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A COVID Sufferer’s Lament

Insider Columnist John Rolfe Describes His Ongoing Battle with the Virus

By John Rolfe

I got a look at a questionnaire I will have to fill out each day at work when I start driving a school bus in October. Some of the questions made me laugh.

Under “Are you currently experiencing, or have you experienced in the past 14 days, any of the following?” these were listed: head or muscle aches, fatigue, and headache.

“Crikey,” I thought. “At this age, I always feel that way.” Indeed, when I rise from my bed, my six-decade-old carcass creaks like an old wooden schooner buffeted by wind and high seas. How could I possibly tell something was actually amiss?

Not to worry. When you contract COVID-19, you know it.

My case arrived wrapped in irony, several days after I’d completed a two-month gig at an intermediate school in New York’s Hudson Valley. I got a phone call from the district informing me that one of my five coworkers had tested positive and developed symptoms -- on the final day that I’d worked at the school.

There’d been nine people total in the building and we’d worn masks and tried to keep our distance, but as the weeks passed and no one, or at least anyone any of us knew, got sick, we became a little lax by mutual consent. Masks slipped down even though occasional cases were reported elsewhere in the school district. Such behavior is human nature. It’s tough to maintain a constant, strict vigilance, especially when the consequences of failing to do so remain an abstraction.

The abstraction hit home an hour or so after my phone call when I began feeling feverish. I was running a 102.6°, a temperature that would linger for the next eight days. I felt spacey. Sleep was turbulent, beset by a weird recurring dream of classroom clutter. The thought of food made me queasy and my sense of taste was off. Water seemed metallic. Coffee reminded me of burnt transmission fluid (what I imagine it to taste like, not that I imbibe automotive products). I went through chills-sweats cycles and fatigue, but no coughing, congestion, shortness of breath, or sore throat.

I suspected the cause was a tick-borne bug instead, as I’d been bitten recently. The doctor at the clinic I visited immediately suspected as much. Along with a COVID test, blood work for Lyme disease and similar maladies was done. Antibiotics were prescribed. The results came back positive for COVID-19, negative for all else.

So far I’ve been very lucky. My coworker was hospitalized, describing the virus as the worst ordeal she’s ever been through. The worst I’ve endured has been a sudden wave of nausea that made me wretch so violently I blacked out, landing on my pasty face. I came to heaving, and as I lay there slowly recovering, I couldn’t help wondering why anyone would not want to do what they could to stop this misery.

I understand laziness. Guilty as charged. But willfully flouting long-established pandemic containment procedures because … why? To make a political statement? To protect one’s sacred right to spread disease? To hear some complaints, you’d think wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing were like being asked to scale Mount Everest clad only in underwear, high heels and a feather boa.

What’s most infuriating is not that I got sick. It’s that others are still suffering when this country could have made a much better, good-faith effort to lessen the impact and duration of the pandemic. New York State has done a good job of containment, but the bug still lurks here like the creature from Alien.

I don’t expect perfection from anyone, or for experts to know everything about the virus, but at least being able to say we all tried everything we could would make it easier to accept getting sick or others falling ill. Instead, President Trump has punted the pandemic playbook, downplayed the threat, mocked masks and led a charge into a cesspool of the most pointless, unnecessary, stupid, partisan antagonism, willful ignorance and distrust in science and agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

I wonder what pandemic pooh-poohers think when they get sick. The virus clearly affects everyone differently. People I know have felt like they were suffering a heart or lung problem. Others have lost loved ones. You can’t possibly know how COVID-19 will hit you. Feeling lucky, punk? Able to afford missing time at work or surprise medical bills? Up for having your life disrupted indefinitely? Why would anyone not care about having to deal with these things or whether others will?

So I chew on my vexation while I recover. As of this writing, I’m quarantined and have been fever-free for six days. My appetite is returning but my energy waxes and wanes. My wife and son are fine. Meanwhile, I commiserate with our hen Freda, who is now cooped up in our basement due to a mysterious ailment that has given her a droopy comb and lethargic demeanor. I see myself in her.

When I finally return to normal, I suspect I’ll notice the difference.


John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.



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