I have had a tough couple weeks. I have had a tough year. It is hard to get perspective on anything. So, a story:
Last Wednesday, after a few days of feeling especially stressed, I was working on my computer, trying to schedule something. It was a complicated thing, but I was dealing with it. Until I wasn't. Within about a half hour, my brain seemed to fog over, I lied down, and started coughing, a persistent, hacking cough, hard enough to make me dizzy from lack of breath when I stood up. "Oh shit" I thought "is this it?". I had been pretty good about not going out, but about five days previously, I had ridden on a bus, where three people had foregone wearing masks. Was that it, I wondered? I had a hard time sleeping that night. The next day, I felt washed out, half-there. I don't really remember the sequence of events too well. The next day, I scheduled a Covid-19 test, under the belief (that I now realize is mistaken) that testing should be done as soon as possible. I went to the testing site, out at the fairgrounds, had a Q-Tip shoved up my left nostril (they asked which one I would prefer, and I thought "well, my right nostril is obviously the one I use more, lets do it to the left", and after a brief jab, I was done. And then, the waiting. And the sickness. The sickness was nowhere near the sickest I have felt, but it was, in a subjective sense, in its own category. I never developed a fever. I had a persistent, hacking cough, a fatigue and confusion that it is hard to explain, a total lack of appetite and diarrhea (or would have, if I had eaten anything), an altered sense of taste and smell, and some slight visual disturbances, as well as a weird sensation that my torso was being pushed on or pinched. After a few days, I made myself eat. I started to get some energy back. And six days after I took my test, I got the result back: negative. Which left me just as confused.
Eight days after my first coughing fit, I still feel fatigued and am coughing intermittently. There are two explanations for what is going on:
- After a really, long, stressful year, one where I have been anticipating illness for months, I got some other type of minor infection and flipped out. I amplified the symptoms in my mind, and it sent me down the spiral of fear and anxiety until I couldn't eat or think. This could be a psychosomatic reaction to a very hard time.
- As a young person who was otherwise healthy and had minimal symptoms, I was infected, but got a false negative on the test. Perhaps the viral load was not very heavy in my upper respiratory track. Maybe it was still building up at that point. Maybe the technician down at the fairgrounds dropped my Q-Tip on the ground and replaced it with another one. Who knows? Apparently, false negatives can be pretty high for these tests, especially if someone takes the test too soon after developing symptoms.
Which one of these is the case? I have no idea. I know that my own feelings of illness are mostly subjective. I can't say that just because I feel a certain way, that a scientific test is inaccurate. I am not the only case, but given my lack of classical symptoms, such as a fever and sore throat, I wouldn't blame someone for not believing me.
But here is where my personal anecdote can segue into an important point that seems to be objectively true:this disease is weird. It started in China, and first leapfrogged to Iran and Italy, before it had even reached some parts of China. In Vietnam, a densely populated country next to China, it has not caused a single fatality (as of this writing). In Chile, the disease was under control for a long time before exploding into one of the worst centers of the disease. In the United States, its center of infection has roved like a spotlight across the country, with major peaks in infections and deaths seeming to not tie precisely in with activities that could cause it. Florida "reopened its economy" seemingly without consequence...until it got hit with a sledgehammer, a month later. The current theory is the disease mostly spreads through small droplets of saliva, but it might also be left on surfaces, or remain airborne for longer periods. It perhaps spreads rapidly through "super spreader" events, but not so much through normal activities. It can be asymptomatic (and apparently, can be spread by asymptomatic people), it can cause something indistinguishable from a cold or (as Brazil's jackass of a President, Jair Bolsonaro would have it) "a little flu", or it can cause deadly pneumonia, or multiple organ failure. It seems to be most dangerous to the elderly and those with other conditions, but it also infects much younger people, and causes a rare inflammatory response in children, Kawasaki Disease. It is unclear whether the antibodies that people develop to it persist, or whether people can be reinfected. It is unclear how many strains of the virus exist, and whether some are more infectious or deadly than others. Some people have symptoms, even a syndrome, months after the infection should have been on its way. There is gathering evidence that some people (such as, perhaps, myself), get complicated symptoms, while avoiding the most obvious hallmarks of the disease. And right now, no one has sorted this out. The prognosis of the disease in the individual, and the epidemiological spread of the disease, are both scientifically poorly understood right now.
Oh, btw, for those of us in the United States (and also for anyone in Brazil), this disease landed at a time when the country lacked any type of leadership, and when societies ability to discuss things in any reasonable way, were absent.
Writing these things does not mean I am engaging in conspiracy theories. The fact that this disease had many question marks about it does not mean that it is a bioweapon or a 5th dimensional entity masquerading as a virus or a way for the Wayfairer company to infect our minds. Some of the basic science behind the disease, such as wearing masks and avoiding contact with other people, is really obvious.
I am mostly writing this, as a time capsule for myself, and for others: science might iron these things out with pedestrian explanations very shortly. In a year, most of this might be understood, and we might be putting this behind us. But right now? I, we, are at the bottom of a well, feeling the cold water run higher. Almost nothing that is going on makes sense to us, and it is scary.