On Having COVID. Again.

There’s now no way to tell if the horrible flu that I contracted in Chicago in the earliest days of 2020 was COVID. There was a particularly nasty H3N2 going around at the time, and the list of symptoms is nearly identical, including loss of taste.

But we’re quite certain that my wife and I contracted COVID back in August, not long after getting our second-dose vaccinations. And now we have it again. (She got boosted in between; I didn’t.)

It’s noticeably worse for both of us this time around. Symptoms are more severe and they’re lasting longer. On the other hand, even considering this, thus far it’s little worse than a particularly horrible cold, with occasional bouts of fever thrown in for variety.

What’s changed in the mean while, however, is the world around us.

Back in early 2020, when everything started shutting down, we were reliably informed that all we had to do to stop the spread was stay home for a couple of weeks — and it worked, sort-of. There was still contagion, mainly because society can’t function when everyone stays home. Someone still has to do the shopping, and sometimes the cooking.

Jacen, one of several people who occasionally delivers our groceries, told me he was unemployed the week I first got sick, but since then he hasn’t had a single day off. (Jacen says he has never had COVID.) He puts in eighty-hour weeks with Uber, InstaCart, and some parcel delivery app that I had never heard of and still can’t find online. He’s frantically saving every penny he can, and he told me he fully expects that his jobs will get outlawed once things go back to normal because “No boss takes a cut, and the bosses don’t like that. No union dues, no politician donations, no manager, save on taxes. Good for me, bad for people with the power. They pass a law before long, and then I get my vacation, you bet.”

Forced unionization is a topic of hot dispute here in Maryland. Everyone outside the industry agrees that it’s what’s best for everyone, because niche workers get cheated out of benefits, vacation time, and a decent wage. All but two of the niche workers I’ve spoken with agree that, the moment the state passes the law that makes them unionize, they’ll be out of a job and all the perks go away. (Apparently, there’s free food sometimes, and some angle they can work with coupons. Plus, the tax advantages of deducting auto mileage on a clunker are amazing.)

We were told to “stop the spread”; we were also told to expect the “new normal”. I’m still trying to work out what that is.

About halfway through 2020, my wife started working from home. She goes to meetings for a living, and she does so five days a week about three feet from my right ear. Apart from some noticeable hearing loss on that side, for the most part I’ve been able to cope by the simple expedient of going to bed at 9 A.M. and working through the night instead. My income has dropped and so has my productivity; on the other hand, she earns more. Besides, it’s quiet at night.

Her employer has introduced low-contact policies and installed air filters in order to protect people who had to go in to the office. Last month, after several starts and stops, they finally reopened and she went back in to work. Her total daily commute is nearly three hours, and once she’s in the office she inevitably has a dozen hours of work to do. Her productivity is much higher on those days where she doesn’t have to drive but instead merely works fourteen hours straight.

(This makes perfect mathematical sense, but I still have no idea how one can measure the productivity of any worker whose job is to attend meetings. My own recollections of corporate life tell me that work is that which is done outside of meetings, and being able to avoid them was the only way to achieve weekly metrics. Not that those measured work either, to be honest.)

She worked from the office for one week. After that, someone reported a COVID contact and she stayed home for a week in order to minimize risk. Week three, she went back in and promptly caught COVID from someone in the office. And I caught it from her.

If this is the “new normal”, I’m compelled to predict a few changes still ahead of us.

Both times (or is it all three?) that I’ve had this, I’ve lost some of my sense of taste. My wife lost everything, but for me I get a diminution in every characteristic of food with the curious addition of an overwhelming flavor of tin. Cookies and tea taste about the same, but orange juice has turned into something unspeakable. I made a chili the other day and had no idea I’d overspiced it until I accidentally rubbed one of my eyes. Plus side? My sinuses cleared completely for the first time in a week.

The real pain in the ass is a major loss in my ability to concentrate. Writing has become extremely difficult; writing coherently approaches the impossible. On the plus side, I mostly work with politics, and there’s not much out there worth discussing. Not that I’m capable of writing about, at least.

An example: I’ve got something worth saying about the SCOTUS leak and its likely impact on Roe v. Wade. Nobody else seems to have noticed, and I feel it would be an insight which the national dialogue could benefit from. On the other hand, I’ve been trying to assemble the complex thought into an easily communicated form for over a week with no measurable success. (Then too, the odds that anyone would read and be impacted by my insight are fairly slim, and since it’s not alarmist, nobody would ever pay for it. So why bother?)

Recovery is a process. A glacially slow, frustrating process.

What makes it worse is, I’m quite confident that our “new normal” will become, for me, little more than a continual cycle of COVID-and-recovery that takes a month-long bite out of my life for every six that pass. Every time I catch this, it gets marginally worse; every recovery takes a wee bit longer. I’ve been following developments in vaccines; there are almost none on the horizon. We’ve passed the million-dead milestone with little fanfare, and it seems we’re now reduced to acceptance and surrender.

Three and a half years ago, the post-apocalyptic game Fallout 76 came out, and I remember having some doubts about the scenario. I found it hard to accept the willingness of the population to march blindly toward the end of civilization while doing nothing to prevent it, all the while building a massive bunker system and stockpiling canned water.

It’s far more plausible today.

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