This post is adapted from a thread that I tweeted on April 6, updated.
I got some blood work back recently, and am here to tell you that Covid-19 is a weird disease.
Here’s what went down . . .
On a grocery store run sixteen days ago (March 24), exhaustion hit me out of nowhere, like a bag of doorknobs was challenging my immune system. I went home and told Justine (who’s immunocompromised!) that I had to leave right away. Luckily I had a place to isolate.
Spoiler: Justine still has no symptoms after two weeks, so we got lucky. If you feel symptoms and are able to isolate from the rest of your household, it’s worth it to do so quickly. At least use different dishes, hand towels, etc. (She’s also written about her experience in isolation.)
The first days were REALLY weird, halfway between a gnarly flu and a gnarly party drug. Yes, a party drug—when I get a bad flu, I often feel trippy for a few hours before the illness proper hits. With this thing, that disassociated feeling stuck around FOR A WEEK.
The newness of coronavirus was palpable. Neither the disease nor my body seemed to know what they were supposed to do. My joints fizzed, like Alka Seltzer was stuck behind my kneecaps. I could somehow FEEL the clockwork of self-replicating whirligigs at war in my bloodstream.
The progress of the disease was chaotic, with lots of pendulum swings in my symptoms. In some ways, a new disease isn’t an Invasion narrative; it’s a First Contact story. The virus thought I was a pangolin, and my immune system was hunting mosquitos with a bazooka.
Equally trippy was that this global event (freighted with discourses about race, foreignness, and capitalism) to shift from a distant, abstract news story to something fizzing away in MY ACTUAL BODY.
Having flown through Beijing in early November, I’d read tons about the virus, and here it was transcribing itself in my cells. (Fatally? I wondered, because I’m a 56-yo man with family heart issues.) It was like Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony,” with my crime being . . . globalism?
So that was my headspace for that trippy first week. But whatever mayhem my immune system had committed to, in the end it worked. The disease didn’t worm it’s way deep into my lungs, and I never went to a hospital. Here in NYC, hospitals are for people who can’t breathe, and my GP’s working assumption was that home is safer than an ER bottleneck. So I treated myself with sleep, water, electrolytes, and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Testing here is also reserved for people who can’t breathe. But recently I was strong enough to go to a lab and rule out walking pneumonia, lymphoma, etc. I’ve been exposed, and my symptoms match my tested friends’. We’re fairly positive it’s Covid. (It’ll interesting to get a serological test, once they become available.)
The second week was better, but still weird. Some days are good (that late-illness thing when being at 70% is LOVELY). Other days, there’s a short-bladed carpet knife stuck in my chest. My heart is fluttery and my lungs feel reedy and inadequate.
Many researchers think Covid attacks the autonomic nervous system, and I’m on their side. There are still monkey wrenches in my breathing and heartbeat, though I’ve never lost my smell or taste, as some friends have.
Despite the swings, the rolling average of my health is trending up. Writing is hard (this thread took days, lol) but my creative back-burners have somehow stayed lit. The new Uglies quartet has acquired a wild new ending! (*Not* a future pandemic, ffs.)
Overall, novelist is a lucky job when you get a novel disease; I have months to catch up for these lost weeks. And I’ve enjoyed reading for pleasure more than usual (and recommend the bleakly witty Ling Ma’s Severance).
Of course, my thoughts are with everyone in book world—and everywhere else—who’s furloughed, laid off, or simply uncertain about the future. This sucks for all of us. I’m glad to see us humans working together in the ways we have.
Trust me, you do NOT want this disease. But for me it’s a relief to be on the other side, rather than still waiting for the storm to hit. The acquired immunity situation is unclear, but that which does not kill us . . . hasn’t killed us yet.
As always, wash your hands and stay safe. This thing rolls a lot of dice, and not everyone will be lucky.