By Katherine Butler
Day One: It’s allergies.
You wake up and stare at the bright morning sun. Are you awake? Have you slipped through the multiverse into an alternate time frame with a pandemic and a living sock monster as president? It’s hard to tell, because your head feels like it’s been filled with balloons and rainwater. Your six-year-old calls out to ask if he can watch Pokémon before homeschooling, even though this will cause him to behave like he’s been on a bender with an English punk rock band from the 1980s. You say, “Yes” and sit up. You’re an underwater sea creature who has flopped onto the beach, and now you’re going to dry out in the sand for a bit.
Shit, your allergies are really acting up.
Day Two: It’s fatigue.
Your allergies are not only acting up, they’ve decided to turn your sinuses into a Quentin Tarantino fight scene. You drag your husband and child to the local cemetery for a refreshing, be-masked constitutional, since the odds of social distancing are higher amongst the dead. What kind of a weirdo in a mask goes to a cemetery during a plague? You walk among the gravestones and note a family made up of three Ezras and two Calebs. Like your son’s kindergarten class. Christ, what kind of a monster thinks about dead children during a graveyard walk in a pandemic?
Later that day, you’re tired. It must have been the gravestones. You need to lie down.
Day Three: It’s perimenopause.
Your head is still living its best life underwater, and now you’re achy and cold and hot. This is the strangest allergy-sinus-infection you’ve ever had. You take your temperature and it’s 99.6. Is that a fever? Or is it a hot flash? Has the perimenopause finally found you? Your chin sprouts hair while gray hair weaves like a crown around your head.
You text three of your friends, a pediatrician, a pediatric pulmonologist and a pediatric nurse practitioner. They all tell you to call your actual doctor. You do and don’t pick up when she calls back, because who blocks their number these days but spammers? She leaves a message, clearly annoyed you didn’t pick up. Fine, you don’t need her. You take your temperature again and it’s now 99.8. You panic and race to call the doctor. She graciously takes you through a checklist of questions, but you can’t get tested. You’re not sick enough. She tells you to quarantine for two weeks. You’ve been quarantining for three. In a flurry of thinking, you try to remember the last person you saw whom you hadn’t seen recently … or did you? You forget to ask if you’re presumed positive.
Day Four: It’s pregnancy.
You’re no longer fevered, but you’re so tired that your bones are asleep. The last time you felt like this, you were pregnant. But you can’t be pregnant, so instead you decide this is all in your head. The fever, the aches, the chills and the bone-fatigue. There’s no way you have this.
You develop a pregnancy cough.
Day Five: It’s a flu that makes you exhausted but not exhausted enough to take to bed all day, like you could do that anyway with a six year old Pokémon-I-mean-child to homeschool, and job to not do, and an internet to scour for descriptions and diagnosis of Covid-19.
It’s mono. You sleep.
Day Six: It’s imaginary.
You don’t have mono, but you don’t have the coronavirus either. You’re ridiculous. You can tell because when your friends ask how you are and you tell them, you’re convinced they don’t believe you. You’re not crazy sick. You’re reading terrible, terrible stories about really sick people. This is surreal and so awful for everyone, and now you are a poser, a malingerer and a couch-fainting wannabe. You suck.
Day Seven: It’s menopause, bitch.
You are horizontal on the floor, since reclining in bed is only for the truly sick. Screw perimenopause, this level of exhaustion is from the mythical Isle of Menopause, the one next to Wonder Woman’s. Why else are you this scattered? If this ever ends, you vow to slay older age. You’re going to get better and become a health goddess, a wise advisor like Michelle Obama. (Praise be.) Still on the floorboards, you tap one finger on your device, googling if you can dye your hair gray like Keanu’s super-cool girlfriend, the artist who is probably at this moment reclined in bed eating grapes with Keanu. At the same time, your six-year-old jumps on your head.
Day Eight: It’s real.
You text one of your medical providers (of the friends who are medical providers) in tears. Health is a dream. Why do you feel this badly? She yells at you over text, or is she really yelling? You can’t tell. Of course, you would test positive, if you qualified for a test, which dammit you don’t. She’s so positive you would test positive that she’s talked about you at the hospital as “the friend who thinks she’s not positive though she’s showing every symptom of Covid.” You believe her; the truth, at last. Congratulations, you caught the virus and it was mild.
Day Thirty-three: It happened.
Slowly but surely, you have regained your energy. You argue with your spouse, who still thinks “we don’t know what that was.” Your lungs still feel dipped in ice, but sure. You agree that you both had “a virus but maybe not THE virus” and leave it at that. You take your cousin’s husky for a walk on a country road. Somehow, she escapes from her leash, bolts through a pack of enraged riders from the Tour de France and then continues scampering happily up the middle of the road. She fears nothing! You chase after her so fast that you think your lungs will explode. They don’t, but they hurt for days afterwards. Still, you are so freakin’ lucky.
Though you’ll only know when the doctors know what the antibodies know.
Katherine Butler spent her formative years as a Hollywood comedy writer, building a resume filled with joy and #metoo land mines. She has also cultivated a close, personal relationship with Joan Didion. Not really, but she did once see Dame Joan in Central Park and waved to her. You can follow her at @kathiebutler or visit her website www.katherine-butler.com.