An unwelcome guest

Today I take a quick detour from the usual track of this blog. I almost never comment on my private life here, but today I’ll make an exception.

Last week I tested positive for Covid. I lost my sense of taste and smell but I haven’t registered any other symptoms. Not much cause for moaning, to be fair. Overall, it feels like a normal flu.

And I have to admit, being ill with Covid has its perks. Physical, relational and also psychological perks. Let me be clear, I mean no disrespect to those who have been struggling with the illness or have lost dear ones to it. I’m simply offering my testimony as a mildly-impacted Covid host, while trying to stay positive. Positive, yes, you know what I mean. So please indulge my well-meaning facetiousness. Just this once.

It’s really terrible what life feels like when we take smell and taste out of it. It’s also evolutionarily suicidal. It’s one thing not to tell red wine from orange juice or Roquefort cheese from an avocado. But it’s quite another not to be able to tell whether the milk has gone bad or that the fish has been in the fridge for too long. Dispossessed of these protective systems, I feel dangerously vulnerable. On the other hand, I would be remiss not to avow that I’ve started liking my neighbours more now that I can’t smell their usually foul cooking fumes and other whiffy odours coming from their nearby flats. The air has never smelled better. This thought has never felt more compelling: a smell or a taste that one can’t pick up, does it really exist? I secretly harbour the hope that one day we can turn our olfactory and gustative modules on and off whenever it’s in our interest to do so.

I also feel I’ve joined a very select club, of those who’ve taken the virus in and are still there to tell the story. I always thought very highly of my friends who contracted Covid and developed natural immunity from it. A Covid convalescent always has a story worth telling, I thought, that people are keen to hear. Now I can tell mine, over and over again, the status reward feels immeasurable. Oh, you’ve had Covid, how terrible, how was it?

I’ve discovered I have more friends than I thought I did, and many of them feel closer now than before. I’m getting far more attention than I used to, and everyone seems genuinely interested in my welfare. A friend who hadn’t been in touch for years is now calling me every day to see how I am. Disease and war bring people closer together, not technology.

Finally, there’s the ethical reward. The uninfected go out of their house every day, and while some of them may want to help other people, to make a difference, the truth is that most of them don’t. It takes concerted action to change someone’s well-being, to help relieve someone’s pain, to soothe the sick and cure the leprous. In this virtue game, the infected have the upper hand. By isolating themselves from the rest of society, they are doing something immensily more virtous and salutary. Saving lives has never been easier. All I need to do is do nothing so that other may live. It’s me keeping the hospitals from hitting capacity. And I feel this sense of self-worth growing inside me. My antibody count goes up with each body I stay away from. As Pessoa put it, ‘To act is to rest’. It’s a great feeling.

I don’t think it’s my immune system or the vaccine that drives out the spikey demon, but rather the virus’ sense of loneliness and humility. Loneliness because the viral cells can get no fun out of such a positive-minded host. Humility in that the demon has soon realised it knocked at the wrong monastery gate.

2 thoughts on “An unwelcome guest

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  1. Please get your senses fully back soon.
    Your title made me think of this spell for quartan fever from the Medicina Plinii:
    “Likewise, he should bind bread and salt in a cloth with thread and with the thread he should tie it around a tree and he should swear three times by breadand salt: “Tomorrow guests are going to come to me; receive these!” He should say this three times.”
    I’m not sure if it would work for Covid.


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