Is there a cure for Long Covid?

I thought I had dodged Covid, and maybe I did.

I did have to work with students in person, but we maintained social distancing, masks and other protocols. Other than that, I almost never went out. I wore masks any time I left my house. I checked my temperature daily, sometimes more. I got myself tested in late November: negative.

Nevertheless, around the beginning of February I started feeling easily fatigued when I’d exert myself. A lot of that was shoveling snow — an incredible physical effort to start with — but by late in the month I was feeling short of breath even under normal circumstances. At the same time, my resting heart rate rose more than 20 beats per minute between the beginning of January and today, and though I’m sleeping fine, the heart rate stays high enough that, by the time I awake in the morning, I’m famished, having burned the same amount of calories while I rested as I used to do on very long walks.

It could be something else. I have other health conditions, some of which lend themselves to the same kind of symptoms Covid does. And if I did have Covid, I was completely asymptomatic — no loss of smell or taste, no fever, no days in bed. I’m currently in the midst of some tests to see what the physiological underpinnings are … or the psychological underpinnings, since I also suffer from anxiety.

Still, when I posted my symptoms to some friends, more than one wondered if I could have Long Covid, the condition usually brought on by an initial infection which then, stubbornly, refuses to go away. Much to my surprise, they could be right: it’s possible to get Long Covid even if your main case was completely asymptomatic.

This is one hell of a troubling disease.

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Sunday read: It’s the pictures that got small

The Oscar nominations will be announced Monday morning, and I mean no offense to the prospective nominees when I say they seem … small.

I saw a handful of them — “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “Da 5 Bloods” — and I plan to catch up with “Sound of Metal,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and “One Night in Miami,” among others, in due course. But, like probably all of you reading this (that is, both of you), I saw them on my television, in my living room — not in a theater on a big screen among dozens or hundreds of people. And an HDTV, even a home-theater-sized one (which mine isn’t), is no substitute for the moviegoing experience. I mean, I also watch “Saturday Night Live” reruns and the wonderful “Ted Lasso” on a TV.

So, even though many of those Oscar hopefuls probably look great on the big screen, virtually nobody saw them on the big screen. We saw them on streaming services.

As a result, they seem diminished. They’ve become just another TV show, something to flick past as you’re channel-surfing, or to freeze-frame when you go to the bathroom. (I can hear Christopher Nolan sobbing.)

The films of 2020, at least in the way they were presented, are another victim of Covid.

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The ends of the earth

Image from HouseofTeresa.com.

I’ve got a couple Sunday reads lined up, but I don’t feel like writing about them. I’d rather write about something more immediate: the end of the world.

What? The world’s not ending?

I don’t know if I agree. Did you think the apocalypse would come from a nuclear conflagration or an asteroid strike, something that would wipe out all life (except the roaches and ants, of course) instantaneously? Or even a pandemic resembling the one we have, except more dramatic, like Stephen King’s Captain Trips?

No, I think this is the way the world ends – not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Sunday read: This pretty much sums it up

Image from the Washington Post.

The 88 pages of the Jan. 4-Jan.11 issue of The New Yorker contain one feature article, a 39-page chronicle of how Covid-19 went from obscure coronavirus to the colossus of death that has killed 2 million human beings as of mid-January, including close to 400,000 Americans.

It’s my Sunday read.

I know, I know. You’ve had enough of reading about Covid. I’ve certainly had enough of posting about it. But — and this means no disrespect to the Atlantic’s Ed Yong or the diligent folks at Stat — this piece was written by Lawrence Wright, a terrific writer who wrote the best book on the lead-up to 9/11, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower,” and an excellent work on the Camp David accords, “Thirteen Days in September.” (In an eerie coincidence, “The End of October,” his novel published in May but written earlier, concerns a worldwide pandemic.)

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Snow day

I live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, right in the path of the nor’easter that plowed up the Eastern Seaboard yesterday. We got somewhere between 8 and 12 inches, the third-heaviest December snowfall the Lehigh Valley has ever seen. That’s pretty horrendous, though actually light compared to some of the earlier forecasts, including one from the Weather Service that warned we could get 1 to 2 FEET.

(And it’s not Binghamton, New York, which got 40 inches. That’s more than THREE feet, if you don’t want to take time to do the math.)

The school system I work for near Philadelphia called a snow day today. Makes sense, even though Philly and near environs got 4-6 inches, because the far reaches of nearby counties got much more. I wouldn’t be going anywhere, anyway. The alley my garage backs up to hasn’t been plowed.

