We’re all sick to death of covid. As the fatality rate goes down, so does our attention span–and who can blame us? It’s been around for over two years. We’ve worn our masks, made friends with people while having no idea of what the bottom half of their faces look like, foregone air travel,and discovered a whole new dimension to “eating out.” (The day a friend and I sipped wine on a terrace with a seaside view and were suddenly plunged into hypothermia when a squall blew in from the sound is my most cherished memory of this era. What’s yours?)

The worst part of all this, for me at least, has been the lack of information. “Maybe” this, “possibly” that–the data has been squishy. Scarred by the past president, we’ve disdained anecdotal evidence–we want the science. Unfortunately we’re all the subjects in a global petri dish. The plain truth is nobody knows where this is going.

Yes, I understand. This coronavirus is novel, in every sense of the word. But as we wait for hard facts from the scientific community, we’re overlooking information garnered from past experience. I don’t know about you but I could have used some of that in the past three weeks.

I won’t say I sailed through covid–there were more days than I care to remember when it took sheer grit and determination to make coffee in the morning. My symptoms were ones I’d had many times before in my seventy-plus years, a runny nose, a mean little cough, a slight elevation in temperature that made me feel as though I was underwater. They were easy to live with. What was tough was the physical exhaustion and the prevailing sense of malaise. I spent thirteen days sitting in an armchair, feet up, with no enthusiasm for anything at all. 

On the morning that I tested negative, I was thrilled. Time to get moving, I thought with a sense of honest-to-god glee. As a carrot to lure me out of the covid wasteland, I’d bought a plane ticket and I began thinking of what I had to do in the next ten days before getting the hell out of town. Then I discovered that although the virus was gone, the exhaustion wasn’t. Doing laundry had me taking to my bed as soon as I’d put it away. A walk of a few blocks made me so tired I was in bed before sundown. It’s been ten days since I was covid-free and my energy is still missing in action. Yesterday I postponed my trip. 

Friends twenty and thirty years younger than I who had covid before I got it told me recently that they were uncharacteristically tired for weeks after their tests were negative. One of them felt this way even though she had taken antivirals while she was sick. She eventually regained her energy as have other people whom I know but it wasn’t an instant process.

Here’s where covid stops being nothing more than a bad cold. It attacks the core, the part of us that makes us feel happy to be alive, and the recuperation process can be lengthy. I wish I’d known that before I bought a ticket and made plans to see distant friends. If nothing else, it would have saved me a lot of disappointment. 

So if you get this, be kind to yourself. Don’t try to gallop back into life as you know it because that’s probably not going to happen. Ease into it, one block, one mile, one lunch date at a time, and feel appreciative of each baby step you take. There’s no choice involved. For the time being and for god knows how long, covid’s still the boss.

A recent NYT article reported findings that, even when a DIY test comes up negative while the tester has symptoms, this may simply mean the virus hasn’t enough strength to make a T line. Although the article referred to people who had recently begun to feel unwell, it seems logical that the same might apply to those who are just beginning to feel better. It would certainly explain why twelve days after I am purportedly “over” this damned thing, I still cough and feel tired. What the article didn’t point out, and what I wish I knew, is whether or not we’re still contagious with these covid traces lingering on. Even more unsettling is the possibility that “long covid” might mean that some of us have become not only permanently infected but permanent carriers.

This is all so dystopian that I feel as though I should be wearing a fetching little chapeau made of tin foil. But I just discovered yesterday that Alaska Airlines’ legendary customer service has been downgraded to a robotic voice over the phone with no option to speak to a human. Unbelievable, but true. Now I’ll believe anything.