Alright, it’s that time again. Time for the cancer survivor to give all you folks a friendly lecture about what it is actually like to be brought near death by an illness. Because some of you do not get it.
First, a quick content notice for some talk about cancer, bloodwork with needles, and overall medical trauma. Also swear words, because hoooooooooo boy these COVID19 skeptics are testing my patience. And by “testing my patience”, I mean they make me want to flee civilization and live out my days as a forest hag who cackles maniacally at anyone who comes by. It’d be a lonely life, but at least no one with a Guy Fawkes mask as their profile will lecture me about how vaccines are a plot to weaken us before the -insert racist dog whistle here- attack.
I don’t want to paint too dark of a picture. Most Americans are taking COVID19 seriously, or are at least trying to. Yes, a lot of the “skepticism” is manufactured and amplified by bots. Unfortunately, a handful of people really believe that this novel virus (which practically brought the world to a standstill) is simply a cold. You can’t stop cold viruses, right? So best not to try! Open up the schools and bring everyone back to work! The death rate is low, right?
But here’s the thing: Even just 1% of the population of America is still literally millions of people, and there are consequences for letting millions of people die in a short amount of time. Plus, the actual death rate for COVID19 is constantly in flux depending on who you ask. I’ve seen estimates ranging from .05%-5% or even higher, probably because we haven’t been keeping track of this data long enough to be very precise. In truth, the death rate will vary, usually due to differences in local conditions.
For example, we can safely predict that a large city with more hospital beds and ventilators will have fewer deaths than a large city that does not have these things, assuming both of them experience a similar outbreak. Some rural areas might be safer if they have few travelers coming through, but others may succumb to a bad combination of an outbreak and fewer hospital beds. Similarly, availability and methodology of testing can muddy the waters.
And although we don’t know what the exact death rate for COVID19 is at any given moment, we know that it’s significantly higher than than that of the flu. This means that letting the virus burn through the population all at once is, to put into very technical terms, a fucking terrible idea.
But suppose you don’t die. Suppose you’re one of the many more who get a mild or asymptomatic case. You’re in the clear as long as you stay home and don’t infect anybody, right?
Well, not quite.
See, it turns out that COVID19 has some weird side effects that may, or may not be long term or even permanent. These include (but are not limited to) heart damage, lung damage, and even problems with the brain.
We don’t yet know how common these effects are. But we do know that they can potentially incapacitate you for months. The exact rate of infections that carry long term consequences is not known (as of this writing) but according to what little data is available, it’s probably a lot higher than the death rate.
To complicate things further, we now know for certain that reinfection is possible. Mercifully, what data there is so far suggests that such patients tend to do better a second time. But until we know more, we should not assume that recovering from an infection will protect us from a new case down the road. In other words, simply letting the virus “run its course” won’t necessarily get your favorite karaoke bar open and thriving again any time soon.
And by the way, dying from COVID19 is technically suffocating to death. You might or might not be conscious when it happens, but there’s a good chance that the last thing you’ll see is the nurse who helps you. Your family probably won’t be allowed in. I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect we’d see fewer anti-maskers proudly proclaiming that they’re ‘not afraid’ if they knew the full extent of what could happen to them. Dying on a ventilator is harder to romanticize than dying while battling the evil Marxists who want to cancel hamburgers and bibles, or whatever the current story is.
Now, I understand that because the statistical probability of death from COVID19 is usually listed as a single digit number, you think it’ll never happen to you. After all, we can’t worry about everything all at once, and life is already full of stressful things. Why fret over a virus when we already have to deal with other scary stuff, like taxes and parallel parking?
Well, because once a bad thing has happened (such as a dangerous COVID19 infection) the statistical improbability of said bad thing doesn’t help you or your family deal with it. At all.
