Coronavirus Chronicles

Day One: Valencia, Spain, 11 March 2020, 13:16 GMT+1

Proof of life, 11 March 2020, Valencia, Spain

So it’s March 11, 2020 and I am in Spain, which is rapidly becoming the next cluster of ever-increasing coronavirus infections, although in Valencia, where I am living, the rate has been relatively slow. However I have decided to go back to Philadelphia tomorrow as I’m worried if I wait a week or two longer I will be stuck here as I am sure, like Italy, Spain will be barred as a starting point to travel to the USA. Spain has been, as far as I can tell, extremely lackadaisical in handling the containment of the virus’s spread, so it’s no wonder the numbers are bounding upward at such an alarming rate. The US is the same, and I imagine in a week or two both countries will be at the low end of a pandemic.

I’d rather be safe at home in my already well-prepared apartment in Philly than here. I’m not exactly Joe the Survivalist, but I readily admit I have been a prepper for years and my my apartment is well stocked with food and other survival provisions that can keep me comfortably ensconced in my home for a month or two if the need arises. So luckily the window is still open to get my ass back to the USA tomorrow. If I’d have waited another few days I am certain I’d be fucked.

Tonight I am catching a Renfe AVE train to Madrid, where I’ll spend the night at the airport Marriott, and then fly home to Philly tomorrow at noon Spanish time, arriving home at 4 pm EST. Madrid is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus infection in Spain, so I’m consciously aware of being highly vigilant in avoiding personal contact or large crowds.

En Route to Madrid, 11 Mar 20 18:30 GMT+1

Moving through Spain at 300 km/hr on the glorious Alta Velocidad aka AVE train from Valencia to Madrid. I’m in Coche 9 and it’s pretty empty. People seem wary and just a little concerned, but no one is running down the streets in a Chicken Little panic. It all feels creepy like a dream after eating spicy food; humanity is reacting to this unprecedented crisis with fear, yes, but also with some curiosity as this is so fucking weird what’s happening, and how astonishingly fast it’s gone into the red worldwide. The World Health Organization has declared it a worldwide pandemic. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. OK, most people who catch this will recover fine, but people are going to die, and that’s shitty. I hope I am one of the lucky ones.

Madrid Atocha Train Station, 20:00 GMT+1
You can sense the growing, “It’s every muchacho for himself” right now as people are avoiding even looking at each other, as if they can mind meld the damn virus with thoughts. I caught the first cab I saw and the driver looked healthy and safe. He told me no one is riding cabs in Madrid. I told him to wash his hands and don’t take on any sick looking fares.

Marriott Near the Airport: 12 March 2020, 04:00 GMT+1

I left my hotel TV on CNN and awoke to the news that Trump has suspended all Euros from coming to America on Friday at midnight. This doesn’t affect my ability to get home so I am pleased. But I praise myself quietly for deciding to go home before it got weird. It’s just gotten weird. I had a mild anxiety attack at the thought of being stuck in Spain, but it passed when CNN clarified that I’d be able to fly home in a few hours.

Day 2: Madrid-Barajas Airport, 10:10 GMT+1

I’m through security and found an isolated seat where I can hide until my flight boards. Lots of Americans are scrambling for flights home even though Trump’s ban is only for Europeans, but everyone, like me, feels the door will be shut in a few days even for us. I’m feeling mild anxiety as I just want to feel safe and at home. If I do get sick I’d rather be in my bed, in my home, so my only goal is to get on this flight and get back to Philly by 4:00 EST today. Once home I’ll at least have my familiar environs. Being stuck in a foreign country during the early stages of this zombie apocalypse has been, to say the least, surreal and a bit scary. My odds of making it home without catching this motherfucking virus are probably 30% yes, 70% no. I trust my hale immune system and my ability to heal, but I am still a bit wary.

Philadelphia, 4:47 PM EST
Eight hours later I made it home. The journey ends where it began. I’m putting myself on a self-induced 14-day quarantine at home. My flight was packed with Americans heading home before Trump’s European flight ban goes into effect, even though technically Americans can still fly home from Europe after Friday. No one was taking chances. I heard lots of coughing and sniffling, so I’m assuming I may experience a COVID-19 infection. I’d say the odds are in favor I don’t, but I want to be safe.

