I Think I’ve Been Here Before

Coming around the corner of the aisle at Walmart at exactly the wrong moment, I caught a faceful of cough from someone who, I hope, was just a heavy smoker or maybe had a cold and not, you know, the other thing. And it got me thinking: If I can get coughed or sneezed on at Walmart and nobody really minds, why can’t I go to church or see my friends and get coughed and sneezed on there? As the saying goes: “The germs from someone you know are better than the germs from someone you don’t.”

Okay, so that’s not a saying. Whatever. My question still stands.

The cougher wasn’t wearing a mask and neither was I. I haven’t worn one since this whole thing started. Should I? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m (relatively) young, I’m (relatively) healthy, I live in an area where public mask wearing isn’t being strictly enforced, and I haven’t felt the need. Or, as my Plymouth Brethren friends would say: I just don’t feel led of the Lord right now.

I cut out part of a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee bag, put it over my nose and mouth, and took a selfie. It got 56 likes on Facebook. My fan following has spoken: If I do decide to wear a mask when I go out, it’ll be that one.

And yes, I have (maybe) liked and shared a few of the coronavirus memes that have, well, gone viral. I have done this, in spite of the umbrage being taken by some at those who dare to have a sense of humor in the face of death and dying. (A state of affairs that will never, ever change until God’s kingdom comes, by the way. If it’s not COVID, it’ll be something else, I guarantee you.)

I just can’t seem to make myself get worked up about it, no matter what I do.

Some friends have ever-so-nicely suggested to me that I’m not worried enough about it all. I’m not watching the news. I’m not thinking enough of the risks; not concerned enough about “keeping my ass at home.” Most horrifyingly of all, I’d even give someone a hug if the feeling was mutual.

Maybe those friends are right; who knows. I guess one reason for my lackadaisical attitude to all this is that, in a way, it feels familiar to me. No, hear me out.

Connecticut is my home. It’s also home to multiple well-known and not-so-well-known tickborne infections: Lyme Disease, Babesia, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, the list goes on. Lyme Disease in particular is rampant. It’s everywhere. It’s known as annoying but not serious if you get an early diagnosis.

Unfortunately, I didn’t, and neither did a lot of people I knew. I contracted Lyme in the late 90’s, at a time when it hadn’t received as much attention from the medical community as it has in recent years. For months I carried around arthritic aches and pains, constant headaches, and assorted oddball neurological complaints before finally receiving a diagnosis — and I wasn’t the only one. Multiple people in my family, my church, and my neighborhood were in the same boat. It took some of us a long time to identify the problem, and an even longer time to get properly treated and see our symptoms subside. Some of those weren’t dealing with chronic cases would contract an acute case over and over — at least once every spring or summer, it seemed, for some of them. They could hardly help it. It was everywhere.

All that to say, I’m feeling some déjà vu these days when I think of it being dangerous to leave my house. It isn’t brand new to me, the whole idea that you could go outside for a walk or to water your garden or even just to get the mail, and come back in not knowing that you’ve “picked up” something out there, that your life is about to change in a big way.

You can hope that you’ve caught it early. You can hope that whatever you’ve got is something for which there’s reliable testing and a (generally) effective course of treatment. You can hope that your doctor will agree to treat the disease for as long as needed — not all of them do — and that it’ll work and there will be no complications.

You hope against hope that this doesn’t happen to someone you love.

Sometimes, none of these things works in your favor, and you struggle. For weeks, for months, sometimes for years. Sometimes, there are losses.

Yes, you take precautions. You avoid weedy, “brushy” places if you can. You check yourself and your clothes for ticks at least once a day, sometimes more if need be. If you’re bit, you send the little bugger away to a CDC lab to get it tested. If you get weird rashes, or start feeling like you’re coming down with the worst flu you’ve ever had in your life, you try your darnedest to get the meds you need before the lab results come back.

Meanwhile, you keep on living.

You have no choice. Life’s a risk, after all. Sooner or later, the consequences of staying inside begin to outweigh the consequences of venturing out. Sooner or later, you realize that getting sick isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. A life without outdoor socializing, without sunshine and picnics and hikes through forests and grassy meadows, if that’s your thing, feels far worse by comparison.

You realize that, although you are going to die someday, you want to have lived a little before that happens. And you feel a sense of calm acceptance. You feel determined to meet the challenges head on, if and when they should arise.

Don’t get me wrong; I know COVID is different from the above scenario in many ways — the fact that it passes from person to person being the most obvious. I know, I know. You can list lots and lots of ways it differs, and I’m sure you’d have a point. My point, however, is this: I’d never, ever choose to live every day in the presence of infectious diseases. But if my early experiences with it have taken away some of my fear of living my life, well… that’s the part I wouldn’t trade for anything. And I’d wish the same for everyone.

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