As a kid, snow days mean freedom, but they’re weird when you’re an adult. I barely remember them when I was of an age to enjoy them, since we moved to New Orleans when I was 7, and New Orleans doesn’t have snow days. (Hurricanes and floods, yes.) We may have had a couple when I was in college in Atlanta, and certainly there were a few after I moved back to Atlanta in 1991, but by then I was more concerned with how I was going to drive from A to B in the white stuff if I had to.

Each time, I was fortunate. Even during the 2014 storm — the worst, one that left some of my CNN co-workers stranded for several hours on the highways — I got home in about 90 minutes, a hairy hour longer than my usual commute. And then, well, you stayed put, logged in remotely, and worked.

Today I don’t have to log in remotely, so the day is loose. But given the rest of the 2020 world — Covid, job loss, politics — I feel unsettled. Covid has already trapped us in our houses, so today feels less like a respite than more of the same: more to stew on and chew on, no relief from everyday strains. I tried to do some work on my desktop, but it failed to boot up properly, so even though I’ve backed up most of its hard drive, I’m wondering what I’m forgetting or missing. Sounds like a metaphor. Everything sounds like a metaphor.

And then there are some of the students from the evening GED class I teach. Last night, as the snow came down, a couple of them mentioned that they wouldn’t be getting a snow day. One, I gathered, was listening to my lecture on his phone as he cleared streets; another had to be at work at 6 a.m. to spell a co-worker completing a 12-hour shift. These are the people who truly keep the world turning, as we’ve learned over and over again during Covid. (And, I worry, we keep forgetting, too.) I already had a great deal of admiration for them: Imagine how hard it is to make time to take a thrice-weekly class to prep for your high school diploma while juggling work, children, language issues, and lives. But they’re also the essential workers who allow so many others to work from home.

When all this is over — snow, Covid, the endless doom of 2020 — I hope we all remember.

Sunday read: Dream a little dream

Image by Alex Blajan/Unsplash, via Science Alert.

A few days ago, I thought I’d come down with Covid.

Because that’s the default now, isn’t it? Any other winter, you feel weary and sniffly, you think “cold” or “flu.” But now you think, “my mask wasn’t on tight enough when I went to the DMV” or “a stray sneeze must have been hanging around the room with those kids,” and you’re checking your temperature and your SpO2 every hour and waiting for the Grim Reaper to make his appearance.

For me, it started Wednesday afternoon. Let my quote from my social media post:

So yesterday afternoon I’m feeling a little nauseous. Could be the slightly stale cake; could be the caffeine from three cups of tea on a cold, snow-dusted day. I conduct my 2-hour GED class on Zoom starting at 6. My throat gets rough quickly and by 7:30 I just want class to end. Later, I take my temperature and check my pulse and SpO2 (because now we all have those finger devices, right?). They’re OK, but I still feel, to use the medical term, “icky.” I go to bed around 10.

I sleep heavily, as if I’m glued to the mattress, with lots of dreams. When I wake up in time for work, I still feel fatigued. Any other year, I’d go to work — again, no fever, good stats, just tired. But I call in, because not only do I not want to be sick midway down the turnpike, I definitely don’t want to risk spread (IF I have it).

(Just to update: I was feeling fine by Thursday afternoon. I still feel fine. For now. Given the overfilled hospitals and general tumult in the U.S. and A., I take nothing for granted.)

In retrospect, the most striking part of the experience — besides my panic — was the dreams. I dream often, and try to write down as many as I can remember. But this night was like a quadruple feature of vivid stories: me on the bimah at a synagogue, lying on a large, leather-upholstered platform where a Torah had just been read (with a shard of wood as a yad); me being driven to an assembly by one of my special-needs students in the morning, telling him he’s early, dozing off, and not awakening until 5:30 in the afternoon with my parents talking in the next room of a house.

I have no idea what they mean. I had talked about Judaism and Hanukkah with my students earlier that day, so perhaps religion was on my mind, but there are also bits that have nothing to do with any of that.

Someday, five or 10 years from now, I’ll read all the dreams in the file I keep and see if they tell any story at all. In the meantime, I urge you to read about something called dream hacking in a Mashable article, “Dream Hacking at the Edge of Sleep,” by Chris Taylor. It’s my Sunday read.

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What I miss

Image of a Troxler effect from BigThink.com.

This year has felt like several years crammed into one, and almost none of them have been good.

Was it really only eight months ago that life was “normal,” in that — the White House Reality Show notwithstanding — it seemed like a continuation of most of what we’ve experienced during previous decades, and not some remnant of the Middle Ages during a plague outbreak?

