As a child, I loved summer—no school! I could stay indoors all day and read! But summer camp, which I dreaded, ended my romance with that season. Even as an adult, no longer forced “for my own good” to do things I hate, the humid misery of August in New York is a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Where were we? New York has two glorious seasons: Spring and Fall. They last only a few days each, it feels like, but that bitter brevity contributes to their sweetness. Spring has a slight edge over Fall in my heart, especially after the twelve months we’ve had.
“Why are you uncomfortable having a nonbinary cat?”
…my teenage daughter demanded as we sat together on the couch.
Got vaccinated against COVID-19 today. Stood in line for just over 90 minutes outside a Lower East Side high school that was being used as an immunization pod. There was an old couple in front of me in line; the man initially thought I was standing too closely behind him and demanded I move back. Fair enough. I spent the remaining 90 minutes keeping my distance from the couple.
After a while I began to worry about the old man. His wife, no youngster herself, said he had just had heart surgery. She wasn’t getting immunized—perhaps she didn’t yet qualify. Mainly she was there to hold his hand and keep him from falling down.
Over the 90-odd minutes, as unobtrusively as possible, I set myself to guarding the old man in case he needed any help his wife couldn’t provide. At the last corner before the high school entrance, there was a little plastic seat. The old man’s old wife asked him to sit and rest a while, and I told them I’d watch their spot in line.
It had rained, but the sun was beginning to come out, and the temperature was warm for January. I did little stretches in place, moved forward occasionally (when the line moved), and let my mind wander.
I had my phone on me but I didn’t look at it for fear of draining the battery—there was an access code on the phone that I needed to present to a gatekeeper to get my shot, and I couldn’t do that if the phone died. Also I kind of dug the boredom. At home, I can look at screens for hours. But outdoors, standing in line, anxious about losing my place or not realizing the line had moved or losing my ID (I have an anxiety disorder and worry about many small, stupid things), I prefered to just be bored for 90 minutes. It was rather restful.
There were many workers helping move the line along, mostly young folks in their late teens and early 20s. Their work day had started at 7:00 AM and would continue until 8:00 PM. Thirteen hours of standing in place. Thirteen hours of answering the same questions. I made a point of learning their names and chatting with any of them who were willing to talk. Catastrophe may bring out the worst in some people, but it was bringing out the best in them.
One of the helpers, an MTA worker, told me he looked forward to standing 13 hours a day after weeks of sitting around at his regular job with nothing to do.
Eventually I made it into the building itself, and then I was getting a jab. Didn’t hurt. Uneventful. I thanked the doctor for his gentleness.
Afterwards I sat in a makeshift waiting room for 15 minutes to be sure I didn’t have an adverse reaction. Then I left, thanking cops, guards, doctors and volunteers as I did so.
Walked around the Lower East Side a few minutes longer and then caught a Lyft home.
Later today I may have soreness or nausea or a headache that could last a couple of days. No big deal. I have to wait 28 days before getting my follow-up dose, and it has to be the same vaccine I got today—the Moderna vaccine, not the Pfizer. (The Pfizer has a waiting period of 21 days.)
When I got home, my daughter was awake and cuddling our big white cat. I went online to register for my second dose. There are no available locations in Manhattan in that time period, so I chose one in Brooklyn, and I’ll go there in February.
The first dose makes you 50% immune, they had told me. The second dose makes you 75% immune. Nothing makes you 100% immune. We will need to keep masking and maintaining social distancing for a long time to come.
For about a week, now, my bedroom floor has been torn up due to under-floor flooding created by a malfunctioning window air conditioning unit.
The A/C unit began leaking during the summer months when I lay in bed with COVID-19, and, in my sickness, I initially did not notice the leakage. When I did notice, I was too sick to do anything about it, other than turn off the air conditioner. Summer in New York did not make that sustainable.
Months passed, I began to recover, and repair people began to work in people’s homes again as New York flattened the curve and began carefully easing restrictions. Six weeks ago, I hired an authorized air conditioning repairman to make a house call and check the air conditioning units. (There are three window units in the apartment; one leaked and all three were radically underperforming.)
