KANSAS CITY — I am thankful for my mild to moderate symptoms.
Of course, I don’t know for sure that I have covid-19, because there is no testing where I live. People talk about testing on TV all day long. Usually, I’m listening through a scrim of fitful sleep. It’s like being stuck in the Loch Ness Monster programming on basic cable. There is no Nessie and no testing, but the talk goes on and on and on.
The closest I came to being tested was on Saturday. After my wife spent an entire day on the phone, a nice doctor met me in an emergency room parking lot and taught me to put on a mask. Then she had me stand by the car while she listened to my lungs. She smiled under her mask and said, “Given your symptoms, we’ll assume that you have it. Come back if you get worse.”
I don’t want to come back, even if I might get a test.
My mild to moderate symptoms are plenty for me.
How was I exposed? I did not travel during the outbreak. I don’t mix in large groups. (On second thought, there was a college basketball game.) I earn my living by solitary work from my own home, and I adopted every recommended hygiene and distancing technique weeks before the president took the pandemic seriously. Bottom line: I don’t know where I picked it up. It’s everywhere.
The first symptom was fever. I figured I had the flu. No such luck. The mild to moderate symptoms of this coronavirus make garden-variety flu seem like a tea party. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) described the relentless, soul-sapping fever as being hit by “a ton of bricks.” It’s funny: Thirty years ago, Mario was a hotshot young politician and I was a hotshot young reporter in Miami. I don’t think either one of us spent much time thinking about malaise. Now we are a couple of aging gentlemen flattened by a ton of bricks.
My image is more particular. Seven days into the waves of fever, I was drifting half in and half out of sleep. I was wearing a down jacket with the hood cinched around my head. I was buried under the covers, teeth chattering. A week like that is a very long time. (Nine days, and counting, is still longer.)
In my weird dream, I was on the high-winter prairie. I was on horseback. The ground was black mud, and where the animals stepped, the impressions of their shoes froze almost immediately. Meanwhile, a hard, freezing rain was falling, filling the ruts with ice water. I fell from the horse into the mud. The horse kept walking over me. I couldn’t stand up.
Those are my mild to moderate symptoms. And I’m thankful for them. Because I don’t have certain other symptoms — not yet. My headaches have been few. For many covid-19 sufferers, the headaches are excruciating. My lungs are working well, which means I don’t have to enter the hospital.
It’s going to be a race now to see whether I can finish this column before I pass out. Writing even this much has been the most taxing thing I’ve done in a week, since I finished my last column in a delirium.
What I want to convey is that the virus we’ve been bracing for is now here. We jawboned about it for a month while it grew by 100,000 cases — mine included. Now the disease is racing at close to 10,000 cases per day. Those of us on the frontier with our mild to moderate symptoms want to tell you this is nothing to trifle with. This is no time to step off the gas.
That most of us will survive this nasty, grueling, humiliating disease is no reason to imagine that fighting it might be costlier than giving in to it. The idea that we’re on the brink of a return to normalcy is flatly insane. We’re barely saying hello to covid-19 in its mild and moderate mercies. That phrase itself reflects the blithe taxonomy of pandemic triage — whatever doesn’t kill you must be mild or moderate. It only makes sense in the context of a far deadlier version of the virus that, if allowed to run wild, will shatter public confidence in our leaders for years to come.
I am thankful for my mild to moderate symptoms. I’m not sure I could survive anything worse.
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