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OPINION

Scaring cats, forgetting words and authors: A bout of ‘mild’ COVID-19 strikes Globe columnist

With Omicron, we’re starting to see a resigned sentiment that we’re probably all going to get it, and since it’s reportedly mild, maybe it’s OK to throw prudence to the wind, get it, and get it over with. I’d caution against that thinking.

Globe staff illustration/Adobe

“I need to get a . . . a . . . a thing of paper towels from the basement.”

Thing. That’s not the right word. Bunch? Pack? Hmmm.

Roll. That’s it. A roll of paper towels.

Whew.

That’s been my brain on COVID-19 for the last . . . well, I can’t really say, because I’ve more or less lost track of time. Even, on occasion, what day of the week it is.

One in five Americans has had COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University, and my wife, Marcia, and I now number among them.

And let me tell you, if this is mild, I wouldn’t want wild. A COVID mental fog is about all that lingers now, and it’s dissipating, or so I hope. But it didn’t creep in on little cat’s feet. It came in like the pea-soupers that used to sock in … that big city where Boris Johnson likes to attend those “the rules are for thee, not for me” parties. No, kidding there. The word London never faded from recall. But the name of one of my favorite writers (Charles Portis) did, as did the title and author of a novel I read last month. I perused a long Economist essay about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein — and the next day couldn’t remember what it had said or even whom the piece had been about.

Neither of us, double-vaxxed and boosted as we are, ever thought we’d have to go to the hospital. But save for an utterly wretched 11-day bout with the grippe two decades ago — an experience that made a flu shot believer of me — this is the most miserable I’ve ever felt as an adult.

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Nights have been strange, sweat-soaked, body-aching, toss-and-turn affairs. I’d wake up at 7:30 in the morning, think about getting up — then, exhausted by the mere thought, roll over and sleep for another three hours.

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By day, our heads ached as though we had steel bands tight across our foreheads. Our eyes burned and watered. The sinus congestion made me feel as if I were 10 feet back in my skull. Sudden sneezing jags sent startled cats darting for dark cellar hideaways. Marcia had what she describes as the most painful sore throat of her life, one that made swallowing a wince-inducing affair. Take the worst head cold you’ve ever had and triple it, and that’s where we’ve been languishing.

But as bad as those symptoms were, worse were the complete absence of energy and the mental confusion that came with COVID. I’d sit in an easy chair, reading the paper or trying to slog through a few pages of a book, then feel my eyes falling shut — and wake up several hours later, unsure if it was morning or afternoon.

Simple tasks took immense effort. Bored to tears one day, I tried to assemble a virtual pinball game. The directions were basic enough to be done pictorially, without explanatory text. The assembly, which didn’t require much beyond a Phillips screwdriver and an Allen wrench, was supposed to take about 45 minutes.

I clocked in at six and a half hours.

Weirder still was thinking one thing and hearing your mouth saying something very different. We both did it. Last middle day of the week — yes, the term “Wednesday” once actually escaped me for a few moments — Marcia, lamenting how long the illness had lingered, said, “I am so tired of this. I really hoped to go swimming this weekend.”

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Swimming? Do we have a pool, and if so, is it heated? Even through the COVID fog, I knew the answer was no.

“Swimming?”

She seemed as perplexed as I was by what she’d said.

“Skiing. I really hoped to go skiing.”

Skiing may have been where I caught it. We’ve been pretty careful. We socialized over the holidays, but only with a small group. All the members were vaxxed and had tested negative.

But skiing, you couldn’t avoid the singles-line dudes who’d join you on the chairlift, some who simply couldn’t be bothered with any sort of face covering. Or maybe it was the one time I went out to dinner, though none of the other skiers at my table came down with it.

We’ve all got pandemic fatigue, and with Omicron we’re starting to see a resigned sentiment that we’re probably all going to get it anyway, and since it’s reportedly mild, maybe it’s OK to throw prudence to the wind, get it, and get it over with.

I’d caution against that thinking. When it comes to COVID, mild doesn’t necessarily mean what you think. Not if our experiences are an indication, anyway.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.