A virus designed to kill us

Study on testing for the delta variant. - AP Photo
Study on testing for the delta variant. - AP Photo

Part III of Sick of Ignorance

COVID19-DENIERS dismiss the pandemic as trivial, hardly more serious than the flu. They worry more about the vaccine than the virus. If they got it, as I realised I had on the night of August 20, they would not be so contemptuous; or take such a huge gratuitous risk.

At 10 pm in London that night, talking to my wife, five hours behind in Barbados, I asked whether I sounded nasal. Amazingly, she replied no. In my own ears, I could hear my voice whining like a California Karen, could measure the progress of inhalation and exhalation with each breath ricocheting in my nostrils and rasping in (and up to) my throat.

The only “good” thing about the first five-eight days of infection is that your body is so depleted that you spend most of your time sleeping. When you’re out cold, you’re not conscious of how great the risk is.

Two per cent of delta-variant deaths were fully vaccinated (Daily Mail, June); and you have no way of knowing if you’ll fall into that grim statistic until you do.

Thank goodness – and the AstraZeneca vaccine – that the virus never got into my airways. On one terrifying night, the third of my infection, worried that I was inhaling my own droplets and kind of reinfecting myself as I slept, I opened all the windows I had closed in the small bedroom in which I was alone for 19 of my last 21 days in London. Letting in fresh, but quite cold air. All night.

The next morning, I was awakened by a cough – my own, my first – that made me sit up in bed, alert at once, like a fireman in an old American movie who hears the alarm bell and, in his pyjamas, boots and helmet, slides down the pole into the firetruck. Except I was properly firetrucked.

The raw sore throat, the sometimes blinding headaches, the racking bone and muscular pain, all of which started that first night and stayed with me for a week, weren’t as worrisome as that one first cough.

You don’t want another one, you don’t want another one, you don’t want another one.

It comes. You cough-and-cough-and-cough, like you’re an old car someone is trying to start. You don’t want that cough to turn over.

When the covid19 attack reaches your lungs, you’re in the keep of the castle of your body. Whether you live or die depends on how well and how long you can fight.

By my fifth day, a continuous cycle of doses of paracetamol and night-time cold and flu medication were enough to keep the physical pain at bay. Luckily for me, for whom vegan lemon chicken and fried rice was a psychic balm, I never lost my sense of smell or taste.

BC Pires -

But the physical pain is as nothing as compared with the anguish it precipitates in your mind and soul. Everyone over the age of maybe 30, certainly 40, knows about mortality in a way they never knew when they were 25; but you can carry a general awareness of your own death comfortably for decades.

It’s an entirely different thing to know you have the virus that kills people by turning their lungs into glass – and to wonder, every time you cover your mouth and bark, if your lungs will begin disintegrating.

Put another way, we all know we have to die sometime. But for six nights – and I shiver and whimper to myself, now, and tears come to my eyes, to remember and to admit this publicly – I looked my mortality between the eyes, like a gunslinger in a shootout at hight noon. I lay alone in a bed in a small room and wondered if I would open my eyes again after I closed them. Until the sixth day, when a microbiologist friend reassured me, with 40 years of experience to back it up, that I would not die, it was all I thought about, when I was awake.

The virus also steals your ability to think clearly. The morning after I realised I was infected – August 21 – knowing how ill I was already feeling and suspecting – correctly – that it would get far worse, I worked as quickly as I could to finish the next Trini to the Bone feature, due to appear in Newsday ten days later.

The effort of concentrating for 45 minutes knocked me out for four hours. The same thing happened again the next Wednesday, when it took every iota of my determination and resilience to write my column, Thank God It’s Friday. After I pressed “Send,” I slept for hours.

My cough never got worse. I beat the virus – me and Oxford University and Profs Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green – before it breached the outer walls of my castle. I never had to fight to the last.

And it was still the worst six-day stretch of my life that I can recall.

It is not hyperbole to say that anyone who dismisses covid19 potentially does so at their own peril.

BC Pires is alive and kicking against ignorance.

The next Trini to the Bone feature will appear here next Monday.


"A virus designed to kill us"

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