Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.
Come with me on a journey through time…
Way back in the early days of the plague, back when the number of people in the country who had it was in the hundreds and the number of people who had died from it was in the tens, we all were told to stay home.
Two weeks, we were told.
Two weeks, some of us believed.
Two weeks came and went. Two months came and went. The slog continued. This disrupted the entire social fabric of our species and short-circuited some important stuff that is hardwired into our DNA. The number of murders dropped because we weren’t around so many random stupid people, but suicide, depression, anxiety and a host of other nasty things skyrocketed.
With time and a mind-numbing indifference to reality, we felt a need to re-emerge, to throw caution to the wind, saying things like, “There are more important things than not catching a virus” and “There are worse things this virus is causing than the virus itself.”
True dat. All of it.
More and more of us started to know people who got infected. A friend we chose to hang around with. A family member who we really missed. A co-worker in the office we returned to. For 14 days, we were sent into isolation purgatory, where we wondered if enough of those little virus particles would replicate to take us out of action. Most of the time, we were fine.
Which, of course, made us braver/stupider. We got back out there with gusto. I really miss how that one restaurant makes its marinara sauces… and besides… if it were dangerous, the governor would have shut down our state. (I’m looking at you, Gov. Mike Parsons.)
So, shockingly … more and more of us started to get infected ourselves. For most, it was an unpleasant few days. We were tired. We ached. We had a fever. Then we didn’t. And then we proudly put on our “I Participated in the Great Global Infestation of 2020” T-shirts and enjoyed our 90 days of antibodies.
Some people didn’t get better. Some people died. And sometimes those people were youngish and heretofore healthy. Some of them, like one of my high school classmates, were freaking mountain climbers.
And then there were The Others. The Living Dead. The Alone.
On the Big Timeline of the Planet, even the one the Young Earthers believe in, it didn’t take all that long for the acceptance level of Longhauler to go from “Would you look at that nutcase?” to “Um, yeah, he probably shouldn’t be coughing up blood or randomly fainting in his bedroom.” We became an accepted thing pretty fast. Much faster than, say, “The Earth Revolves Around the Sun” crowd, and, bonus, none of us were burned alive as heretics by Christians, so there’s that.
The problem is that no one has figure out what to do with us. Not the medical profession. Not our support networks.
Both groups are trying, to varying extents depending on the caliber of each. Both are proving to be woefully unequipped. And the result? The result is an isolation that makes that whole quarantine thing look a home run trot after a moon shot that wins Game 7 of the World Series.
Doctors eventually shrug their shoulders with many of us who don’t happen to register as anomalies on any of their existing tests and say, “I got nuthin.” And our support systems? Well, those folks are still healthy, and it can be really annoying to hang out with someone who is relatively OK one minute and unable to put a logical sentence together or, ya know, stay awake the next. It gets so hard to call and check on us or visit us or handle a second or third last-minute cancellation because how we were feeling when we made the plans is a humpback whale’s migration from how we’re feeling at the moment. We’re an inconvenience.
And so we’re isolated.
We watch as the people we love go out and do the things that are available to do. The nature walks we loved. The trips to the zoo, The vacations to touristy places to do touristy things.
And We. Sit. Home.
Sometimes we binge Neflix, until our brains hurt and we have to stop. Ditto with podcasts. I used to read several books a month. I’ve been on the same once since January. I read a few pages. My head hurts. I put it down. When I pick it back up, I can’t remember what I read, so I re-read the same few pages. And then I put it down again.
We pursue solo passion projects like, say, writing angry rants about Longhaul COVID and other equally entertaining and inspiring shit.
And it all festers. Ugly, rotten, stinking. Anger. Resentment. Bitterness. “Look at the Normies living their happy lives doing happy things with other happy Normies“
I am taking my family to a St. Louis Cardinals game on Wednesday, and I know that if the stars don’t align exactly right and I don’t pro-actively practice NBA-style load management before and after the game, I. Am. Fucked. It is the one thing I want to do this week. For me. For the child from Burkina Faso for whom I am “Da-da,” the Best Damn Host Dad on the Face of God’s Green Earth. And I know… know… that even if I do it exactly right, if everything falls into place, if it’s a “good day,” if we find a good parking spot and the walk to the stadium isn’t too much and if the walk from there to our seats isn’t too far and if I don’t have to pee 948 times like I have been the past week and make 948 trips to a far-away men’s room… even if all of that goes perfectly… it is going to be the one thing I do next week.
In a stadium of fans, I still will be isolated, alone among others for whom this event is one of many that week. They will still be able to think the next day. I will keep going. That’s what I do. I’ll go to work and be the dad and host dad and husband and fixer of the broken (or, at least attempted-fixer-of-the-broken) and baseball adviser to my son and all around jovial chap. But in terms of doing anything else that would be considered an event? Recent history is showing me that’s not likely going to happen.
So my older son will come home from college for his birthday weekend and there will be something I want to do with him but that I can’t. I’ll want to go on a nice romantic walk with my wife to take advantage of having said college boy available to babysit said Burkinabe, but, if the walk happens at all, it’ll be our now-standard Five Minutes Up, Five Minutes Back. There will be a time when the people I love are doing something I would love and I will not.
That’s isolation. That’s COVID.
That’s the life of a Longhauler.