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OP-ED: And the virus comes home

  • Published at 01:07 pm January 23rd, 2021

It is people at the lower end of the socio-economic structure who have borne the brunt of Covid-19

t had to happen at some point. I work for a college, regularly run into people every day walking my dog, where we have lighthearted conversations in small groups instinctively, and hang out with friends once in a while. Even with the best precautions, the odds were against being completely safe from the Covid-19 menace. The odds won. But so did I.

That November morning that my freshly brewed coffee smelled like plain water, I knew the virus had gotten to me. Some of the other usual symptoms followed in quick and painful order, literally and figuratively: Mild fever, body aches, loss of taste, and the coup de grace of extreme exhaustion that made a trip from the bedroom to the kitchen feel like a veritable Herculean effort. Within a couple of days, I also learned that my brother and my closest friend had both contracted the virus. 

I wish I could share some profound, sage-like wisdom from my illness but I cannot, because there have been millions of others who have had it worse and thousands who didn’t live to tell the tale. 

What I can tell you is that precautions are necessary, but not foolproof, and with some effort, grit, luck, and a good support system, you come out alright, albeit chastened as to the power of nature abundant even in its tiniest organisms.

In so many ways, I was blessed as I battled the onslaught, apogee, inflection, and recovery points of my personal duel with the virus. Even as we were working from home, my boss signed off on a week-long sick leave and my team members stepped up to pitch in the vacuum. 

Friends and family who checked in via text and phone but knew the delicate balance between a “let me know if you need anything” and an exhaustingly long conversation. Neighbours, alerted something was wrong when my car didn’t leave the driveway for days, stopped by with food. My roommate Copper -- a German shepherd/golden retriever mix hound -- instinctively started keeping vigil by my bedside. 

Delivery personnel, from groceries and restaurants, were folks for whom I developed a new appreciation as lifelines. Of course, there was Netflix to keep me company in that isolation of almost three weeks, during which the only outing I did was the quick walk with Copper each day that I could.

The isolation and the exhaustion left the most indelible marks. Weeks after I am back to normal physically (and with a certain limited immunity too), the muscle memory of being cut-off from others and the helplessness felt in even taking a few steps is almost ingrained. 

The disconnect from the society of others for weeks adds a sense of darkness to one’s thoughts, one’s remembrances, and one’s outlook; fondly remembered memories feel less trustworthy than before, and the most optimistic possibilities of life take on a shade of doubt on their own. 

For a person who runs with his dog almost every day, recalling that just the other day he could barely make it to the living room is a humbling thought.

Perhaps such a reminder of human frailty is one of the mystic purposes of ailments and illnesses, especially if they do not end your innings for good that is! 

In the most advanced economy in the world, and blessed with decent health and reasonable comforts of life, I was reduced to a shadow of myself for a few weeks by a virus small enough that I can never see it. How is that for a comeuppance of nature, as my environmentalist friends are bound to say.

Dark-natured philosophizing aside, I am lucky. Not necessarily by chance of a dice but that at the moment I became a victim to a raging pandemic, I was blessed to have a support system and resources that, together, made the difference between suffering and unpleasantness or, perhaps, indeed between death and living. 

It is not a coincidence that in the United States, as elsewhere, it is the people at the lower end of the socio-economic structure who have borne a disproportionate brunt of the Covid-19 virus: Daily wage earners, folks without formal health care coverage, individuals living in close quarters out of necessity, and the like.

Call it luck or chalk it up to the blessings of my late maternal grandmother who prayed for her grandchildren almost to the last hour of her incredible life, it worked for me this time. As the great martyr of the Anglican Church John Bradford is thought to have said: “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” 

Esam Sohail is a college administrator and writes from Kansas, USA. He can be reached at [email protected]

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