I WHEEZED like a busted accordion after carrying a bag of empty bottles down the hall to the recycling room in my apartment building—a journey of no more than 20 paces in each direction. I breathe normally as long as I don’t expend more physical energy than it takes to sit still in bed.
I first noticed I was sick on February 20, and figured it was a cold. When I hadn’t improved after three weeks, I consulted a physician, who informed me I had COVID-19. A week later, he told me I had pneumonia as well. If you’re doing the math, I’ve been sick for three months. I still am. My daughter and her mother have it too.
We took every precaution, and still do. We’re zealots about following the doctor’s (and our kid’s pediatrician’s) advice, along with the instructions of the CDC and state and local authorities. We read all five hundred daily news articles about the disease. We rest, hydrate, quarantine, and wash our hands slightly less obsessively than Lady Macbeth.
Mainly we sleep.
Oh, how we sleep. I just now woke up from three hours of narcosis-tinged, nightmare-filled, exhausted napping, and can’t wait to hit the pillow again for more.
On weekdays, from 8:00 AM ‘til noon, I make myself get out of bed, sit at my desk, and work at my job. It’s a great job and I’m privileged to work remotely for a company I believe in. I wish I could do more, but by 12:00 I’m ready to pass out.
Instead, I bid good day to my colleagues and wake my daughter, who’s too sick to remotely attend her closed school, and who sleeps straight through daddy’s work day. I make us both brunch and we consume it on the couch. While eating, wrapped in blankets, we watch 20 minutes of video and then go back to sleep.
Ava sleeps in her loft bed with our 11-year-old cat Snow White. If we are late for our afternoon sleep, Snow White climbs up to the loft bed alone, and stares down the hall at Ava until she gets the message.
I bed down with an iPad. Thanks to the Criterion Channel, I’ve slept through several dozen masterpieces of world cinema.
On Thursday of last week, wanting to test the upper limits of my recovery, I experimentally pushed myself to put in an extra hour of work by attending a phone meeting for my conference business, but the experiment failed: I fell asleep midway through the call.
Fortunately my colleagues didn’t need me—they’ve been soldiering on without me since mid-March. I was muted and they likely didn’t even realize I’d fallen asleep. I should be embarrassed to confess to having fallen asleep during a meeting, but hey, it wasn’t my doing: it was COVID-19 and pneumonia’s idea.
This is our normal, now.
This is what recovery looks like for my family: an endless sleeping sickness.
Every weekday I wake up energetic, convinced that I’m definitely getting better. Even with all the sleeping, I really am confident that I’m recovering. But how do I quantify that?
People who care ask how I’m doing. It’s hard tell them. They want to hear I’m getting better. I try not to disappoint them. But I don’t lie. Things are about the same. And about the same. And about the same. Yes, I am getting better. No, nothing has really changed.
Our fevers are long gone. We are not contagious. We wheeze and are exhausted.
That’s what recovery looks like on weekdays. On weekends, I sleep all day.
Penne? Or big penne?
Unlike healthy people, I don’t resent my quarantine. I’m grateful to have shelter. I know that shelter, like health and financial security, can be taken away at any time. If we didn’t all know that before, surely we know it now. But I don’t think about it.
I think about bed, and sleeping, and what kind of pasta to make for dinner, and whether 20 more minutes of awake time is worth the heartburn and jitters two more espressos will gift me.
I don’t worry about the wheezing, or whether I’ll ever see the inside of a gym again, or the long term ramifications of school closings and sickness on my daughter’s higher educational prospects. I don’t even think about November. We are alive. It’s a good day.