On Halloween 2020 my wife was getting ready to visit her sister in Idaho who was going through an awful divorce and I began to feel a tickle in my throat. I knew it wasn’t COVID because I had been so careful; I never went anywhere without my mask, I hadn’t been around anyone who had it, and I washed my hands religiously whenever I returned home.
Since my wife was flying, though, I went to get tested first thing the next day just to be safe.
SARS 2 CORONAVIRUS NCOV-19: POSITIVE
I woke up to the above message on my phone the next morning. Delightful.
COVID was awful. The body aches were no joke and the brain fog was debilitating. But the strangest part of it was waking up a few days in and having no sense of taste.
I had lost my sense of smell as a teenager. I suspect it is psychosomatic, since the last thing I can remember smelling before losing it was the overpowering smell of death as I climbed under a neighbor’s porch to retrieve a cat that had died a few weeks before in the midwestern summer heat. The stench was all-consuming as my face was inches from the rotting corpse. I think at that point my brain decided that smells were, perhaps, just not worth the trouble. I retained a few smells that I could detect, smoke, fouled diapers, and bacon. Beyond that, it was as if my brain said, “I’ll let you know if it’s important, otherwise let’s not worry about that anymore.”
So, I didn’t even notice the loss of smell. But the loss of taste was immediately apparent and quite shocking. The day after I lost it, I was sitting at my desk in my study working. Next to me, I had my morning coffee, a glass of room temperature water and a glass of cold orange juice. The only way to tell them apart was the temperature and consistency. If it was cold and pulpy it could only be the orange juice, if it was hot, it must be the coffee. But there was absolutely no difference in taste. There was no taste at all. Before I lost it, I expected that everything would just taste like water. But it turns out that water does have a taste, and even that taste had gone. It’s hard to describe how disorienting that actually was.
As with so many others, I did get pretty sick. I had body aches and extreme fatigue to the point that climbing the stairs required near herculean effort. My wife also was very ill at the same time, and how we managed to keep our children alive was a wonder. Some days all we managed was to throw a frozen pizza in the oven and go back to lay on the couch.
I am fortunate enough, being a programmer, that I could actually work almost all the way through fighting COVID-19. I did have to take one sick day through the whole ordeal. That day I found myself gasping for breath at my desk. The mere act of sitting in my chair left me winded, feeling as if I had run a marathon.
However, the worst part of the disease, for me, was the brain fog. I think that fog was probably the best word to describe it that I could think of. It was such a strange phenomenon; it wasn’t just my thoughts that seemed foggy, but even physical sensations felt indistinct and confusing. I even caught myself staring at the blinking cursor on my screen
unsure of what I was doing and why I would want to log output to the console there. Was I debugging? What was I debugging? What did I hope to learn from that output?
Part of me wonders if that might be what an amnesiac feels as he tries to regain himself. Slowly, it started to fade. It faded, but it didn’t go away. I found myself relying on my notes more and more, but I also found that when I would try to take notes, I would touch the pen to paper but not know how to summarize the salient points. This continued on for months.
As the brain fog continued over those months, my mental health deteriorated. I tried to get out and walk every day on my lunch hour to stimulate my mind and body, but it didn’t make a difference. I was getting more and more depressed. My ability to evaluate the events in my life was completely skewed, but the irony was that even with the brain fog, I felt like I had never thought more clearly. I couldn’t remember anything and struggled to reason through my work sometimes, but when it came to understanding the trajectory of my life; I felt like I was crystal clear.
Finally, in March my wife convinced me to speak with my doctor who was quite concerned for me. We spoke for a long time about my health concerns, and she told me just how concerned she was for my mental health. The doctor wanted me to exercise more and to eat healthier, and we spoke about some herbal supplements I could take. She had me schedule a follow-up call after a month to see if I had improved and if I hadn’t, she was going to prescribe something more.
This is why I am thankful for what I experienced through COVID-19 and the pandemic. I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s pain by saying that. I understand how terrible it has been for everyone, and I appreciate the deep pain of those who lost loved ones to this awful disease. But, I say I’m grateful for the things I learned from my experience because it forced me to make needed changes.
For years, I had made excuses to not exercise, or justified eating too much junk, not eating the salad and staying up too late. My weight had crept up, my mood had slowly trended downward, and my stamina had decreased. But since the declines were gradual over a long time, I hardly noticed. When I had some minor lingering effects after COVID (and I know that others had it much worse) it brought all of those other issues out in the open. To get back to myself after COVID I would need to address the other health issues I had been ignoring.
I bought a bike
My wife, also, was working on making some changes to her fitness and overall health. She bought a hybrid bicycle, so I bought one too. I thought it would be fun to bike with her; maybe that would be enough to get me to exercise.
At first, going five miles (around eight km) was a stretch. It was difficult and I came back sore. Then I found I was getting less sore. Then I could go seven miles (roughly 11 km); then ten. I left one Saturday morning and got on the trail, intending to go around 8 miles (almost 13 km) total, but instead I went 8 miles before turning around. It felt good. I wasn’t better yet, but my depression was lessening, and my general mood was rising. Even my insomnia was starting to go away.
I found that I loved cycling. I loved everything about it. I love the beauty of riding nature trails and seeing the deer and birds and turtles and toads. I love exploring new trails and routes and visiting places I’ve only ever driven by; sometimes stopping to look closer just because I can. I love the speed and that feeling of effortless tension when the gearing is just right.
And I love the feeling of being healthy again. I’m healthier now than I ever have been, and I know I wouldn’t be now if I hadn’t been sick. I would have continued on in a slow, hardly noticeable decline. Each year a little more irritable than the one before, needing to buy new clothes every few years as my waistline gradually increased.
But now I need to replace much of my wardrobe because after dropping around 35 pounds (ca. 16 kg) this year. And I am happier and more present than I have been in years. I feel recharged spending time with my kids and want to spend more time with them instead of seeking alone time. My productivity has gone up at work too. I still have to work through problems that seem difficult, but I don’t feel like I’m forgetting the basics anymore. I feel like I’m back. And, obviously to you, I’m writing again. I’m writing out of an intrinsic desire to write rather than a feeling of duty. So many things had become a task to be completed just so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not doing them, but I’m actually finding enjoyment in them again, and I’m really thankful for that. God is good.