Day 11: Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 9:10 AM EST

My self-isolated state has encompassed the last ten days since I returned March 12. I’ve had no contact with another human since then, and as of yet I haven’t exhibited any symptoms associated with COVID-19. I was not only lucky to get out of Spain when I did, but even luckier that I probably wasn’t exposed to the virus on the flight home. I will hold off celebrating this fact for another week or so, as I may just be carrying it but I’m asymptomatic. Until next Thursday I will not take any chances infecting others by emerging from my apartment. Even after that date I’ll probably stay isolated for up to another month if necessary.

Philly has handled the crisis well. Restaurants still deliver food even though their dining rooms are essentially closed, moreover through Acme Foods and Whole Foods/Amazon I have been able to order groceries that get delivered to my door. Also, in my “doomsday” closet I stockpiled about 6 months of emergency rations (Army MREs and Mountain House freeze-dried meals) a few years ago when I got all “prepper aware” while recuperating from a broken arm and not having much else to do but prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Smart move; I can literally remain in my apartment for months if necessary. It helps I am wealthy enough to afford such luxuries and that my job is not in jeopardy, and even so, I can live well for quite a while without a paycheck coming in at this point. However, my company is fine, and though things may slow down, we should weather this storm well.

The last week was a difficult and anxiety-ridden period as I saw the world outside going nutty over this virus. I decided after the second day to stop watching or reading the news because it only added to my anxiety about whether I was sick or not. I swear, there was a three-day period where every stomach rumbling or allergy stuffiness episode had me convinced I was ill with COVID-19. The ensuing panic would subside only after I realized, rationally, that I was fine, but in those minutes of frenetic panic I’d hyperventilate myself into a shortness-of-breath episode. Of course I realized I could breath deeply and that I was just in a state of too much oxygen being breathed in and not enough carbon dioxide coming out, which feels differently than the shortness of breath caused by pneumonia; my brain’s breathing mechanism realizes the oxygen to CO² ratio is out of whack, ergo it slows breathing to allow the excess O² to get absorbed and the resulting CO² to exhale, which makes me feel like I cannot breathe, but of course I am, just slowly. I wonder if I am the only fool to hyperventilate himself into thinking I had COVID-19. Of course, after each of these very minor and silly episodes I was fine. No fever, No cough. No weakness or fatigue. I was not ill with COVID-19; I was just being a silly billy running around gasping for the air I was actually breathing in fine. My lungs were not damaged or incapable of fully expanding.

Sleeping was difficult for a few days, mainly from the time change returning from Spain, but now I’m doing fine. Last night’s sleep felt refreshing, the first time I’ve awoken and actually felt like I had restful sleep. Based on what I know about the incubation period for COVID-19, I still have many days to go before I can feel confident I didn’t catch it, but each day without symptoms is a good sign, and the fact 10 days symptom-free have passed since my last human exposure makes me feel less anxiety than each previous day.

My greater concern is more scientific. Is it better we become exposed to the virus and develop immunities, or avoid it altogether? I prefer not to catch it as I am diabetic and also have an aortic aneurysm, and although I have both conditions well under control, and I am physically fit from lots of bicycling and long hikes, I’d rather not test myself by getting sick with this damn virus. However, over the long term it may behoove me to suffer through an infection as having immunity now for this early strain may benefit me if the virus evolves into something deadlier that I’d not have to face if I were immune. I am sure every epidemiologist in the world is positing the same theory. Yes, we do not want to expose those who are vulnerable to the virus to its ravages once infected, but maybe it is, long term, in the best interest of humanity that our young become immune to it. Natural selection is a motherfucker and viruses play the game as well as any piece of genetic material in our world. They are clever, adaptive, and sinister little Darwinistic machines.

This leads to an insane but true thought. Is our compassion for, and protection of, the weakest among us the right strategy? I mean, sure, isolate everyone over 60 or those under 60 with underlying health conditions. But for a vast majority of people it may be better for them to catch this virus and suffer through its infection into their system. Some 80-90% of people who have caught this virus only experienced mild symptoms and seem to have recovered fine. Now their immune systems are prepared to fight any new hybrid of this genetic code that tries to attack them in the future, moreover they will never be carriers, and hence vectors, of it again.

