The Writer vs. the Pandemic II: Cometh the Hour
by Eli S. Evans
I am “working” from “home,” in bed, when I have a cough that may or may not be dry but is definitely not wet. My stomach drops, like when you are on an airplane and suddenly it loses altitude rapidly.
I call my doctor’s office and am connected with a so-called “advice nurse,” who notes that though a single non-wet but not necessarily dry cough definitely does not mean I have the virus, it also definitely does not mean I do not. I am advised to monitor my symptoms. Regardless of how those symptoms evolve, however, I am advised not to come to the office, which is closed, and to do everything in my power to avoid the hospital, where there are too few beds and not enough equipment (I don’t quite see where the value of monitoring my symptoms lies, in this case, but since it would be effectively impossible for me not to monitor my symptoms, I decide not to press the issue). Having thusly advised me, the advice nurse wishes me luck and reminds me to stay hydrated.
I am not elderly, nor do I suffer from any of the various pre-existing medical conditions that similarly increase one’s chances of dying of complications from the virus, should one have the bad luck to contract it. At the same time, with the exception of minor celebrities and underappreciated musicians–musicians’ musicians, we’re told, which excuses us from never having heard of them–the news has been reporting almost exclusively, and with great frequency, on the deaths of complications from the virus of people who, prior to dying of complications from the virus, were neither elderly nor, to anyone’s knowledge, suffering from any of the aforementioned variety of pre-existing medical conditions. As such, it appears that being unlikely to die of complications from the virus does not make one unlikely to die of complications from the virus, should one have the bad luck to contract it.
My psychiatrist cannot tell me whether or not I have the virus, but in her view, it would probably be a stroke of good luck if I did, because that way I would be able to get it over with and get on with my life. Because she is a psychiatrist, I am disinclined to take what she says literally.
My therapist also cannot tell me whether or not I have the virus, but she can put my feelings of fear and uncertainty surrounding the possibility of having it into context. Generally speaking, people who suffer from clinical anxiety, like me, are struggling emotionally. By contrast, a lot of people with depression are thriving. The reason for this, my therapist explains, is that whereas in normal circumstances, people with depression feel both isolated and alone and isolated and alone in their feelings of isolation and loneliness, currently they only feel isolated and alone, which constitutes an improvement in circumstances. Since I would like to be thriving, the information leaves me feeling a bit depressed about the fact that I am not depressed (but not quite depressed enough to be depressed).
In bed, I exchange the following series of messages with an old friend, who many years ago subleased a bedroom in a large and dilapidated loft-type space I was renting in mid-city Los Angeles:
Gracie thinks this is all from 5G and there
isn’t actually any virus
I don’t think that’s valid
But why have I heard hospitals are empty
Probably for the same reason Gracie heard this is all
But also because the hospitals you’re talking about
are in low income neighborhoods where no one has
health insurance and the private equity firms that
own them would rather let them sit there empty
until the neighborhoods get gentrified and then sell
them to condo developers at a massive return on
investment than use them as a place to provide
medical services to people who can’t pay for them
Even if it’s real, I feel like someone must be
I feel like it’s like how when some drunk asshole
drives his car off a cliff because he was too busy
insulting his wife and threatening to beat his kids
asses when they got home to watch the road, it’s
still an accident, but at the same time it would
probably be fair to say someone was behind it
you mean the driver
And the people who put the road there, next to the
and the people who built the car
Would you say that I was your favorite
roommate in LA?
Someone ripped a door off its hinges and then threw
it off the roof during your birthday party
u were so pissed
That party was great, tho
I think I might have it by the way
I coughed earlier and it felt dry. Definitely not wet
I think I might have it too
I haven’t been able to smell anything since
At 3AM, I am awakened by an urgent need to urinate, probably as a result of all the hydrating I was doing before bed. In the bathroom, in the darkness, I look in the mirror and regard my reflection with suspicion. Then I take my temperature, which is normal, followed by several deep breaths, all of which I am able to complete without coughing. I am not sick. I am fine. Everything is fine. But I also know that I could as easily have awakened to find myself in the opposite circumstances, and at the thought of this I am inspired, like one struck by a sudden illness, to write a poem. Excluding a poem I recently published that was actually a short story into which I inserted a single line break in order to be able to submit it for publication as a poem, it is the first poem I have ever written, and it goes like this:
My fever is high,
My cough is dry –
Thanks to the withering of the social welfare state within a broader framework of postwar neoliberalism I guess there’s nothing for me to do but lay here and wait to find out whether or not I’m going to fucking die.
Image by Erin Murphy via Flickr (cc)
About the Author:
Eli S. Evans has several other stories and essays currently available for curbside pick-up.