Surviving COVID-19

Unity Park in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, April 7, 2020. Tuesday afternoon I went for a walk. At any other time this would be full of people but now, it was almost empty.

So on February 14, 2020, I went shopping with my friend Tanja in the local furniture store and bought a lovely braided rug.  It was very cold in my new apartment and I had discovered that having moved deliberately to an apartment without carpeting, I now needed something to help me keep my feet from freezing.  I was very happy about this acquisition, so glad I’d made a decision and solved a problem so easily.  I looked at that rug and felt joy.  A few hours later I felt something else:  My cheeks were hot.  I had a fever.

Obviously there was no connection between my buying a rug and getting sick.  It’s just, that’s how I know when I first got sick with the virus.

A dry cough came along with the fever and refused to leave.  It did change though, becoming more of a deep congested cough.  After a while there was all this gunk coming up when I coughed, and I coughed all the time.  For what seemed like an eternity.  I did my best to treat it. I took Tylenol for body aches but not to treat fever, which only went up to about 100.6 but did persist.  I used Robitussin liquid cough medicine (DM) a few times a day, and used a little of some cough medicine I had in my medicine chest that has codeine in it at night so I could sleep.  I didn’t stay in bed.  I got up, did stuff like cooked breakfast (oatmeal) spending half the morning to get it ready and another forever time to eat it.  I didn’t have much of an appetite.  I slept a lot at night.  So much so that many of my aches and pains (shoulder, knee) gradually got better.  Ten days into it I got worried, so I called the allergy clinic and got in to see my doctor there.  I had begun to feel despondent, doubting I would ever get better. But she is an excellent doctor with no limits on her time, unlike the doctors in the medical center.  She heard some rumbling in my lower right lung indicating pneumonia, and gave me antibiotics (Azithromycin) plus an injection of a steroid.  It took another week but I gradually recovered.  When I was finally entirely well, I felt such joy. I felt like a superhero, having overcome such a challenging illness.

So was it COVID-19?  Maybe.  Not the flu, of that I’m sure.  I may never know but I tell this story because it was an acute upper respiratory infection that seemed to last forever, and having beaten it, perhaps someone out there will find it helpful hearing about my experience and what I did to get better.  I should add that I do get a flu shot every year, a super one they have for seniors, plus a pneumonia vaccine a few years ago.  I almost never get the flu anymore, although I did when I was young, which is why I’m pretty sure this wasn’t that.

I think we Americans have a very bad habit of working till we drop.  We lack sleep, go to work when we’re sick.  We eat on the fly, grab take-out on the way home from work, have trouble relaxing, fall asleep on the train or bus to and from work, sleep on airplanes, fall asleep watching TV, almost anywhere we can because we’re sleep deprived.  We work through pain, hardly ever really relax and enjoy ourselves.  We are a driven people, and no matter what the obstacle, we fight to overcome it.  Perhaps, as we all contemplate our lives from our living rooms, isolated from friends and family, kept away from work or working from home virtually, we may consider living healthier more well-balanced lives once this is over.  That will require the cooperation and assistance of the government and business community, in an effort to restore the kind of work/life balance that used to be possible way back in the 20th century.  Maybe the shock and horror of the death around us will give us that existential moment where we realize life is not infinite, and we need to make room for joy, fun, family, work that matters, and love. I hope so.

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