A shift in perspective (YAPP)

UPDATE, April 7, 2022: A fitting (?) coda to this post: This morning, a week after my first symptoms, I tested again and still came back positive. Boo. This is not unusual and I'll test again tomorrow or the next day, but it's still a bummer.

For the last two years, I have considered myself an observer of the pandemic. I was affected, of course, right from the early days when toilet paper suddenly became scarce, to working remotely, to facing mask mandates, and restrictions on where I could even go.

But in all these things, I was just like most everyone else: Inconvenienced, maybe a little annoyed, but ultimately understanding why things were happening as they were.

But that changed this week when I felt a scratchy throat and a few days later, with the symptoms of what felt like a head cold settling in, I tested positive on a rapid response test for COVID-19.

There is always a chance that the result was wrong. In fact, just after the scratchiness began, I took my first test and it came back negative. I read today that about half of cases similar to mine (Omicron variant, fully vaccinated) can produce false negatives if tested too soon, because the virus takes a little more time to show up in these kinds of less-than-lab accurate tests. My partner had been sick and had tested positive, so I did entertain the idea briefly that the negative was a legit result, but I know now that’s pretty unlikely.

And so I have now had the virus and become an active participant, a statistic, if an uncounted one. How does it make me feel?

I’m not entirely sure yet. My immediate concerns were getting better and minimizing risk to others by resisting the urge to run into the street and randomly hug strangers (ie. self-isolate). Now, as the symptoms have largely cleared up (hooray for being fully vaccinated + booster) I ponder.

How likely is it that I’ll get sick again? What will it be like if I do? Will I experience “long covid”? Will I just be fine and dandy?

I suppose in a way I feel…unclean? Uncertain? I thought I would escape the pandemic without getting sick and now that it’s happened, I realize it was a bit of a faint hope once the variants started getting more and more infectious. In the last few months I’ve gone from knowing no one who had COVID-19 to knowing…more than a few. And that quiet little part whispering about my mortality—that’s there, too. I think of how it would have gone if I’d gotten sick before the vaccines had been developed. I’m not in my 20s anymore, even if I mostly act like I still am (I don’t know how to act “old”, but maybe I’m just fooling myself and I’m six months away from lapsing into “How do you do, fellow kids?”).

I may have further thoughts on this, but that’s all for now—other than hoping this whole stupid pandemic wraps up (for real, not just in some people’s minds) by the end of the year or something.

YAPP = Yet Another Pandemic Post

COVID-19: The List

For my edification in the future, here is a list concerning me and my favorite pandemic virus, COVID-19.

Symptoms experienced (in order):

  1. Scratchy and then sore throat
  2. Excessive phlegm/mucous in throat
  3. Intermittent cough (began after two days)
  4. Intermittent sneezing (began after three days)

Symptoms not experienced:

  • No fever
  • No body aches
  • No shortness of breath
  • No exhaustion (though the coughing in particular did leave me feeling a bit tired after a while)
  • No loss of smell or taste
  • No loss of appetite, but less snacking due to feeling unwell (a banana or toast each day)

Notes:

  • Cough persisted for two days then waned
  • Sore throat persisted for one full day then waned, replaced by intermittent coughing
  • Weight loss began the day after symptoms appeared and persisted for the next four days before weight began going back up (see chart below)

Weight loss corresponds almost perfectly with onset of symptoms, and weight gain starts with recovery:

Positively annoying (Sick: The follow-up)

Good news: My sore throat is no longer sore today!

Bad news: My nose is stuffed up, and I’m now coughing intermittently. But I think I am overall on the mend.

Not surprising news: Once again, getting sick is a great way to lose weight. This morning, I weighed in at 175.7 pounds, my lowest of the year. If only I can keep it off. Without getting sick again, that is.

Appalling news: I took another rapid test tonight and this time shoved the swab far enough up my honker to make myself sneeze (I am glad this didn’t take place in a clinic), so I think the result was more accurate. And it was positive for COVID-19. Boo.

