The unmasked guy behind Tim and me on a flight from Michigan to Colorado coughed like someone trying out for the Guinness Book of World Records. An annoyance for sure, but our KN95s* remained secure in place.
The following morning, I had a slight cough, appropriate living in a dry, high elevation climate. Tim and I went on a robust walk, memory of the barking fellow fading into the past. By the end of the day, fits of coughs and chills had taken residency within me. “I must have caught whatever Gréta had,” I tell Tim, who a day later explains his excessive tiredness as the result of two very busy weeks.
By the third day, my symptoms were escalating and we went to urgent care for a COVID test. “Tim,” I know his tendency to over-care when it comes to me, “I don’t want to see a doctor,” I say. But instead of waiting for me in the car, Tim is standing in the line behind me close enough to feel his breath on the back of my neck. I tell the woman checking me in, “I just want the test.” Then a voice behind me, “She needs to see a medical staff.” My bossy pants husband taking charge as I surrender to another cough spell.
On account of my compromised lungs, the PA orders an X-ray (it could be pneumonia), swabs (maybe it’s strep), blood work (liver function), etc. I offer the possibility that it’s some flu that seems to be going around. “My whole family has caught something and it wasn’t COVID,” I say as if my words could impact my outcome. “I’ve had both shots and one booster,” I continue. She is hard to impress so I play my last card, “Getting the second booster is on my calendar for next week.”
Eternity later, the PA returns, “You have COVID.” Hearing the “C” word I can feel my symptoms ramp up. I’d forgotten to tell her that I do better with good news. “Paxlovid is the drug of choice,” she stops talking while another coughing spell fills the room. I ask her if I can hold off taking Paxlovid to give my body a chance to heal. After a decade plus of taking excellent care of myself, turning my health over to drugs was a bitter pill to swallow. She said there were risks associated with both decisions. “If I was your mother,” I say, “what would you have me do?” In the long pause that followed, I decided to let her answer be my decision. “Because of your age and that COVID is unpredictable, I would want you to take it.” She explains that Paxlovid is highly effective in reducing suffering and lowering the risk of death.
My mind was in a quandary, two voices competed, the wariness of the yet to be approved drug and the prospect of getting sicker. The first day a horrible taste set in. I would later learn it was “Paxlovid mouth.” There were a host of other symptoms, blood pressure sky rocketed, and at night my legs felt like tree trunks, stiff and numb. That can’t be good. But the most worrisome was the nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. I had to finish the five day regiment, keeping down the six pills a day. Were the symptoms the medicine or the virus?
Our mind plays a crucial role in our lives. I’ve trained my mind to oppose drugs to cure chronic conditions caused by a lack of self-control (overeating and underactive). It took enormous effort to make healthy lifestyle changes, but COVID is a different game. I needed my mind to trust what I was putting in my body.
I don’t know how Paxlovid works, but after 48 hours my symptoms began to ease. I’m grateful for the science that made this possible.
I walk away from this experience with two thoughts. First, taking care of ourselves is within our power. Self-discipline required to optimize our health is in our power. Don’t start tomorrow. Start today.
The second thought is about our values. The rights of the guy on the plane were upheld but the cost to others was ignored. Valuing our personal wants with no regard to others, is that the kind of country we want? Is that who we want to be?