And on Day 111, she could smell. No, really smell. Smell that the honey-scented soap that she bought in the hopes of making her nose happy, which heretofore had smelled like lemon and had a certain copperyness to it, which then suddenly smelled like honey. And her laundry smelled like laundry. And awful smell of the upstairs neighbors’ incense first smelled like burning and then a full on walk down Rte 116, where it becomes East Pleasant Street in Amherst, Massachussets on a warm spring day in the 90s because Nag Champa. It is lovely. it is jarring. Also, please be nice to your neighbors re: incense.
Something shifted at about day 80, when I noticed I was no longer inventing words, no longer having so many spoonerisms (that’s when you thoo dis with words), no longer unable to follow my own train of thought. And then a few weeks later, I noticed I could remember strings of numbers and letters again, something which had eluded me and which makes internetting downright clumsy. Seriously, I almost cried in the Apple Store when they had me reset my Appleid and I could not remember the password I had just set not three minutes later.
And then this, this return of smell to a deeper level than what I had in recent months, though again, as an unquantifiable, I am not sure how close I am to where I was when this all started. But a few weeks ago? I tasted honey and it did not taste like vomit. And that is what we call progress.
On May 25th, when I was diagnosed with Covid, many things went through my head. Among them were, “please don’t let this be fatal,” and then “please don’t let this be serious” and then, my G-d who art wherever you are are or not, please “no long Covid.” Also, it was this: if this doesn’t ruin my life, I’m going to the United States.
For nearly two years I had been wanting to see my family, reconnect, replace that last memory of saying goodbye to my sister in the Raleigh airport after our mother’s death, after cleaning out a lifetime of living and putting her house on the market. I know you came here for Covid, but what is Covid without talking about death? We were so lucky our mother got sick and died before Covid ravaged our families. We would have had to say goodbye on the telephone. My mind sputters and my eyes well up just thinking about it. I recall my niece and nephew saying goodbye to their grandmother via FaceTime and rue the day any of us lived farther than a 5 second walk down a hallway from one another. But such is life and distance and death and growing up and unfairness (refrain: and we were so lucky).
But Covid. Before I got Covid, I was too panicked to get on a plane (or a bus, or a metro, or even in a car) because I might get Covid in transit, and might bring Covid to my remaining family, might incur catastrophic medical bills in a place where I don’t have health insurance. So panic kept me moored to my city, and the lockdowns kept me moored to my neighborhood, and much of the time, to my house,
And then I got Covid. I was Covid. In the box (what we call the exam room, which, even after 17 years here still makes me laugh), I said to the doctor, “If this doesn’t go badly, I’m going to the United States to see my family.” “Yes,” he said. “And while you’re there, get the Pfizer” (this may be foreshadowing).
But before I can tell you about mild, breakthrough Covid six months out, I have to tell you that when I was about 2 weeks out I had a virtual appointment with an infectious disease specialist. I wanted to know if he thought that my breakthrough infection was something to worry about, a failure to mount a good response to the vaccine, and I wanted to know what he thought about me getting another vaccine. I was also having POTS, tachycardia and crazy blood pressure swings, and wanted to know if it warranted a visit to the cardiologist. We talked about all of that, and he said to wait a couple of weeks and see if it resolved. And then he said to me, “This is not medical advice, but if I were going to the United States…” and I said, “I’m way ahead of you.” The blood pressure and POTS and tachycardia mellowed out after about a month, I believe. I am not as aware of them, though I get spates of dizziness that last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. I’m still not sure what’s causing them, and while they are unpleasant, I hate to complain about something that isn’t ruining my life. It’s not like I was an acrobat in my previous life, you know? A third doctor, who I had to talk to to get a letter explaining my Covid and recovery for the airlines repeated the refrain. It sounded like this, “get an MRNA vaccine.”
Post Covid and thrice advised, I was determined to go to the US. But not so quickly. At the time, you had to apply for permission to leave Chile. I could go on a giant angrysad diatribe here about how many times I had to apply and how many times they rejected me, and how can a country keep a citizen of another country IN the second country, but I won’t for a variety of reasons. Suffice it to say, there were emotions.
And the emotions came and came. When I got the permission, when I told my sister that good news, when I showed the permission to the airline. When I landed in the United States. When I got to my friends’ house in Jackson Heights. When I went immediately and did not pass go, to get a Pfizer vaccine within 2 hours of landing at JFK. All of it, so much emotion.