Two lines is bad. Unless you like viruses.

Day 4 and 5 of self-isolation are tomorrow and Monday, so I’ll test again on Tuesday to see if I am still unclean. If I am, I will curl up in a ball and weep quietly. And then probably stay home for another day to be on the safe side.

I was hoping to escape the pandemic without getting sick, but despite working from home since March 18, 2020, no such luck. It was a good run, though. The last time I was sick was in January 2020 (with symptoms that were suspiciously COVID-like in retrospect); I don’t think I’ve ever gone 26 months of my adult life without getting sick with something.

Sick!

For the first time since January 2020 I am sick!

And I don’t like it.

Right now it’s a sore throat–scratchy and all gummed up, so I’m constantly clearing my throat, to no avail. I’m hoping this is the worst of it, and will be on the mend by tomorrow morning.

Here’s the sequence of events:

  • A few days ago, Jeff gets sick and stays home
  • Yesterday, and after he has largely recovered, he describes his symptoms, which make tiny alarms go off in my head
  • I advise him to use one of the rapid response COVID-19 tests we have (five total). He does. It comes back positive.
  • At this point, my throat is feeling very lightly scratchy, but I attribute it to singing loudly with the earphones on earlier in the day. I take the test. It comes back negative.
  • My throat gets worse overnight and remains sore today. I start canceling outings and planning out five days of isolation.

I am tentatively planning on taking a second test tomorrow morning to see if my negative result persists. I strongly doubt the sore throat is a coincidence and unrelated to COVID-19, but you never know!

But yeah, being sick for the first time in over two years reminds me how much being sick bites. Bleah. Do not recommend. If it is COVID-19, I suppose I can take solace in escaping it for so long and being triple-vaccinated by the time it caught up with me.

On the plus side, I went out today to Hume Park and took pictures of birds, which was a nice distraction. I stayed clear of other people, feeling a strong Typhoid Mary vibe happening. Some shots are pretty decent, too. Woo!

The day after the day after (and bonus pandemic update)

The sun was out, so I asked my legs for permission to walk to the mall (a 30-minute walk). My legs were, “All right, but we reserve the right to yell at you in all caps later if it turns out to be a bad idea.” But it was fine. The leg muscles are still sore, but in a distant sort of way. I can feel the soreness, but it’s buried down below.

While at the mall, I contemplated getting something to eat at the food court–how post-pandemic of me! Except in the end, I couldn’t find anything that grabbed me, and skipped it.

And speaking of the pandemic (queue segue music)…

The Omicron variant wave is ending, and we’ve been without a mask mandate for just under three weeks now. A few days in the past week have seen hospitalizations in BC go up (though they did drop today) and looking around the world, it appears that another surge is all but guaranteed, this time courtesy of the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 (“The most infectious variant yet! For now.”) During BC’s now-diminishing Omicron wave, we saw:

  • A high degree of vaccination
  • A wide public mask mandate
  • Caseloads go through the roof anyway. Basically, everyone ended up knowing someone who got infected with COVID-19
  • Hospitalizations managed to stay below critical levels, though

Now, with an even more contagious sub-variant taking hold and the mask mandate lifted, what will happen? I figure a lot of people will get infected again, hospitalizations will go up again, then peak before going critical, and the wave will subside in time for summer.

If the pandemic continues as it has for the past two years, we’ll get a very brief respite before yet another wave starts with a new variant that can infect people who just happen to exist at the same time as the virus or something. I mean, I don’t know. It all seems kind of silly and unending now.

My new hope (“Help me, Obi Wan!”) is that the pandemic will be considered effectively over, even if COVID-19 is not gone, by the end of this year. That would be nice. I like nice things.

Did I have COVID-19 in 2020?

According to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, the answer should be no, and yet…

In January of last year, I detailed having a terrible case of the flu (first referenced in this post). This was pre-pandemic and hardly surprising, as I usually don’t get a flu shot and rode public transit five days a week and worked in a large, open office at a college. People were constantly around me, and people are fantastic at sharing horrible things like cold and flu bugs.