I thought the fancy repairman had stopped my bedroom unit from leaking, and apparently so did he. On that basis, I authorized a floor repairman to rip up my bedroom floor and replace all the warped floorboards. It took me three weeks to get the floor guy to come here.
He came, he pulled up some of the floorboards, and he immediately stopped working. It was impossible to continue the repairs, he explained, because the under-floor was badly flooded. He asked why I had waited to so long to get him in. I told him I’d been trying to get him to come for three weeks.
So, anyway, he ripped up more of the floor, then went away and told me to wait a few weeks for the under-floor to dry out.
A week passed. The water under the floorboards didn’t seem to be in any hurry to evaporate.
Then this morning I couldn’t open or close my bedroom door, because the floor area near the bedroom’s entranceway had suddenly begun to buckle. By pulling with all my might, I was able to open the door, and I will have to leave my bedroom open until my floor is fixed.
Why was the leak spreading, I wondered. And then I noticed that the air conditioning unit had begun leaking again. There was a fresh pool of water on the floor beneath the unit that hadn’t been there last night.
So I called upon Damir, a porter-slash-handyman who works in the building. He’s exceedingly courteous and warm-hearted, happy to take on odd jobs, and remarkably competent at diagnosing and repairing the many things that can go wrong in an apartment.
(Be thankful I’m only boring you with this tale of the flood, and not listing the many other home repairs that have become necessary since around the time the quarantine began.)
Damir elevatored up to my apartment and immediately found the twin causes of the bedroom air conditioner leak. First, there is filthy gunk in the guts of the unit that prevents the water from draining. Second, because of the way it was first installed, the unit is angled forward into the room instead of tipped slightly backward. As a result, all that icy, backed-up water leaks down into my apartment instead of spilling harmlessly out the window and into the alley behind the building.
Over the months I was sick, enough water had quietly leaked into the room for all that cold wetness to find a weakness in the flooring—a point of entry—where the water secretly settled like a doom in the darkness under the floor.
Damir brought up a hand truck to lug the A/C unit down to the building’s basement, where he will hose out the guts of the machine. Then he will reinstall the machine and build a shim under it to tip it backward so future leaks go out the window. It looks like he may get everything finished by tonight.
While Damir was making ready to cart the A/C unit away, he emptied my vacuum cleaner and vacuumed up the bedroom. Meanwhile, I moved all the stored items (boxes, drinks, rocking horse) out of the hall that leads to the bedrooms, so there would be room for Damir to cart the huge air conditioner away.
Damir and I were both wearing masks, of course, and in my post-COVID weakness, I found myself breathing heavily while I lugged the junk out of the hall.
Remember, several weeks ago, I paid several hundred dollars to an authorized air conditioner repairman who didn’t do any of the work Damir is doing and didn’t even notice the cause of the flooding or recognize that the flooding would continue. Damir, a building porter, would seem to be a better air conditioning repairman than the authorized air conditioning repairman was.
If the work Damir does today finally stops the A/C from leaking into the apartment, then the next step, after the under-floor dries out, will be for the floor guy to finish pulling up all the floorboards, replacing them with new ones, and buffing and enameling everything to turn those planks into a floor.
The hardwood floors are one of the most beautiful things about this apartment; I hope, some months from now, some semblance of what they used to be will be restored. Although at this point, I’d probably settle for ugly linoleum and the ability to shut and open my bedroom door.
Update: 60 minutes later…
Damir cleaned and reinstalled the bedroom A/C, mopped up a lot of the flood water on my bedroom floor, built a shim to tilt back the window unit after installing it, and checked 60 minutes later to be sure it wasn’t leaking. (It isn’t.)
He also cleaned the filters in the living room unit and Ava’s bedroom. I thought I had cleaned them but I did a poor job. Two words: cat hair. It gets stuck in all the units, causing them to malfunction. Basically, Snow White + my poor home upkeep skills + five months with COVID-19, not really paying attention to what was happening in my apartment, led to all this.
