Day 27: The Boxer

April 21, 2020

These days, I keep playing The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, over and over on my iPhone.

I am just a poor boy/ Though my story’s seldom told/ I have squandered my resistance / for a pocket full of mumbles/ Such are promises.

It’s sad and haunting, not a squint of joy from start to finish. I don’t mean to say I’m always down. But these coronavirus times are sad and hard. Sitting here in my dining room flooded with late afternoon sunshine, steps away from a fully-loaded kitchen, in a home with a grassy yard, on a quiet street full of friendly neighbors, I’m haunted by the tales of want I see online and in my morning newspaper.

All lies and jest/ Still a man hears what he wants to hear/ and disregards the rest

This quarantine period has been marked in our household by some of the most frank, searing conversations we’ve ever had as a family. Each one of us has tried his or her best to say what we mean and feel, directly and with kindness. This has helped us keep friction to a minimum.

I’ve seen the same from our local leaders. Our mayor, Eric Garcetti, recently gave what I thought was one of the most moving and honest political speeches I’ve ever heard. “I’ve never before hesitated to assure you that our city is strong,” he said in his State of the City address. “But I won’t say those words tonight. Our city is under attack. Our daily life is unrecognizable.

“We are bowed and we are worn down. We are grieving our dead.” The mayor paused to swallow back tears. “But we are not broken.”

If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch it. After seeing it, I’d follow this guy anywhere.

But then I turn my attention to the White House, and I’m sifting through piles of rubble to find shards of truth. I read about the governor of Georgia forcing his state open this week while his own mayors plead with their citizens to stay home, and I don’t know whether to hang my head in despair, or yell out in fury.

Laying low/Seeking out the poorer quarters/ where the ragged people go/ Looking for the places/ only they would know

And then there’s the virus itself, or whatever it is that’s lodged in my body and doesn’t want to vacate.

I was in-bed sick for about 10 days, but I’ve not been really well for over a month. Yesterday was the first time in five weeks that I went on a long, aimless walk with the dog and did not have to lie on the couch for hours afterwards. So today, I thought I would add in a 15 minute abs workout.

So, yeah, not a great idea. The tickle that’s been gone for a week returned to my throat. After lunch, I had that tightness in my chest again, along with the chills and body aches. I was able to work only after I lay down for about an hour.

Like the song says, this illness leads you to places only other sick people know. I lack the words to describe this ache that settles on my tongue and this burn that whispers in my throat. How to explain the exhaustion that pulls me to bed as suddenly and surely as a magnet? Or the fear that lingers, despite all reasonable evidence, that the sickness will return and swallow me up again?

I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m lucky. When I’m not shivering on a couch, I know I’m getting better. But this virus is a beast. All this economic disaster we’re facing, all these political battles we’re pitching — it’s so easy to forget they are the sideshow. The virus is the thing, the main attraction, the reason we’re all at home, and angry, and frightened. Frightened if we have it, and frightened if we don’t.

The scariest part is there’s so much about it we don’t understand. Like I’ve experienced, many coronavirus survivors report it lingers for weeks or longer. Why is that? We don’t know why it’s asymptomatic in one body, mild in another and fatal in a third. We don’t even know why some people test positive for the virus and others test negative when they present with the same symptoms.

Lie la lie/ lie la la la lie lie/ Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie.

In the midst of all this horror and uncertainty, I wish I felt that everyone in charge was telling me the truth. Was acting with the noblest of intentions. Had our nation’s best interests at heart.

Here’s what I do have:

My returning health

My governor and my mayor and (surprisingly) the superintendent of LA Unified, who’s doing his level best to feed anyone who’s hungry, wherever they live, whether they have kids at his schools or not.

The soothing harmonies of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, telling an old story that feels new again.

Day 26: Gulp

April 20, 2020

For a family under lockdown, we’ve had our share of drama around here.

We’ve discovered we were running a spider nursery; inadvertently got our labradoodle stoned; and held a pots-and-pans-banging birthday celebration on our driveway.

I got sick with something that laid me low for the better part of a month — but I tested negative for the coronavirus. My husband, a physician, had confirmed COVID-19 exposure and just completed 14 days of wearing a mask everywhere he went (he’s fine now). Our 16-year-old daughter has been coughing for eight straight weeks, a round of antibiotics and a clear X-ray notwithstanding.

Every few days, I ask my brother how the family business is doing. My dad started a manufacturing business nearly 50 years ago, and my brother still runs that company today out of a plant in Valencia. Without getting into details, let’s just say things are quieter than in 2008 — and those weren’t exactly the best of times. To round things out, my mom’s partner of 15 years has metastatic renal cancer that may or may not be responding to the latest treatment (scan coming up on Friday — fingers crossed).

