The Boy in the Bubble

Coronavirus Chronicles
Day 18: Philadelphia, USA, 30 March 2020, 10:30 a.m. EST

The view from my bubble to the streets below.

There was a TV movie in the 70s starring John Travolta about a lonely teenage kid who lived in a hermetically-sealed bubble because his body couldn’t produce antibodies, thus he was isolated and disallowed any human contact out of fear such contact would infect him with something his weak immune system couldn’t fight. Like all TV movies of that era, it was cheesy and silly, but now, after 18 days of complete isolation in my Philadelphia loft, during which I haven’t come in contact with another human being and I clean, scrub, and disinfect every possible inch of the place, I feel lonely and isolated like Travolta’s character in the film. Sadly, 70s teen babe extraordinaire, Glynnis O’Conner, clad in a bikini, is not waiting on the other side of my bubble like it was for Travolta’s character. That lucky, disco-dancing Vinnie Barbarino creep.

It’s Monday, March 30, 2020, and the world is in a place it’s not been in 100 years, paralyzed by a viral pandemic that is spreading like a wildfire and infecting people with such an alarming virulence that governments worldwide have ordered people to create their own bubble like mine and not come in contact with other people for…well, for as long as it takes to stop the spread of COVID-19, the villainous coronavirus. In the USA it’s killing about 1.7% of people who contract it, which is alarming mostly for the simple reason it spreads rather easily and the tally of the afflicted is growing rapidly. Too rapidly. Since I went into isolation the numbers no longer makes sense except to report, as a former medical scientist myself, that it is NOT GOOD.

I’m bearing witness to this unprecedented madness high above in my top-floor loft with its view of Center City Philly below, normally filled noisily with people coming and going in great numbers on foot or bikes or in cars, but now it’s virtually empty. People are bunkered in their homes waiting out this pandemic, and I hope, like me, they are concerned about what kind of world we’ll face when we finally emerge from our self-imposed home incarceration. Our economy is in shambles, our investment portfolios—for those of us fortunate enough to have them in the first place—are decimated, and our futures are ambiguous if only because we’ve no idea when this virus will run its course or scientists will find a vaccine that protects us from its ravages.

I am lucky in that I don’t need to leave my apartment for any reason. Thanks to Amazon and Instacart I can order groceries and home supplies and it all gets delivered to my door. I have provisioned myself the last three weeks with enough food to last months. Secondly, my company is in good financial standing so I work from home every day and the paychecks will keep clearing for the foreseeable future. I also have a decent amount of savings and credit to keep me afloat for a very long time. Moreover, I was always somewhat of a doomsday prepper, so I have an ample stash of emergency rations, medical supplies, and other critical survival must-haves in my supply closet. I have three powerful HEPA air filters that keep my loft free of dust and allergens. I even have solar panels I can mount in my south-facing massive windows where the sun passes for 12-15 hours a day. I have a decent-sized battery storage unit that can keep all of my critical electronics charged if power should ever be cut. I even have solar-charged lamps and lanterns to light my place for the same reason. I prepared for this outcome years ago, honestly never even imagining it would happen, and yet I prepared all the same.

I could bunker in my apartment for a long while like Charlton Heston’s character in the film The Omega Man. How weird to see such a science fiction plot finally come true in my lifetime. As I kid I watched that film and had nightmares. Guess what? I am living in that nightmare right now. COVID-19 won’t kill even a small number of humans, but it will infect a great number, and not knowing its true potency at this time is the cause of so much uncertainty and fear. We just don’t know how deadly and dangerous this virus will be, nor do we know how to combat it medically. Thus we wait.

The first 10 days of isolation had me wallowing in anxiety out of fear I’d caught the virus while flying home from Spain, but as the distance grows between my last human contact and the present, coupled with the fact I feel healthy and virus-free, I’ve calmed down and resigned myself to remaining in isolation until there’s a vaccine. I am an active, fit, and mostly-healthy 56-year-old man, but I do have type-2 diabetes and an aortic aneurysm, so I will not tempt fate. Catching the disease at my age is a crap shoot, and although based on the stats for my age group that I have a 98.2% chance of surviving infection by COVID-19, I do not want to temp fate as the 1.8% who didn’t survive it. Bottom line: I don’t want to catch this bug, and I won’t if I stay isolated.

How strange are these times? It’s difficult to process what’s happening with any kind of sane, rational, and coherent thoughts. All I can do is survive it and hope that I can emerge safe from this in a few months.

Until then I just wait.

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