Thank goodness for Damir.
(I tipped him very well; that’s my job.)
On Sept. 11, 2002 I was speaking at a web conference in Las Vegas. I’d wanted to turn down the gig, but my partner said if I did, the terrorists would win. We talked that way back then.
A cheesily animated digital American flag was flying on the Jumbotron overlooking the Bellagio fountains. Cheesily animated fighter jets replaced it.
I live in NYC and my partner was home in NYC and it was strange and terrible to be away from her and isolated poolside at Caesar’s Palace on that first 9/11 anniversary.
People have kindly asked how I’m doing, so here’s the answer: I’m doing better. Most days, I’m doing a lot better. My doctor says it sounds like I’m making a good recovery. Making a good recovery, not recovered. Sounds like. I’m what they call a long-hauler.
I came down with a virus in late February, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 20 March, and stayed bedridden at home until mid-June, when I began returning to work. My company has a remote work force and a non-exploitative attitude toward its employees, so I was able to work from home, in sleepwear, at my own pace.
Initially I could only work a few hours a day. As I kept working into July, I built up a tolerance to fatigue and discomfort, while also slowly shedding the disease’s more intense symptoms.
Generally, I’ve felt more and more like myself—except when I carry a few light packages, walk more than ten paces, or stoop to clean the floor. When I do those things for more than a few seconds, I have to stop and fight for each loud, wheezing breath. The discomfort lasts a minute or two, and then, as I rest, I feel “normal” again.
I’ve been viewing the lung stuff as post-COVID damage, which I hope someday will go away. But I might be wrong to think I’m past the disease. Two weeks ago, the lung stuff aside, I would have said I’d finally recovered from COVID-19, even if my doctor, that very week, would not say so.
But then last Monday, attending a virtual conference, I worked too many hours in a row—and for the rest of last week, I was symptomatic. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I sat at my desk working as well as I could through bruising migraine headaches, nausea, and periods of fatigue that were hard to wave aside.
I took Friday off and slept. I slept Saturday. I slept Sunday. My migraine and nausea continued through all three days of rest. I took today off as well and felt better. But now I feel bleh again. Tomorrow, however I feel, I will return to work.
I have friends who’ve also been symptomatic for months, and I’ve swapped stories with dozens more. I also know folks who died from this disease, so I’m grateful to just feel lousy.
This story is a bit long, but I promise it will be worth it, because it contains the two most important principles every designer must know and take to heart if you intend to do great work anywhere, under almost any circumstances, over the long, long haul of your career.Sticking To It – fresh from JZ in Automattic.Design
The upstairs neighbors in my apartment building are having their flat renovated. Cue the daily floor sander (right over my head) and sledgehammer (apparently they have many walls to knock down). It’s loud enough to induce vomiting. It happens every weekday, and has been going on for at least two weeks.
The good news is the crew is lazy: they show up around 10:00 AM, pound away for two hours, then take a long quiet lunch break before pounding away again ’til about 3:00 PM, when they quit for the day.
The bad news is, the lazy crew are taking weeks to complete what might have realistically been a two-day job if undertaken by motivated, competent workers instead of fartwads intent on squeezing every blessed penny from their contract.
I start work before 6:00 AM each day because my cats wake me before 6:00, but mainly because it gives me at least a few hours per day when I can work without being subjected to a migraine-inducing symphony of pounding and scraping and banging and dragging and hammering.
The chiming of my iPhone woke me from an afternoon of profound sleep marked by a long, unsettling dream involving basements. I’d taken to bed out of equal parts respect for my own exhaustion and the desire to escape a particularly pungent headache. Both are symptoms of my endless post-COVID-19 “recovery” period. It’s a virus that hangs on like an unrequited lover, and a disease that can leave you weak and debilitated for months—or longer. But we don’t think about “longer” yet, as I’ve only been sick for three and a half months.
