a record named Lights Out.
“For maximum effect, you have to listen to it with the lights out,” he said, and suddenly the room got dark, curtains pulled shut.
The record was quite spooky, I must confess. It was about a monster who turned people inside out, with organs on the outside of their body.
After that edgy experience, I shied away from Caine.
But as with many old classmates, we kept in touch even into adulthood. Caine moved to Provo, fathered a couple dozen brats, and became an Emmy-winning film editor and right-wing conspiracist. I should have known, with his 7th-grade obsession with fantasy. I visited him once in college, then occasionally kept in touch with him through the years, as classmates do.
Years later, Caine proudly proclaimed his love of Glenn Beck, who, if you’ll recall, was the opportunistic precursor to Q, which is to say, the biggest liar in the room. I asked Caine why he watched Beck, and he looked me straight in the eyes and said, with a belligerent smugness, “Because I have kids.”
In so many ways, Caine turned out to be a rotten adult. He’s lied to me many times over the years, sometimes on Facebook, and I’ve called him on it often, which has annoyed him mightily. In his eyes, that’s been my major sin. I’ve contradicted his anti-masker lies, his Trump-doesn’t-lie lies, and his hateful anti-liberal lies. I’ve become a kind of libtard nemesis in his life, and we no longer talk. He can’t handle the truth.
Yeah, Caine would say a silent Hallelujah for the death of another damned snowflake who’s fallen off the voter rolls.
I was feverish with COVID-19 for 13 days, and while I lay there in bed, my mind meandered through a limited terrain. Sometimes I had delusions, such as the time when I looked at my arms and saw them as black and withered and was worried that they would drop off. I knew it was a delusion, but it slipped into my mind like an earworm from a sci-fi movie.
Claire was worried about me. The most disconcerting thing to her was that I wasn’t cracking any jokes. That really scared her. She didn’t know this person without humor.
Claire was fixing my meals and bringing them upstairs on a tray. She was doing the laundry, getting the mail, and running the house in all ways.
“Do you think you should isolate from me?” I asked on the second night while we were laying in bed.
I thought about her answer. I wondered whether she was being unassertive or fatalistic or even irresponsible. I thought about the prospect of her death, and what my responsibilities were. The next morning, Claire fixed me some grits with canned peach bits and honey on top. I ate as much as I could, which was about four bites, and then pushed it aside. Food was disgusting to me. Claire picked up the tray and started to leave the bedroom.
“Are you sure you don’t want to sleep in another room?” I asked. “So you don’t catch it?”
Claire looked at me, and in the look in her eyes, I saw something that you might call commitment, although it was not just that, it was more like a decision that her heart had made years ago and was part of everything she did, the way she held herself and the way she looked at you and the way she smiled, although that seems inadequate and perhaps it’s simply inexplicable except to those who have seen that look in their own spouse’s eyes.
“No,” she said firmly. “I’ll sleep here.”
There are many things to half-think about when your mind is wandering aimlessly in that COVID fog, and many delusions and half-baked conclusions, but about this one thing I was clear. Looking into her eyes that day, I knew that she was someone who would be devastated if I died, and who intended not to let that happen.
I was careful. Some called me paranoid. In the beginning of the pandemic, we spent a half-hour wiping down groceries with a Clorox solution. We wiped down every new Amazon package. We shopped only once every three weeks. We stayed inside almost all the time. Whenever we went outside, we wore masks. Our neighbor Jose shot us looks, like, Whatever. We kept up on the latest research regarding transmission. We railed on Facebook against anti-maskers.
But on December 22, I came down with my first symptom, a temperature that woke me up in the middle of the night, caused me to stick a thermometer into my mouth, and alarmed me–102.7. By the New Year, I had a COVID-19 diagnosis. By January 5, I had lost 30 pounds. It just takes one mistake.
People want to know how I got it, if only to assuage their fear that they might catch it. In my case, it was probably takeout. Given our extremely limited opportunities for contagion, I’m pretty sure that was it.
I had just performed a Zoom magic show for an hour. It was a lovely show, and my energy soared, as it always does when I perform. After a show, my appetite always flares. I get this surge of confidence, even invincibility, while I perform my miracles and people are smacking their heads and raving, and I get a sense that there are no limits. It’s ice cream time!
“Let’s get Thai takeout,” I said to Claire.
“Oh, that sounds great.”
So I called in an order, and 20 minutes later, I was at the restaurant.
I suppose I should have called from the parking lot and asked them to bring the order out to me. But I didn’t. The way I saw it, I would just pop in, pick it up, and pop out. Takeout is a very low risk, I thought.
But inside the restaurant, there was a line. A couple of twentysomething guys were ahead of me ordering. One of them, a guy who looked like an idiot who wasn’t and would never be good at anything, even sports, wore his mask below his nose. The Thai waitress behind the counter said nothing about it.
“He’s an imbecile,” I thought. “But chances are he doesn’t have the virus.”
I was distancing, too. There were footprints on the floor placed six feet apart, and we each stood on our own footprints. The twentysomethings chatted and chatted. It must have taken them five minutes. Finally, finally, they left and I stepped up into the spot that they had just stood in. Right into their virus cloud. I was wearing a mask, but no mask is 100%. After two minutes of standing in that cloud, I left with my bags of food.
