This is the first in a six-part series about the small but surprisingly significant price I paid for deciding the pandemic was over and it was time to start living my life. But it’s also about some of the important lessons I learned about perception, from dealing with long-covid symptoms.
By masking up, avoiding crowds, socializing outdoors, getting vaccinated and boosted my wife and I managed to avoid covid for over two years. She very correctly predicted at the beginning of the pandemic: “We don’t want to get this virus in the first wave.” And by being super cautious, we didn’t. But our virtual prison sentence, which had left us physically well after two years, had also left at least me, psychologically sick and tired of always staying within a few miles of home.
I thought it was time to get out of town. I’m not sure my wife agreed.
Last April, I convinced her to take our first plane trip since the pandemic began. My brother, who I hadn’t seen in years, was taking his entire family to Disney World, so we decided to meet up with him there. The mask laws were still in effect, and since the weather was warm and sunny each day, we were able to socialize and eat all our meals outdoors. It was a great trip.
But the day we flew back, the government lifted the mask regulations. The plane was packed. Very few people were wearing masks. We masked up the entire time except while we ate. This apparently was a mistake. As one epidemiologist explained in an article we both read after we got back: “Taking your mask off even for just a few minutes on a plane is like rolling a window down on a submarine. Definitely not a good idea.”
Two days later my wife started coughing and blowing her nose. In addition to her cold symptoms, she experienced a slight fever on two nights. She tested negative for Covid on two rapid tests. I wasn’t showing any signs or symptoms ten days later. I thought I had dodged a bullet.
The next day, I started experiencing the exact same symptoms as she had. I had one bad night where I thought I had a fever, and it was a bit difficult to breath. But that was the worst of it. I also tested negative twice on a rapid test. We were convinced we had contracted the same really bad cold: She got it on the plane, and I got it ten days later from her.
Believe it or not, it was power-washing our house that made me realize I had actually contracted covid. You can’t help getting soaked when you are standing on a ladder blasting your house with water. So, each night, I would take off my wet clothes and wet sneakers and put the clothes into to the washing machine and leave the sneakers out to dry nearby. The laundry area just happened to be a short distance away from where my wife and I would watch TV on most nights. When my wife came into the TV room that first night she said: “It smells terrible in here.”
“No it doesn’t, I replied. You must be imagining it.” Since she made no further complaints and I couldn’t smell a thing, I figured it couldn’t have been that bad. The second night was the same story. On the third night she said: “I know what smells so bad. It’s your sneakers.” I was so sure she was wrong I went around the corner lifted one sneaker and held it over my nose. I remember shouting back: “I don’t smell a thing. They’re fine.”
FINALLY, a light bulb went off in my head. These old, wet sneakers really SHOULD be smelling bad.
So, I gave myself my own covid test. Not a rapid test mind you, because apparently, they don’t work very well. Here’s a test that apparently does work: All through the pandemic, whenever I had a dry scratchy throat, or a slight cough or a runny nose, I would open a tube of toothpaste and if I could smell it, I assumed I didn’t have Covid. That test worked every time, it was reassuring, and sure enough, those minor symptoms were always short-lived.
But this time when I took the test, for the first time in over two years, and a week after I thought I had recovered from what I assumed was a bad cold, when I took a whiff of the open tube: There was no smell whatsoever!
Eventually I would pay what feels like a stiff, long-covid price for deciding it was time to get out of house. But that first week after recovering from what I thought was a cold, where I didn’t know I had diminished taste and smell, taught me some interesting lessons about how many assumptions we make about the world around us that are based entirely on false information.