Before the afternoon sick bed, I’d been working quite happily and even productively, until—wham!—a wall of symptoms smacked me in the head, and I had no choice but to listen and obey. On my way to bed, I just managed to feed my COVID-sick child, who is bound to her bed all day every day except for the early afternoon brunch and early evening dinner.
After the afternoon sleep—after the phone ripped me from the sinister architecture and unworthy companions of my dream, and while my heart was still pounding from a shocking sudden change of realities—I hurriedly tugged on gloves and a paper face mask, shoved my feet into still-tied shoes, threw open the door and hurried down the hall to the elevator bank, to meet a rolling hotel cart filled with newly delivered groceries that was on its way up to me.
(Bledar, the doorman on duty in my apartment building, had kindly accepted a Fresh Direct delivery on my behalf, stacked the bags on the building’s hotel cart, phoned me, waited 60 seconds ((to give me time to mask up and scramble down the hall)), and then rolled the cart into an elevator into which he’d punched my floor number. This is how we do it in this building.)
I rolled the packages to my door, packed them into the apartment, sent the cart downstairs again, unmasked, fed Snow White her afternoon meal, washed my hands, and put the groceries away. Then I had to sit down. What time is it? What day is it? When will I be well again? When will my child be well?
Photo by Malik Shibly on Unsplash
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.
May 9. Snowing in New York. Wearing face masks, two men stand on a balcony of the Chinese Mission to the UN, photographing the snowfall with their phones. I try to photograph them and the snow, but they are already leaving the balcony, and my phone autofocuses on the window screen.
Surviving COVID-19. It’s the world’s shittiest vacation.
I’m still sick. I still sleep all afternoon. I still can’t sit upright for more than four hours, or carry a package from the lobby to my apartment, without becoming exhausted. But I haven’t had fever in more than a month. The constant aches and pains are gone. Tired or not, and congested or not, I get plenty of oxygen in my bloodstream every day.
What’s left of the disease is exhaustion and flu symptoms: cough, congestion, sneezing. The flu symptoms aren’t hard to bear because I’ve had seasonal allergies and colds that last two weeks or longer all my life. Okay, with COVID-19, the symptoms are more pronounced, more persistent, and they’ve lasted eight weeks without letting up. But they’re not foreign and they don’t scare me. They’re like a bad old friend—or an old enemy you no longer hate. Sure, you have to fight them, but you no longer fear them. They’re familiar, maybe even familial.
The exhaustion is debilitating but not depressing—I’ve learned to rest as soon as I feel it. (I’ve learned what happens if I don’t rest.)
To rest as soon as I feel badly takes letting go of many responsibilities. There’s comfort in that. After four decades of workaholic toil (long hours seven days a week, on multiple jobs and projects), it’s strangely delicious to let go, to calmly and without shame let others save the world today.
I’m immensely grateful to my colleagues who are covering for me, but I don’t feel even one bit guilty about letting them do it. I’d do the same for them, and may have to before this ends. After decades of feeling responsible for everyone and everything around me, decades of feeling lost and guilty if I take a day off, I’m finding joy in my temporary freedom.
These are dark times and they are only beginning. We must all learn to love ourselves and other people all over again. We must find the compassion that decades of cable news cycles burned out of us. Find meaning in helping, and joy where we can.
One of my first professional jobs was at a tiny startup ad agency in Washington, DC. The owner was new to the business and made the mistake of hiring a college buddy as his creative director. This guy was not up to the job. He was not the slightest bit curious about our clients’ businesses, or what mattered to their customers. His day was one long lunch hour bookended by naps. He thought we couldn’t hear him snoring through the closed door of his office.
Once a day, he would call a “creative meeting” to discuss whichever project would soon fall due. He would not bring sketches, or notes, or a creative brief to these meetings. Instead, he would “lead a creative brainstorm,” which meant we had to listen to him spout whatever shallow, idiotic idea proposed itself to his limited mind at that moment. We were then supposed to leave the room and execute his so-called “concept.” It didn’t matter if the idea was derivative of someone else’s widely known better ad, or if it was superficially cute but meaningless, or wrong in tone, or more likely to hurt than help the client’s business. He had spoken, and that was that.
