May 4th, 2020 - By Patrick T. McBriarty
So, if you read my last blog post you already know my experience getting knocked down with Coronavirus (now officially, SARS-Cov-2). My original reaction to Corona hit on Monday, March 23 with serious fatigue. I found out later from a doctor’s comment it was symptomatic of becoming hypoxic – like the altitude-sickness experienced by mountain climbers. However, they plan and train for it as part of the climb. I was in my third-floor condo on the couch, a mere 620-feet above sea-level. I hardly felt like I had earned it.
On Thursday, April 2, I walked to Howard Brown, a local clinic, and received a nasal-swab. Eight-days later the results came back – negative. I was and am still certain it was a false-negative, and I indeed had Coronavirus. Knowing my body, having done a lot of research, the significant false-negative report rates (as high as 30%) all reinforced this instinct.
I was mostly useless for the first two-weeks sick merely sleeping, eating, hydrating, relieving myself, and watching videos. These were followed by two additional weeks of coddling myself – with a fearful of a second more debilitating wave. On a good day I could concentrate for 2-4 hours and did get some work done. I continued religiously taking echinacea, vitamin C, D & E, melatonin, and Zinc. Every few days (though hardly stuffy) I rinsed my sinuses with warm salt water, especially on mornings my throat was even a slightly scratchy. I tried to take a walk nearly every day and get some fresh air or at least walk out on the back deck, air out the house, and sleep with my bedroom window cracked open a couple inches. During this time, I finally had enough ambition and energy to change and wash my sheets every 2-3 days to help my recovery.
On April 15, I was making breakfast (not just cereal for a change) with music playing in the background, when suddenly I was taken by the Talking Heads This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody). I am not a dancer, and I don’t dance unless I’ve had many drinks and fun seriously twists my arm. I am not against dancing as a concept, yet it serves no obvious purpose. So as a generally purposeful likely too-controlled person dancing usually makes me overly self-conscious. Yet here I was jigging and bouncing over to the stereo, bobbing my head to turn it up. I was actually dancing without really thinking, then stopped, chuckled at myself and enjoyed the wave of joy wash over me. “Yes,” said my brain — “that was me dancing.” And I chuckled some more and danced a little as (if) no one was watching. To note the moment, I went straight to my laptop and looked up the lyrics to the song, which I share below. They seem quite ironic now. Go ahead play this song, I bet it will make you will feel good too.
This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) lyrics by David Byrne
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me around
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong, nothing
Oh! I got plenty of time
Oh! You got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight
Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be oh!
We drift in…
Having lived through the malaise and fatigue – now totally understanding their meanings – feeling well was a revelation and occasionally euphoric. Yes, I was reconnecting with life and actually dancing for joy – quite out of character! I must confess it has happened a couple more times since.
After COVID it is especially clear, there are a lot of agendas floating around out there, like say . . . a virus! My perspective now seems bigger. The news is a mixture of common sense, a little science (most of it poorly explained), and what I like to characterize as – coughs, sneezes, or spit from various stuffed shirts. The grandest of these is Mr. Cheeto (who came up with that nickname? Hilarious!) obliviously [sic] grandstanding for re-election and feeding his need to be the center of attention. I find it best to stay clear of such folks generously dismissing their bluster with at best a, “Bless their heart.” A southern saying I always suspected was a “f##k you,” someone will thank you for.
A bright spot throughout this crisis has been Governor J.B. Pritzker and Lori Lightfoot the Mayor of Chicago, but even more impressive is any of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings with slides, facts and figures, showing leadership with a common touch, very much on point. These are impressive and reassuring even after recognizing the management consultants McKinsey & Company provide the slides and probably coaching for these daily briefings.
There are quite a few things not being talked about in the press — that ought to be. For instance, is big pharma going to sell a shit-ton of tests at a huge profit? Do people really understand herd immunity? Will someone provide a viable multi-faceted approach to going back to school and work? [As a start, Governor Pritzker has released an initial plan outline on May 5.] Can testing and tracing be put in place to identify future outbreaks and clusters to quarantine folks as needed?