And I’m back now, but before I was back I was there. And I saw wild mushrooms and cooked at people’s houses and did so much jigsawing and I walked and smelled things and I swam so very many times, in oceans (ok, ocean) and bays and at a secret watering hole I will not tell the location of. This trip was incredibly fortunate, unbelievably life-affirming. I wanted to be there forever in the suspended animation of a constant cast of characters who want to hear about your pain, your isolation, your Covid. Who want to tell you about their ailing parents, errant cousins, how their social circles have expanded or (mostly) contracted. Who want you to spend time in their basement, in their guest room, in their yard in the hammock chairs, just swinging, talking and catching up and just saying, I can’t believe we’re going through this right now, and also my goodness, your children are huge, and I missed you so much and I can’t wait to see you again. And it was glorious. And I am so thankful, and thankful to be back home again.
Even as it was wonderful, I had, and continued to have, a weird kind of stasis. I’m a little less excitable, a little less anxious, I feel not as in touch with some kind of burning creativity. Not as inspired, not as umphy, a bit less chutzpah. I can’t tell if that’s a feature of age, pandemic fatigue, the two year fugue post parental death, post (or pre-) civil unrest (run-off elections coming up Dec 19 between far-apart left and right factions), or having had Covid. I keep waiting for it to lift, and then alternately, trying to make peace with it. Doing all the things, to see if they light a spark. But maybe I’m expecting the wrong thing? I feel like rather than a rush of fire, maybe I am going to come back online slowly, a bit like a fan I just repaired. It used to be that the motor would hum, but it took a while for the blades to start spinning. So I opened up its various parts, cleaned and repositioned and pulled out a few very long Eileen hairs, and now it turns on and spins immediately. I want to be like the fan. Slow and steady and then something fixes me and I am off and running. And at multiple speeds, even!
I don’t feel down, I don’t feel sad, I don’t (think I) feel depressed. It’s like I’m waiting for my motor to engage fully, and I don’t really know why it won’t. In the meantime, I’m doing all the things. Eating beautiful food, seeing people I adore. Exercise, weightlifting, salsa classes, biking, so many walks. Noticing and photos and plants and architecture. I bought a special piece of furniture to do inversion on (supported shoulder stands) when I was in the states, and I’m upside-downing to my heart’s content (but not when I’m dizzy, obviously). I bought a hammock for the living room. I meditate and read, and listen to a ton of podcasts, and my Portuguese is getting better. But still a little less sparky than I recall. And specifically, less wordsmithy, which is a problem see: chosen career.
Once upon a time I read this piece of advice in a cyclist’s training book I read, thinking I would maybe become a much better cyclist (spoiler, not really). It was something along the lines of, “you are always either improving or worsening when it comes to training. Every day you are either strong or weaker than the day before.”
For fitness? Maybe. But as a piece of advice for life, it’s downright toxic. You never have to be better than you were the day before, because every day is different, and how you are is just how you are. So I’ve been trying to excise from my brain this advice I swallowed so willingly, and just willing myself to just be, spark or not.
Even if my motor is kind of idling.
I just read a literature review of 57 studies in the JAMA about long Covid and its mental affects, and it says the following:
In this systematic review of 57 studies comprising more than 250 000 survivors of COVID-19, most sequelae included mental health, pulmonary, and neurologic disorders, which were prevalent longer than 6 months after SARS-CoV-2 exposure.
I don’t know if I should take this as good or bad news, that it’s all in my head or that it’s all in my head. I am SO THANKFUL for vaccines and that I don’t have the kind of long Covid that makes you unable to do your basic life things (living, breathing, eating, working, etc). One of the cadre of doctors that I saw (ok, 2) called it “mini long Covid.” But still, if someone sees my get up and go, if you could send it this way, I would be most appreciative. Or if you want to share your tale of get up and go that has also got up and went, I can listen to that, too. And yes, I’m going to do the stabby stabby and get my blood tested to make sure it’s not vitamin D or B12 or something else, and keep on keeping on (blog, newsletter, etc) and see if that can’t get me back to that sparky Eileen we all know and some of us love.
Next up (most likely). One woman, five vaccines. What being from two countries does to your immune system.