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Coping with Covid

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

We live in strange and fearful times. While everything is strange and unfamiliar, these days, not every fear is based in reality. The devilish part is that we can never know which fears are, and which fears aren’t.

Every day, a trickle of tiny symptoms—a slight cough, a tickle in the back of the throat, an aching shoulder, a runny nose—swell into a flood of doubts and worries. They could be foreshadows of the dreaded disease and the final darkness. 

I question everything about my activities over the last few days. I have, of course, worn my masks religiously—but what about that guy who didn’t, the guy who was nice enough to hold the door for me at the post office? And what about that couple who ignored the one-way aisles at the grocery store? If they didn’t follow that simple safety precaution, then, what other health rules might they have ignored in the past two weeks? What if they were politically-averse to following any rules? What if they don’t even believe that the virus is real? What chance do I even have to survive in a world where such dangerously anti-social behavior is rampant?

What if that strange tightness I feel in my chest is the beginning of my lungs shutting down? I check my temperature. It’s normal. I check my pulse and oxygen levels. My pulse is just as it always is. My oxygen is down a little—95%—but I have asthma, so I should expect that. Oh wait… asthma, combined with my advanced age, are preconditions that tell me I would probably not survive a brush with Covid-19!

Thinking all of these thoughts, it becomes increasingly difficult to sleep at night.

Thoughts are not the only things keeping me awake. A tightness in my chest keeps me tossing and turning. No position change makes breathing any easier. But I had checked all the vital readings I could, didn’t I? 

What if it is something else? I’m old enough to have any number of age-related problems. What if it is my heart? Wait—I notice a dull pain running down the inside of my left arm! Isn’t that a sign of a heart attack? My breathing becomes more difficult.

How bloody ironic. I could die, in my own bed, a victim of my own heart, and Covid would have nothing to do with it. It could be that this is the very night I will die. It would make no difference to me—since I’d be dead—but it would be a very unpleasant thing for my wife to wake up to. Still, it would be better not to die, right? 

Should I wake her, and ask to be taken to the hospital? Do I need to get dressed? Really—does it matter what I look like in the emergency room? Is this even an emergency? What an incredible waste of time, money, and medical resources it would be if this is not a heart attack! My wife wakes during my ten thousandth spin under covers, and asks if I’m alright. I hesitate, then tell her about my symptoms—without offering my amateur diagnosis. She asks if she should take me to the hospital.

I answer, “I don’t think that’s necessary.” I try to go back to sleep, but my chest feels like a tourniquet is being twisted ever tighter around it. I can even feel it between my shoulder blades. I don’t even want to move, lest I gasp for air and frighten my already worried wife. I can’t remember if this is what a heart attack feels like—a spear passing clear through the body.

The tightness is nothing I remember ever having experienced before, but something about what I’m feeling—in the space between my shoulder blades—is familiar. I’ve never had heart trouble of any kind, but I recognize this sensation. I recall that, over fifty years ago, while I was still in school, I went to college infirmary with a similar pain. The doctor handed me over to one of the Phys Ed instructors. He was also a physical therapist, so he massaged my back and told me to soak in a hot tub. The pain subsided.

I got out of bed without waking my wife, dug around in the bathroom until I could locate a heating pad. After warming it up, I slipped it between me and the bed, and waited. Before long, I fell asleep. 

In the morning, the tightness was gone. It was just a muscle spasm. Neither Covid nor a heart attack would take me that day.

Still, I find it curious that our evolution has provided us with ways to prepare for our own demise. It’s something that no other species has developed, or needed to develop. As we age, we gradually receive little hints of the impending end—one by one, our powers diminish in a accelerating increase of little deaths, signaling the relentless workings of entropy—making it easier to accept its inevitability. If we live long enough, most of what makes us who we are will have gone before we, ourselves, are gone. 

If we’re willing to accept these losses in the spirit in which they’re given, we can find peace in the only universe we will ever know.


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December 12, 2020 at 1:14 PM  

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