It was a fantastic meal, oh man, yellow curry with chicken on rice, plus pad thai, oh God. But the disease that I got from that brief visit made me the sickest I had been in my life. I lost weight in a way you don’t want to lose weight. I can’t catch my breath. Turns out I wasn’t paranoid, Jose. It was a risk that I really shouldn’t have taken.
I’m pretty strong, damn it. This may be the first time I’ve said that absurd phrase out loud, but hey, if you bicycle up hills for nearly an hour every day for 30 years, you’re going to end up strong like bull.
When you have COVID-19, however, as I have for the past 26 days, that strength suddenly disappears. In the first two weeks of my beloved COVID journey, walking up and down stairs was precarious. I grabbed for walls to steady myself. Brushing my teeth was a supreme effort that left me gasping for air. I wanted to write on my blog, but I couldn’t even focus for a paragraph’s length.
Day after day, I spent 98% of my time in bed. But yesterday, on Day 25, I took my first walk outside. Mind you, just a month ago, I was walking an hourlong route on my rest days from cycling, booking it, pushing the envelope for my lungs, but yesterday, it was a whole other body bag. I stepped out into the daylight and let the 84-degree sun soak my face. I couldn’t suppress a smile. I started walking, trying to make it as leisurely as possible. I wasn’t ambitious, because ambitious ain’t where it’s at with the stricken. About 100 yards out, I turned around, then walked the 100 yards back. When I got back to my front door, I was gasping and coughing. My muscles remembered how to do the work, but my lungs were a mess.
I’m no longer strong, damn it.
My fitness has earned me a great life. At age 25, I began writing for Shape magazine, and then Self and American Health and Fitness and many others, and took to heart everything that those fitness experts told me.
It’s the only body you will ever have, one expert told me.
Aerobic exercise is a miracle drug, said another.
Pre-COVID, such an innocent time, I looked forward every day to my Killer Hill. When I dragged myself up that 7-minute homicidal topography every afternoon, and then up and down various lesser hills through the rest of the ride, it occurred to me that my strength is not a superhero kind of strength where Thor’s hammer swings and the world shakes; instead, it’s a steady, easy strength. I have a great grip. I have great blood flow. My numbers are perfect. I don’t have to worry about lifting things or climbing stairs, that’s all. Life is easy.
I’ve earned that life. I’ve never had a problem with the usual aging villains–high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, all those things that age you prematurely. Other idiots my age look old. They’re fighting all sorts of maladies, and it makes me remember something that one of those experts told me all those years ago.
Most of the things that people generally think of as the normal aging process are simply the result of lack of exercise, he said. Aches and pains, wrinkled and crepey skin, shortness of breath.
So I have followed the exercise way of life, and it has made me hardy and strong. I hardly know my doctor. I like it that way. Stay away from me, jerk, I don’t want what you’re selling.
But COVID-19 doesn’t respect no boundaries. During the first two weeks of my illness, I lost 30 pounds. That’s right, 30 pounds in two weeks. Examining it more closely, I have come to realize how I lost that weight. I was laying in bed with a fever that swung wildly between 100 and 103 degrees. It hurt to move, so I just laid there immobile, staring at nothing, thinking about as little as possible. When it came time for meals, I knew I had to eat, but the food seemed disgusting to me. I would eat three spoonfuls of yogurt and push aside the rest.
My body would say, Not enough calories coming in; gotta throw some fat weight overboard.
Then my body would say, He’s not moving, so he obviously doesn’t need that muscle weight; throw some of that overboard, too.
Pretty soon, I was looking a little scary.
At Day 26, I am making steady progress towards health, but I have fears. A CBS report says that 90% of COVID-19 patients end up with lung scarring. What the hell does that mean? I worked hard for those lungs, dammit!
On Facebook COVID recovery groups, they talk about getting blood clots while you’re recovering. What?! How do you dodge that bullet? Is there an anti-blood clot diet?
I’m more than three weeks into a COVID-19 infection, and many would say that I’m on the mend. But consider this. I’ve lost 30 pounds. I walk down to the kitchen and back up to the bedroom and I’m panting like crazy. I spend 98% of my time in bed. And when I take a deep breath, I start coughing uncontrollably.
If you think, “Hey, if I catch it, I’ll just get over it,” think again. Doctors say that 90% of COVID-19 patients end up with severe and permanent scarring on their lungs.
In the first week, I would stare at the ceiling and think, “Am I going to die from this? Who will get my mountain bike?”
In the second week, I would try not to move. Or talk. Or think. I just wanted my fever to go away.
When mealtime came, the idea of eating was disgusting to me. I would eat something because I knew I had to, but it was very little, like two spoonfuls of yogurt. That must be when I began losing massive amounts of weight.
By the third week, the fever broke. I thought that maybe healing was just around the corner. But it wasn’t. I was getting better, but only incrementally. I would sleep twelve hours per night and hope for the best. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my mouth entirely dried out, like rice cakes. I would let my partner Claire fix meals, keep track of my medication, do laundry, and the like, while I laid around like some spoiled redneck.
Now, at Day 24, I wonder what I won’t be able to do again. I wonder about exercise. I wonder about lingering lung problems. And I wonder how long this albatross is going to be hanging around my neck.