My guess is that scientists feel we are close enough to getting a vaccine that we can absorb the massive cost of isolating humanity in the short term if we are in fact rolling out a vaccine within the next year. I certainly hope that is the case. If not, how long can people be isolated before it’s no longer economically feasible? And since 80-90% of those infected recover fine, then let people catch it, carry on with life, and this thing will die of its own loneliness seeking hosts that don’t exist.

Anyhow. More later.

Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 23:10 PM EST; Day 11, Part II
It was a good and bad day in isolation. Good in that I ordered groceries that will be delivered tomorrow by Acme Foods, bad in that I was edgy and nervous all day for no apparent reason other than I’m still unsure I won’t get sick. I know I should be more existential and even oblivious to this fact, that even if I get sick it will be mild, but I am so completely fearing getting sick that my squirrelley obsessiveness is starting to get irrationally stupid and panic-laden. What, my neck hurts from working at my desk all day? OMG, COVID-19! Then comes the five-minute check: no fever, no fatigue, no sore throat, no cough…all right, I’m fine. Breathe deeply and get my pulse down. There you go. Crisis over. I’m a nutty motherfucker, I freely admit.

This COVID-19 is a hypochondriac’s nightmare, and as everyone who knows me will attest, I am a wildly neurotic and laughably chronic hypochondriac. I have expended more adrenalin worrying about being sick, infirm, or dying than any ten human beings. What’s even funnier is that when I actually get sick I’m the calmest person in the room. But anticipating getting sick? That sickens me to the point of near paralysis. Seriously, I’m a goof.

I sit here at my desk in a state of calm resignation that I just have to let the chips fall where they may with this whole COVID-19 coronavirus shit. I mean, every day a human being is alive there’s a great risk of getting in a deadly car crash or other unexpected accident, or dying from one disease or other, or a fucking pile of space junk can crash down on one’s  head. Life is a crap shoot.

As my 9th grade Biology teacher, the great Alfreda Buckner, who was also a trained mortician, once told us when we whined about homework, “Children, you don’t have to do anything in life you don’t want, except die. We all have to die.” That, in Mrs. Buckner’s terse words, is the essence of evolution. Mrs. Buckner was a brilliant woman. Like all living beings, we humans exist for a while, then we don’t exist. We can fight to exist longer, or not fight to exist longer, but in the end we all have to cease to exist. There are millions of ways for humans to die, but in the end we all die. C’est la vie. Worrying about this fact doesn’t ever change the ultimate outcome. I only wish I were zen enough to fully comprehend this simple fact; I’m not. I’m a hyperventilating mess right now.

Luckily, we humans have consciousness so I can record my thoughts for posterity during this weird turn of human events and let people understand how I, a nobody and about as anonymous as any other bloke, suffered through this monumentally unprecedented modern human experience. The world has literally shut down and people are bunkered in their homes awaiting salvation from this pandemic. I wonder how many others are suffering from the panic and anxiety that has left me reeling on occasion. When this is all over and we go back to living as we always have—if that is ever possible—then we can all have a laugh about it, or tell a few amusing anecdotes and stories about our experiences.

What keeps lingering in my hypochondriac panic is this rational thought: these past decades we’ve seen one of the largest mass extinctions the planet has ever experienced as countless species have ceased to exist due to environmental changes or simply through natural selection. Is that what humanity is facing? Has nature decided to punish us for our misuse of the planet the last few hundred years? Have we done this to ourselves and sealed our own doom? Crazy question, yes, but one that obviously has to be asked. Maybe this virus is just the first wave. Maybe the shit has hit the proverbial fan and the next wave will be devastating.

But I fucking hope it’s not true. However this fact has haunted me in my isolation and panic the last ten days.


1 thought on “Coronavirus Chronicles

  1. Oh brother Mat you are a silly one. I laughed all the way through it. I was amazed that you live part time in Spain. You and John must get along famously. Oh by the way Happy Belated Birthday. I love you and am glad you are back.

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