This age of coronavirus is an unsettled time for a 76-year-old man with a suppressed immune system, a chronic sinus infection and a mess of garden-variety allergies.
For years I’ve had an off-and-on scratchy throat and watery eyes. For the past decade I’ve taken a rheumatoid arthritis medication that damps down my immune system. Most days I feel like I’m catching a cold or “coming down with something,’’ as my mother used to say.
The pills I take for high blood pressure sometimes give me a cough. I describe it as a “dry’’ cough. I didn’t pay much attention to that description until recently when I read that among the serious symptoms of COVID-19, the coronavirus, is a dry cough. Now when I cough, I wonder if it’s dry in the sense of the virus or just the same old cough I’ve had for several years.
I’ve become more aware of those conditions since I began learning about COVID-19. The virus has gained pandemic status, closed schools, shut down entire cruise lines, limited air travel and large gatherings, prompted both government and private businesses to encourage or order people to work from home and put the stock market in a tailspin.
It’s comforting to hear and read from medical sources that most people who get the virus will recover with relatively minor issues. It’s also comforting for me personally to know that, because of the relatively low-key, stay-at-home life Nancy and I live, we haven’t been many places where we’d come into contact with people carrying the virus. It’s also good to know that, in spite of the medical issues I’ve mentioned, both of us are in pretty good health for our age.
Still, a person can’t help but wonder, especially when he coughs, feels out of breath or thinks maybe he has a fever. The Centers for Disease Control and other medical sources say older people and people with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of developing coronavirus. What am I supposed to do with that?
What Nancy and I are trying to do is be more diligent about avoiding crowds and travel. Never ones to gallivant around the country or hit the party scene, we’ve hunkered down even more. I figure we’ll do that for as long as the experts say it should be done. We weren’t planning to go on a cruise, anyway, or even to the state basketball tournaments. I had planned to follow the University of North Dakota’s march to the championship of college hockey, but that’s off. And I’d have followed it from home.
As I read and watch the news, as I surf my phone for latest developments on the virus or medical sites that separate fact from fiction, I can’t help but marvel at how my mother knew how to treat us kids back in the time before we had 24-hour access to information. When one of her kids came down with something, my mother practiced her own form of social distancing, her own quarantine system that actually worked pretty well for its time. And somehow, she knew how to respond to most of our illnesses.
People didn’t run to a doctor in those days. People didn’t even call a doctor, not most of the time. Bad colds, flu, the croup, measles, ear infections, chicken pox and mumps were all treated at home. We quarantined in our bedrooms with the shades drawn and the blankets pulled up. We rode things out with Vick’s slathered across our chests, with calamine lotion on the bumps, with a steamer running and with hot lemon and honey in our water.
I vaguely remember a bout of what my mom called the hard measles. I spent miserable days and nights in bed. I recovered, but my mom probably didn’t sleep for three or four nights. I know some people brush off the seriousness of measles, but my cousin Fran died from its complications. She was 15.
We have vaccine for measles these days. We don’t have one for COVID-19. They say they’re working on it. Nothing to do but stay home and wait it out — and worry, just a little.