One morning a few days ago I woke up with a scratchy throat. We were travelling, the air was dry, etc. There were many reasons to not be concerned. As the day wore on, I realized my nose was still stuffy, my throat seemed to be getting scratchier, and in general it looked like I was getting sick.
It’s instructive to think about how we reacted in the before-times when we started to feel sick, versus now. In many ways, we haven’t changed. I powered on, out in public and seeing people, which isn’t really new. What is new is that in the back of my mind was the concern that I had Covid, and serious steps were going to need to be taken, and that I was endangering everyone I interacted with, and anyone I had interacted with over the past couple days.
I casually started looking for a place to get a test. New York state, or at least the City, is in the midst of a pretty big outbreak, so I wasn’t surprised to see test sites were busy. Two things did stand out, though. To get an appointment at one of the drive through places like CVS or Walgreens I would have to wait a full week. And the urgent care facilities, the only other option I could find, were routinely charging large sums of money for a test. Reviewer after reviewer commented on the cost. Even though I could afford it, getting stuck with a big bill for what we know should be free didn’t sit well with me. So I started weighing whether I needed a test.
In the middle of the largest outbreak in the country, I was trying to decide if I really needed a test, because it was either complicated or expensive to get one.
The Washington Post covered the difficulty stores are having at keeping at-home tests in stock: ““As the nation experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases coinciding with the holidays, we are seeing unprecedented demand for testing services,” Alexandra Brown, a Walgreens spokeswoman, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Due to the incredible demand for at-home rapid testing, we put in effect a four item purchase limit on at-home COVID-19 testing products in our stores and digital properties in an effort to help improve inventory while we continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands.”” We saw this when we went to CVS to get a rapid test the next day - the store was packed, and everyone was buying Covid tests - most of them buying the maximum 4 allowed (I stayed in the car, on the chance I was positive). Most of the other stores had been sold out, according to their online info, and I wondered if everyone in the absolutely packed parking lot had been searching like we had trying to find a store with tests in stock.
In the middle of the night, that first night, my symptoms worsened. My head was full and I just felt off. But now there was a layer of panic - if I’m having trouble breathing, am I dying of Covid, or is it just a cold? I won’t say I had a panic attack, but I definitely had an elevated heart rate. The one thing that reassured me was that I had also read that trouble staying awake was a sign of real difficulty, and with all my mental drama I was having NO trouble staying awake.
I wondered if perhaps I wouldn’t have been happier being someone who thought it was just like the flu. Like that guy in the Atlantic who was embarrassed for people who wore masks, because nobody where he lived was wearing them and they were all fine.
I knew, of course, that I was triple-vaccinated, that the odds of a bad outcome even if I were infected were infintessimally small. But in the middle of the night, sometimes your brain won’t quit, and the thought of drowning in, effectively, my own runny nose was… not pleasant.
It’s a hard line to walk, balancing between over- and under-reacting to the pandemic. Especially as it goes on, and it changes, and we change. If omicron is less bad for the vaccinated, and many people are vaccinated, we are not living in the same situation as in March of 2020. But we had to learn a whole new set of reactions to a pandemic (even if the learned reaction was ‘it’s all a hoax’) and it’s hard to adjust that as the flow of information just keeps coming.
There was a meme going around about how we should have a class for adults to update them on all the new scientific discoveries that have come out since they were in school. I hadn’t realized, for example, that tamiflu eased symptoms and made you less contagious. So I just took the flu as I took the common cold - something not worth going to the doctor for, because they couldn’t do anything. Well, times have changed, and we all need to keep up. But that’s something that has changed over decades, and I haven’t caught up, and now I’m saying we need to catch up on something that is changing on a weekly basis? That's a tall order.
This doesn't even address things like the impact of shutdowns on mental health, or education, or all the other things we're still working through the effect of. It's a lot of information to ask people to process, and make a quick decision about. So if people are falling back on the one thing they're certain of, I get it, even if that one thing is 'Trump told me it was a media hoax'. I think we have a long, long way to go in learning how to help people process information and separate fact from fiction. And when it's your life we're talking about, sometimes, late at night, when you're wondering if you're actually going to die from some stupid little bug you worked quite hard to avoid, it's hard to be logical about the process.