Eventually — I keep telling myself — we will return to some degree of the Before. I do hope (with many, many doubts given the behavior of too many people and governments) that we have learned something: about the importance of teachers, hospital personnel, and the invisible working class who keep our societies functional; about the necessity of personal contact; about how easily things can fall apart.

But O, how I miss so many things.

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A tip of the cap to Major League Baseball

Image from AP via Spectrum News 1.

I had my doubts.

When Major League Baseball announced its 60-game regular season, I thought it was a mistake. It was one thing for the NBA to enclose itself in a bubble to keep Covid-19 at bay; MLB, with its larger roster and teams traveling all over the country, seemed doomed to fall to the disease.

And in the early going, it appeared that I — and many other naysayers — were going to be right. In the first few weeks of the season, several series were postponed due to the virus, and several players were afflicted. A few, including the Braves’ Nick Markakis, said they would sit the season out. (He came back, but not without a scare.)

But now, with the championship series in the books and only the World Series left to play, the sport has marked more than 47 days — that’s close to seven weeks, taking us back to August — without a positive Covid test.

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Review: ‘The Body’ by Bill Bryson

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a famous line by the screenwriter William Goldman about Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.”

Goldman’s statement seems even more apropos to Bill Bryson’s most recent book, “The Body: A Guide for Occupants.”

Over and over again, despite talking with leading experts and immersing himself in who knows how many books, Bryson has to revert to uncertainty. “We are not quite sure how solid that advice is,” he writes about the proper amount of fat in a diet. “Today [asthma] is common and still not understood,” he says about the respiratory ailment. “Meaningful definition [of pain] is impossible,” he offers.

And, of course, “The field of sex studies has a long history of providing dubious statistics,” Bryson says after reeling off some of the more improbable (“Men think of sex every seven seconds,” “The average amount of time kissing in a lifetime is 20,160 minutes [336 hours].”) That may express a lack of trust about sex, but at least a lack of trust about sex isn’t surprising. Just think of all the jokes about penis size: “What are the three sizes of condom? Small, medium and liar.”

None of this is bad, or even off-putting. But it is surprising, especially from a guy who wrote “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” a book about astronomy and cosmology that, for me at least, provided some real answers — or, at least, pretty well-supported theories — about earth and space. Heck, “Nearly Everything” even got into quantum physics, practically the definition of “uncertainty.” (Just ask Erwin Schrodinger.)

Now, I love Bill Bryson. I particularly love “Nearly Everything,” because it has a wide-eyed curiosity about a subject that, by its nature, invites awe — a nice combination. But for “The Body,” you get the feeling that the author, who’s probably more famous for his books about language (“The Mother Tongue”) and traveling (“I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” “A Walk in the Woods,” “In a Sunburned Country”), decided to turn inward to biology and anatomy and was met with more confusion and frustration than he got from quantum physicists.

Still, “The Body” makes for a typically entertaining read, with Bryson’s love of knowledge and tidbits forever breaking through the “We’re not sure” shrugs.

For example, did you know that Theodor Escherich, who examined our excrement and found a number of microorganisms, including the one now known as E. (for Escherichia) coli, called it Bacteria coli commune? Or that apes don’t have an Achilles tendon? Or that Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian medical instructor, helped eliminate what was called childbed fever simply by recommending doctors wash their hands before doing examinations? Semmelweis, who sounds at least as important as Joseph Lister, was a prophet without honor in his lifetime, losing his job, being committed to an asylum, and beaten to death by his guards. And that was just a little more than 150 years ago.

Medicine has come a long way since then — even if we human beings remain notoriously unpredictable on an individual level. “The Body” came out at the end of last year, so there is no mention of Covid-19, but the reaction of our bodies to that disease is another one for the books, literally: some people asymptomatic, others violently ill, too many dead. It would likely have been a whole chapter in a later edition, but it’s provided no reason to laugh — and laughter is one reason “The Body” makes for a good read.

I wouldn’t say the book is among Bryson’s best. There’s just too much aggravation on the part of the author, who must have wondered what he got into. (It was probably more fun to write about black holes or weird Australian insects.) Moreover, some of the material has already been ably chronicled by Mary Roach, whom Bryson — to his credit — acknowledges when appropriate.

But Bryson is always a welcome guide, so if you’re looking for a breezy tour that takes you from head to toe, “The Body” is a winner. And if you’re still unsure? You know what they say: Ask your doctor.

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