Needless to say, after a few weeks—and even though they were old friends—the agency owner realized he had to fire this creative director. After all, it was widely agreed, a quarter-page newspaper ad for a local Ford dealership was far too important to entrust to the whims of an imbecile.
Corona Virus Week 6. Recovering, bit by bit. Still get winded carrying a light package more than a dozen steps. I can sit up in the morning, make breakfast, and listen to music for several hours. Am exhausted and useless by 1:00 PM—but it’s an improvement over the 24/7 exhaustion of the previous weeks. Tomorrow I will try working for a few hours. Fingers crossed.
My daughter and her mom have the virus, too, and they’re in the throes of it. Fortunately, they’re only miserable, not in danger. And I’m just recovered enough to help them, now, as they helped me when I was flat on my back, day after day, in sweaty sheets.
Other people I love are also sick with the virus, but that’s their story to tell (or not tell), not mine. If I could, I’d ask you to keep them in your thoughts.
This thing is no joke. If you’re sick, I pray that you recover. If well, please do everything you can to stay that way.
I’ve had Coronavirus for five weeks. My daughter has it, now, too. Her mom’s had it for weeks, but only recently recognized it for what it is. It sneaks up on you, disguised as a persistent headache, a seasonal allergy, some other unpleasant but harmless annoyance—until you can’t stand at the sink washing dishes for five minutes without immediately needing to lie down and catch your breath. Then you know.
It’s not just here in New York. A dear family member who lives far away (and who also has an underlying health condition) has come down with it. I think of them with hope, terror, denial, panic. We ping each other. You still there?
Some things are getting better.
For four weeks I could not get a grocery delivery slot from Fresh Direct, no matter what time of day or night I tried. This week I finally secured one. Four weeks ago I could not get Tylenol for love of money. This week I was finally able to order some—and it arrived today.
The grocery delivery slot means more workers are available, fewer are out sick. The arrival of the Tylenol (actually a generic Acetaminophen—you still can’t get branded Tylenol) suggests that supply chains and delivery chains may be doing a little better than they were during the first four weeks of the crisis. (By which I mean the first four weeks of March, even though the crisis was actually upon us in January—but we civilians didn’t know it.)
It’s a rotten disease.
This morning I woke at 5:00 AM. Ingested two espressos and a bowl of cereal and immediately went back to sleep. My daughter woke me at 11:00. She was sick but sort of hungry, so I got up and threw together a breakfast. We watched TV. I worked for an hour while she slept. Then I went back to sleep. That one hour of work took everything out of me.
It’s a rotten disease. You’re well enough not to need hospitalization, but too weak to do anything useful.
At 6:30 PM the kid woke me again. She was weak and exhausted and craving a sweet.
I got out of bed, threw on mask and gloves, and ventured out of my apartment for the first time in about a week. Picked up Oreos for the kid at the little deli across the street.
Then I visited my postal mailbox for the first time in over a week. It was flooded with junk. Nothing stops junk mail. Not signing “do not deliver” lists and opt-out lists (but of course junk mailers ignore those). And apparently not even Coronavirus can stem the junk-mail tide. The mechanisms of our dysfunction outlive us. Somewhere, surely, there’s a postal worker who contracted a fatal case of the virus while delivering junk mail to a dead woman.
Forgive me, I came hoping to spread cheer. Oh, well.
I’m grateful. Most people who die of this thing die right away. We lucky ones who survive just feel rotten for weeks. Rotten beats dead. The longer my kid feels sick, the safer I’ll feel about about her prognosis.
Rotten beats dead, but it’s still rotten. I wish those for whom this whole thing is an abstraction could see what I see and feel what I feel. The tragic unthinkable horror in the newspaper is the tip of this iceberg. Recovery is going to be long and hard and sad. The world we return to will be different.