When I wrote on February 16th about the cold I had, COVID-19 was not on my radar at all. I knew of it, but only on the periphery–it was yet to reach pandemic stage. But looking back, the symptoms I had match up almost perfectly with COVID (while acknowledging that they also match up with having a cold or flu)

  • Loss of smell/taste
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Sinus issues (plural, because I hit both extremes of plugged/unplugged)

The loss of smell is a real red flag here, because it’s so specifically tied to COVID-19. In the end, it doesn’t really matter much, as I recovered with no apparent long-term symptoms and have been successfully dodging the super-contagious Omicron variant as I await my booster (third) shot, expected sometime in January. But it’s fun (?) to think that as I worked to avoid catching the virus, I may have actually been one of the first to have had it.

Anyway, here’s hoping the pandemic actually ends in 2022. That would be nice.

August 2021 was not so hot

I say this for two reasons:

  1. The weather simply wasn’t as perpetually scorching as it was in July, and today it barely climbed to 17C, which is below average for this time of year. We’ve had some actual precipitation. The bit of rain has been enough to revive lawns and take everything from tinder dry to just dry. Fittingly, the weekend promises more showers, so the FIRE DANGER signs may at last come down.
  2. In other not-so-hot news, COVID-19 numbers have been way up. The only good part here is that almost all infections are unvaccinated people (meaning the vaccines are working), and the numbers may have already plateaued. It’s still a bummer because we have clearly regressed when many thought the pandemic was finally beginning to wane when we moved to Step 3 on July 1st. Eventually we’ll be able to go back to something similar to how things were without requiring vaccines, vaccine cards, masks or deep sea diving helmets.

The state of wearing masks and the pandemic, late July 2021

Sometimes I’ll read an article that nearly perfectly matches what I’m thinking, and this Atlantic article on wearing masks is one of them. It’s free to read, as is all of their COVID-19 coverage, so the link below should keep working. And yes, I did feel a bit weird reading at the end that the free coverage is in part due to sponsorship from the Chan Zuckerberg (re: Facebook) Initiative.

Case numbers in BC have doubled over the last two weeks, and are back into daily triple-digit territory. For me, it’s really simple, with Reason #1 being dominant–I don’t want to catch COVID-19. We simply don’t know enough about long term effects for me to be comfortable lowering my risk for the (admittedly welcome, but ultimately minor) benefit of going mask-free in public indoor spaces, especially transit.

4 Reasons I’m Wearing a Mask Again by Katherine Wu, The Atlantic

Max stats: Pandemic version

As of today, it’s been two weeks since I had my second Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19. This means I’ve reached about the maximum immunity granted by the vaccine, which is nice. I am free to drop wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and in doing so would present only a minimal risk to myself or others. This is good.

But this is bad. The much more contagious delta variant is spreading at the same time that vaccinations are starting to stall out. A minority of the population who are hesitant to get vaccinated (for whatever reason) may undo a lot of what we have achieved in getting around 80% of the population covered. The thought is we may now need 90% or more–which seems unlikely.

There are few people who would not be tired of the pandemic at this point. I really hope that come fall I’m not reporting high case loads again and a renewed mask mandate.

As always, we will see.

(And for now I’m going to keep wearing a mask at least when using public transit. I’m pretty sure something like 90% of every cold, flu and other ailment I’ve gotten came from a fellow SkyTrain or bus passenger, so it’s totally worth the minor inconvenience.)

It’s BC “Masks are recommended but not mandatory” Day!

It’s also Canada Day, though celebrations have been tempered (to put it mildly) by the ever-growing discovery of mass graves of children at former residential schools, which were Canada’s answer to “Yes, we as a nation can be as racist and horrible as any other!”

But that is quite another discussion. This one is still political, in a way, but not as straight-up horrible.

It is about masks.