Having two kinds of cancer at the same time while in grad school is not a statistically common occurrence, but knowing this fact did not bring me comfort while I was experiencing it. If anything, it kind of made it worse. Some people get their degree interrupted with a broken limb or something. But not me! Before cancer, I’d never spent more than 20 minutes in a doctors office. By the end of my treatments, I was so numb to needles for bloodwork that I could actually watch the tip go into my arm and feel nothing while it happened. Ah, the little things they don’t mention in the pamphlets…
By now, you may have pieced together that I am taking some of this COVID19 skepticism a bit personally. And you’re right! I am!
Because I know what it’s like to have faith in the strength of your body, only to have that faith shattered when reality hits the fan. I know that all those empty platitudes about personal responsibility ring hollow when you’ve done everything right and still have fallen sick. I know the pain. And although I’m already doing everything I can in my own life to slow the spread, I can’t help but use every platform I have to try and get the message out.
I should probably hit the brakes now and make something very clear: I do not want you to live in fear. Fear and panic can cause people to make questionable choices, like leasing a sports car or investing in Bitcoin.
Plus, fear and panic can be taxing on mental health. I personally prefer my fear and panic in small doses, specifically in a very few horror movies that I genuinely enjoy and nowhere else. Tremble at the sight of an Alien xenomorph? Sure! Stress myself out over grabbing the mail? Not so much.
But I am a fan of accepting the reality as it is, in order to make good choices. As long as Americans keep ignoring the data and pretending that COVID19 is no big deal, we can’t fix it. Literally. All the efforts of healthcare professionals and those who are willing and able to stay home are essentially being wasted, because the virus is still spreading.
Part of the problem is that many able-bodied people have a knee-jerk reaction to the possibility of a fatal illness. They’ve always been able to assume that their “good choices” (diet, exercise ect.) were enough to keep them alive. Once upon a time, maybe that was me. To accept that you can still die randomly even if you do everything “right” is actually very difficult.
And if you have never had to fight to stay alive during a severe illness (or watched someone else go through the process up close) you have no concept of what COVID19 can actually do to you. You don’t know what it’s like to speak with doctors and nurses about your own death. You can’t fathom what it’s like to contemplate saying goodbye to your friends and family if things go poorly. You don’t understand how it feels to wrestle with pain that goes on for literal months. Plus, there’s paperwork. A lot of it. I hope you carry a detailed history of every doctors visit you’ve ever had, because you will have to produce that information dozens of times.
And don’t assume you’ll be reading novels or sketching out your dream comic book while you’re sick. Powerful drugs and deadly illnesses have side effects. It could be days or weeks before you can read, or even look at a screen without nausea. Maybe you’ll get aches all over your body that make it difficult to do anything at all. Eating and using the toilet may get very complicated. Most of your energy will be spent on surviving. There won’t be room for much else.
You’ll enter a territory where physical strength is practically meaningless. There’s no “powering through” a bad case of COVID19, or chemo, or surgery recovery, or anything that brings you close enough to death. You heal when you heal, and that’s that.
And what if the hospital in your area is sketchy? Maybe you get a bad doctor, or the office double bills you and refuses to correct the error? Tough shit, that’s part of it too. Have fun dealing with needlessly complicated medical bills while your brain doesn’t work right, O lover of freedom and liberty!
What’s that, you’re a little pressed for cash because you haven’t been able to work for several weeks and maybe you’ve been fired? Well, too bad! This is the land of the free, which means we are free to use the least economically efficient system imaginable for healthcare! And can’t you just keep 100,000$ saved at all times for emergencies?
Bottom line is, some of us already know how this goes. And we’re sick of this shit. We’re sick of watching the numbers go up. We’re sick of hearing about how “expendable” human beings are from rich assholes who never have to hear the word “no.” We’re sick of making sacrifices in our own lives so that ignorant fuckwads can make stupid decisions that get more people killed.
No, you are not invincible. But you know what? You’re body is still really cool. Your life is still precious and irreplaceable.
So cherish that body and protect it. Don’t throw yourself into the COVID19 mill just so your boss can get a bonus they don’t need or deserve.
You may not be invincible. But your life is still worthwhile. Don’t let someone with three yachts and no close friends try tell you otherwise.