Thankfully I recently read about successful efforts with antibody serums – some happening right here in Chicago – produced from the blood of recovered patients. Such efforts need to be expanded. Although serums are far from offering a 100% cure (probably more like 30%) it is an additional tool in the kit to fight the pandemic and collectively lowering everyone’s risk. During the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 most schools were in session, only a few businesses like dance halls, cabarets, and restaurants were closed, large gatherings were banned including sporting events, and everyone in Chicago was required to wear a mask in public. These decisions were made by local health authorities and supported nationally by the Red Cross, which the federal government gave the task of leading the fight on the epidemic. Learn more about this in the latest episode of the Windy City Historians Podcast.
We are all going to have to take some risks. Similar to the health care workers and essential workers in elemental jobs performing the messy and risky work of helping us get through this — hopefully without getting killed. The rest of us will need to figure out how to operate with what I like to call safe distancing (rather than “social distancing” as a more humane moniker), use face masks, gloves, washing hands, and taking other personal measures to reopen. Waiting for a vaccine (likely 10-18 months out) is not sustainable and we need to be realistic.
So, I remind myself to be grateful. Grateful for the financial wherewithal to not have to live paycheck-to-paycheck or worry about rent or putting groceries on the table. Gratefully most of my friends and family have the same luxury. Meanwhile, I’ll mention it again, essential workers go to work, if they still have a job, and deal with the virus minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour, while a bunch of us hide at home, ordering shit online, watching videos, and whining about no toilet paper. For the privileged a fear of running out is the closest most will get to any real shit.
Decades ago I was a Regan Republican with a masters in economics buying the trickle-down (voodoo) economic bullshit, which seen today clearly squeezed the middle- and lower-classes while boosting the rich. I certainly benefited having saved, invested and received good returns most years. Yet it is time to admit the system is rigged and it is time to correct it.
I knew it was rigged growing up middle class, but now realize life is much less fair than thought, imagined or was led to believe. Defenders of the American dream tout examples that they say happen all the time in an effort to prove naysayers wrong – but more and more those examples are anomalies. Imagine flipping the paradigm so making a good life in the United States was the vast majority and not being able to make it was a rare exception.
At this point it is all too clear the poor and low-income folks are taking a beating from a health, wealth, and income perspective. The question then becomes will we give up more than lip service and actually change the way things work – not just try to make things equitable, but actually fix the disparity economically, educationally, and opportunity-wise so evident amidst this pause and reset.
Time-based business models, exorbitant late fees, double-digit credit card interest rates, and finance charges are just a few elements that create effective debtors’ prisons many cannot get out of. I recall reading James Clavell’s Noble House set in colonial Hong Kong and every transaction included some “squeeze” – a percentage or payoff necessary to make things happen. Seems to me America is now no different – the “squeeze” has simply been institutionalized – everyone has their hand out. Entire corporations and industries have thrived from it… think of all the associated fees and additional costs in getting or completing income taxes, insurance, permitting, real estate or banking transactions.
Imagine an annual tax form that is a single page. Total up the pluses (net income, net capital gains, possibly even net wealth) and multiply this by a percentage from a reference table to calculate the total tax owed. So simple nearly anyone could complete it and pay taxes. Imagine all the extra time and energy we could apply elsewhere instead of collecting receipts, completing confusing forms, and worrying whether you built a strong enough case to avoid being audited. Then imagine if mortgages, health insurance, applying for college, buying a car, and other major life transactions could be as easy as one-click shopping or nearly so. There is so much inefficiency that if removed would make everyone’s life smoother, more productive, and improve the entire economy.
Of course, there are more big questions I have been exploring the past week:
- Does civilization and human advancement really make us happier?
- What causes human dissatisfaction?
- Are tribal societies happier than we are with all our stuff? (i.e. Should I simplify my life?)
- Would I feel better by giving back? And if so how?
- What do I really want to do with my life as soon as stay-at-home orders are relaxed, near and long-term?
Where did all this heavy jibber-jabber come from? Best as I can tell it is two-fold. First my brush with Coronavirus and now feeling normal (well, as close as I get) and not feeling scared, and second the slowdown of life with the stay-at-home order with less pressure to compete, more time, and space to appreciate the small things and contemplate big things too. From reports, various podcasts, and social posts it seems I am not the only one fomenting and formulating how I might contribute to create a better post-Covid America.
Already working part-time for a youth development nonprofit here in Chicago (the Chicago Maritime Arts Center), I hope to find additional ways to make a difference when things begin to open up again and programs, projects, and events can resume.
What are you planning and thinking about?
Probably Tomfoolery . . . check it out on YouTube.