Today, the BC government is lifting the provincial state of emergency that has been in place since March 2020, and is also moving to Step 3 of its re-opening plan. This lifts a lot of restrictions, though for a lot of people, it will come down to one big change:

Masks in indoor public spaces are going from mandatory to recommended.

Today when I was out and aboot, I still saw people in my condo complex and out in the park and on sidewalks wearing masks, so I suspect a lot of people will still wear them even if they don’t actually need to. My own plan is to wear a mask where it seems sensible (I think you don’t need them outdoors unless you’re in the middle of a mosh pit or something) until a couple of weeks after my second vaccine shot. I get the shot on July 4, so that would mean wearing a mask until about mid-July. I also suspect that once we enter flu season in the fall and assuming masks are still by choice, I will don one when riding the petri dish of germs and maladies known as public transit, because I am pretty sure that’s where most of my bouts of flu and colds have come from. I’ll also keep washing my hands a lot (washing when I come from outside is now as automatic as locking the door behind me).

All this is assuming our recovery stays on track. There are fears the very contagious delta variant will derail things. If I could, I’d squeeze another train metaphor in here. On the plus side, we are nearing 80% vaccinated in BC, so we should be close or possibly even ta herd immunity now.

Time will tell.

Two perks of the pandemic

Have I talked about this before? I may have, but I am lacking in imagination at the moment so I’m going to talk about this again.

As the title says, there are two perks to the pandemic that I have seen so far. Yes, there may be others, but these are the only ones that seem meaningful in a greater sense.

  1. Work From Home. WFH is awesome. No commute, extra time for sleeping and exercise or doing whatever I want. Being able to step away from the desk and raid your own fridge for a snack. No distracting co-workers coming to your desk. It’s great. I don’t miss the office at all. I guess I am a solo player that also happens to work well with teams.
  2. No illness. It’s ironic that as a pandemic swept the globe I have not had a cold, the flu or anything like that since January 2020. This is pretty much unprecedented, and it’s all due to one little thing: avoiding people. Basically, every time I have gotten sick it’s been someone else’s fault.

If I think of more, I’ll add more later. But really, these are the biggies and I would miss them dearly if I had to go back to an office. So my plan is to somehow arrange to never have to do that again. My plan is in its early stages.

Shot fired!

Into my left arm, to be precise.

Today I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to protect against COVID-19. It could be up to four months before I get my second shot and it’s not guaranteed to be Pfizer, though I am actually optimistic that it will be the same and will be ready in less than four months.

The actual process itself went very smoothly and efficiently. Outside the Anvil Centre in downtown New Westminster, I was directed to use some hand sanitizer, put on a mask (over the one I already had on) and then basically follow the arrows on the floor inside and talk to someone at each appropriate point. Within minutes I was sitting in my chair, confirming that my allergies (to penicillin and a few adjacent antibiotics) do not induce life-threatening reactions and getting ready for the jab.

Since it had been a long time since I had gotten any kind of vaccination shot, I was going to ask the woman administering it what it would feel like, if I should do anything to prepare or whatnot, but before I barely had my mouth open to ask she had stuck me and it was over. It was basically a quick pinprick. It was delightfully underwhelming.

I had to wait 15 minutes before I could leave, with my escape time conveniently showing on a sticky note on the plexiglass partition in front of me. The last minute seriously felt like five minutes. I was also struck by how drastically my smartphone usage has evolved over the years, as I don’t have a single game installed that might have kept me entertained for a few minutes.

As I write this in mid-evening, my left arm is feeling sore and a lot of the strength has ebbed away. I tried opening a pasta sauce jar at dinner, and it resulted in a lot of giggling but no open jar.

I am sort of expecting side effects to worsen overnight as it seems they sometimes take 12-24 hours to materialize, but we’ll see. I am just happy and relieved to have the first dose done. I feel a tiny bit safer and can see a smidgen of light at the end of the long COVID-19 tunnel.

P.S. Pandemics suck.