The COVID Diaries

“It’s inevitable, and it’s not going to be good.”

There was a certain moment in October when I remember feeling in my soul that I would get COVID. While I was being safe, wearing a mask, yada yada yada, there were loved ones around me who, since the start of the pandemic, played things anywhere from a little to a lot more fast and loose with what I knew was right. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t exclude those people from my family for the duration of this thing.

Oh, I guess I could have. But there are some worse things than pandemics.

All along, I knew that if I got COVID, it would not be mild for me. My immune system is consistently taxed in the best of times because of a fun little inherited blood disorder called Thalassemia. Thankfully, I have the “intermedia” kind. I say “thankfully” because, well, otherwise I already would be dead, and dead people have a tough time telling stories.

Essentially, my red blood cells are misshaped. My body treats these oddball little suckers as foreign invaders and attacks them. I picture archers at the top of a castle sending a shower of arrows down toward my poor, deformed, defenseless blood cells. This means my body has to work two or three times as hard to make enough red blood cells to keep me going. A body that is working extra hard in its “normal” state is more vulnerable to falling apart and getting infections. Fun fun fun.

It was early November when COVID popped up in my extended family — family that had been around The Core Four, my own tribe. Soon, it was in my wife. A few days later, I needed to be driven to Urgent Care for a pretty irrelevant COVID test because I was having a difficult time mustering the energy to walk. Truthfully, the only reason I had a test is because, dang it, if there’s going to be a historic pandemic, I am going to be counted among its participants!

By the time the results came, I was in the midst of the most intense fatigue I have ever experienced. That was bad enough. Worse, though, was the brain fog.

There’s some irony in this. Growing up, I was my sister’s brother. My sister was the smart one. Straight A’s without even trying. “Oh, your Christy’s brother,” was the familiar refrain from teachers on the first day of school, followed by the “You’re really Christy’s brother?” when my tests would be handed back. Not that this bothered me much. My school life was just fine as a social butterfly who was really into girls.

Somewhere along the line, though, something happened. It was like Dr. Frankenstein energizing his monster for the first time, except the monster in this case was my brain, and suddenly, it was alive! Alive, I tell you! Alive!

Somehow, I became smart. I didn’t really realize this at first. I was too busy falling in love with my future wife. But I finished my last two years of college with straight A’s, excelled in my early career, took an IQ test to help me land an editor’s position with a newspaper and was scored at a Mensa level. There was no one more shocked than I, except perhaps my parents, who had mildly and sometimes not-so-mildly cajoled me through my academic career trying to get me focused and motivated.

For 20-plus years, I lived with this newly found brain and my always-there huge heart and tried somehow to meld them into a happy person.

But as COVID sunk in, my brain committed mutiny. Overnight, I couldn’t string a coherent sentence together. I would say something like, “That’s a really good plan,” and it would appear to flow from my brain exactly as intended. Except then my wife would say, “What are you talking about?” Because what actually came out of my mouth was, “That’s a really good passenger,” or something of the like.

I would pause while talking — 10 seconds, 20 seconds, a minute — trying to find the next word while my head buzzed. Sometimes I’d find the word. Sometimes I’d find a similar word. Sometimes I’d abandon the attempt and curl up in a ball beneath the blanket my wife had lovingly knitted me (or is it crocheted? I can never keep those two straight) the previous year.

The space underneath that blanket became my refuge. I could hide from the overwhelming stimuli, the fatigue, the fright of not being able to think.

Oh, there were other symptoms. I didn’t exactly lose my sense of smell, but I had to be really, really close to something to get even a hint of scent. Formerly good-smelling things were repulsive. My mouth was overrun with a nasty metallic taste and would soon develop painful sores. (By the way: Kids, if you’re looking for love, think about finding a woman who will shine a flashlight into your mouth to check on the healing of mouth sores. That right there is the definition of mature love.) But the fatigue? The brain fog? Ugh.

I am three weeks out from my onset of symptoms. I work as long as I can each day. I lay down under my blankie as still as possible for long periods of time, thankful when the house is completely quiet and there is no stimuli. I stare at a list of to-do’s like it is War and Peace translated into Swahili. It is embarrassing not to be able to get through my inbox in the morning without extraordinary effort.

Yet I remain grateful. I know it could be much, much worse. I can take everything except the deepest breaths without pain. I have not needed to be hospitalized, though I came close one night. I have this general sense that yes, I’m going to be OK eventually.

The way to get through this, everyone tells me, is rest. But I don’t do “rest” very well. It messes with my mental health. I have big trouble relaxing, especially when my brain is urging me to do things, to think deep thoughts. A friend told me this COVID thing could be good for me; I can spend some time, she said, in shallow water thinking simpler thoughts than those I typically think. I can be extra mindful about the little things in life. While good in theory, this is proving to be prohibitively difficult in practice.

So I wait. I push myself. I rest. I annoy my wife. I do disturbingly little around the house. I disappoint my little guy when I can’t do the things with him that I know will make him happy. I spend eight hours doing nothing on a Saturday so I can expend all my effort coaching his basketball team (and, boo-yah, we’re 4-and-0!!!!). I try to will my brain back into gear. I fail. I rest again.

Sometimes, I cry out of sheer frustration.

Folks, COVID sucks. I knew this from the start. I preached it to The Core Four. In reality, though, I am not in control of all the things of which I’d love to be in control. So do what you can to not get COVID and then be an unwitting and irresponsible transmitter to those around you. Yes, there are many, many people who get mild cases (my wife and little guy, among them). But there are those for whom the effects are greater. Those people are in your families or circle of friends somewhere. You might not know who they are. They might not know who they are. But they’re there. So be decent. Be kind. Be safe.

One response to “The COVID Diaries”

  1. Thinking about you John. Thanks for sharing your story. I love the way you write, always compelling for me.
    My daughter and her family live with me. About 6 weeks ago she contracted COVID-19 and tested positive. Sniffles, extreme fatigue and that awful mental fog you described were her main symptoms. I tested negative but we all quarantined for 2 weeks.

    I pray you recover soon and get back to your normal.


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