So I’ve been keeping my eye on our kids, the dog, my husband, my mom and her partner, the family business, etc. etc. I thought I had it all covered.

Whoops — forgot about my dad.

My father, who is 85 and lives in the Pacific Palisades, had a minor stroke on Friday and landed in a bed at St. John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica. This shouldn’t be a shocking turn of events, given his age. But he does push-ups and sit-ups every day, hikes in the mountains with a gaggle of lady friends twenty years his junior every weekend, and jets off on ski trips to Whistler and the Alps. He still works, at the business I mentioned above, and until the virus forced planes out of the skies, regularly traveled abroad for his job.

As you might imagine, it took some convincing to get him to stop driving up to Valencia every day. He and his wife have continued to avoid both delivery services and asking grandchildren for help buying groceries. Instead, he’s been hitting senior hour at Gelson’s every other week to stock up for the household.

The stroke shook him a little off balance, and more alarmingly, partially paralyzed his throat so that he struggled to swallow. He seems nearly back to normal now, but on Saturday, the hospital staff was sufficiently alarmed to limit him to a saline drip, no foods.

But here’s how indestructible my dad believes himself to be. On Saturday night, when no one was watching, he fished a pack of crackers out of some private stash of his, and ate the contraband in the dark. “I was hungry,” he said the next day. “And it was fine.”

Before he was admitted to the hospital on Friday, he and my stepmother got tested for COVID-19, thanks to my resourceful sister-in-law who set it up through the City of L.A. We don’t have the results back yet. Neither do we know what caused the stroke, thought not for lack of testing (although my husband is an internist, he works at Kaiser, a closed medical system, and so hasn’t been a part of my father’s care at St. John’s).

As I was writing this, I called my dad and found out — no surprise there — that he’s skipping the three days at the rehab home that he was offered, and is heading to his house tonight instead. His balance is back, he said, and as for his swallowing, “I only have to be told something once. They (the therapist) told me what to do, and I did it at lunch today.”

Oy.

Of course, part of the reason he’s not going to rehab is he wants to avoid more viral exposure. And he is meeting tomorrow with his internist.

To listen to him, his health is once again under control and chugging nicely forward. And it’s not like I can do much about anything, stuck here in my house, unable to even visit him when he was alone for four days at the hospital. The nice thing about him going home is I’ll be able to stand on his front lawn and wave at him, which I’ve learned is not nothing.

I’ve also remembered how much I love the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone. It wasn’t available on Friday. It sounded like a truck had dumped a load of gravel on it on Saturday. It was still scratchy on Sunday, but I knew my engineer father was back when he started explaining to me the physics of how blood flows through the heart.

I hated physics in high school. I hated that the only tutor on offer to me was my dad, and that he insisted on explaining physics with calculus, even though I was barely passing calculus and my physics course didn’t include it anyway.

But I’ll take it these days. Crackers and hubris and physics and all.

Day 7: Negative

My test results came back today: negative for the coronavirus.

On behalf of my lungs, I’m happy — no damage there, at least, not from this intruder. On behalf of my husband, who’s exposed enough as it is, I rejoice — I haven’t increased his risk of getting sick.

And for all those who I told and who congratulated me — thank you. Happy texts and smiling emojis are always appreciated.

Still, I’m confused. My test may be negative, but my cough and fatigue came back this morning, before I got the results. So what does that mean? I spent most of the last week — including much of today — in bed. What’s that about?

The test has a 30 percent false negative rate at best, according to an article in today’s New York Times. So maybe I do have it? Or maybe I have something else, and it’s still waiting out there for me, ready to get me truly ill?

There’s so much about this time that we don’t know, and don’t understand. How do you shut down a city the size of Los Angeles, and expect it to come bouncing right back, like Tigger on his springy tail, once the virus recedes? How do you not hug your friends? Not see your friends? When you lose your job, how do you keep food on the table and a roof over your head?

Here’s one that nags at me: when your pocketbook hasn’t been affected yet, what do you owe those in society who are struggling? How much money should I give away? To whom should I be of service?

And finally, this: how worried should I be when my husband calls me, as he did just now, to say he’s going to be working in the hospital this week after all? Not because the coronavirus numbers are up. No — because another doctor cut her hand, and doesn’t feel she can sufficiently wash it due to the injury. Good news is he won’t be on the COVID ward. Bad news: there is a COVID ward, in the same building.

So many unknowns. We thought when we felt the earth shake under our feet, we would be measuring its force on the Richter scale. Turns out, there are many kinds of earthquakes, not all of them easily quantifiable.