By Naomi Serviss / New York City
My husband Lew retired from the New York Times at the end of December.
His first bittersweet send-off (virtual and actual) was a thoughtful champagne toast on December 21 in a generic meeting room. The farthest wall from the door was aglow with zooming colleagues from here and there.
About 30 people showed up in person, seated on the perimeter of the cafeteria-like tables. Some were standing. Others joined from the doorway. All cheered the guest of honor.
Few people wore masks.
It was the first large-ish social gathering
we’d attended in (how many?) years.
Laudatory remarks were made. Hands were shaken, people hugged, tears flowed. It got juicy.
One young Zoom mentee lamented Lew’s departure and tagged him with “Giving Dad vibes.”
I know what you’re thinking.
It was a no-brainer, yet.
Here’s the thing. I caught Covid last January. It was a near non-event, a very mild, cold-like bug that didn’t linger. A few days of annoying sniffles, then gone. It wasn’t a big inconvenience.
I hadn’t courted the bug in any way. It merely existed. And wended its way to me, as it did millions of people worldwide. Lew lucked out and got away scot-free.
What if we both came down with Covid after joining in the hoopla? How bad could it be?
Which is how a decision was made to participate wholeheartedly in the festivities. How often does one retire, anyway?
We’re both fully vaccinated, boosted and have kept low profiles. Masking became second nature,
near-obsessive hand washing and respecting personal space made up our social fabric.
Dr. Fauci (remember him?) would be proud. But I figured it was only a matter of time. And luck.
Inevitably, Lew caught Covid first, big surprise. After all, he had met with colleagues for congratulatory lunches, hockey games and drinks. Inside bars and restaurants.
The day after a Rangers/Montreal Canadiens game
he didn’t look so hot. The coughing started. “Uh-oh,” we thought.
Symptoms included severe coughing, a little wheezing, exhaustion and existential kvetching. Appetite was fine, energy was low.
No fever. Flu-like aches but no scary breathing concerns.
At this point, I still felt fine. But reality stared us in the toothpaste. Couples toughing it out in small one-bedroom apartments have a 50-50 chance of catching the virus from significant others.
Soon my impersonation of a cheerful, caring spouse wore thin. His constant coughing got on my last (third-rail) nerve.
I know it sounds callous.
But constant nighttime coughing can disturb a partners’ sleep as well. Not complaining, just reporting.
While Lew was catching up on sleep between coughing spasms in the daytime hours, I did my best to avoid close contact.
More than a challenge in a 750-square foot home. It’s virtually impossible and we let the fates
decide which way the Covid gusts would blow. I still felt well, but my luck was about to turn the following day.
I tested positive on a home test.
Terrific! Two sick people with a pup to walk. Three times a day.
Que será. Just when I was about to organize the junk drawer, sort old Playbills and declutter all the surfaces, I get slammed. My head felt sledgehammered.
The doomsday migraine (no aura) trumpeted the virus. Neighboring construction noise augmented our aural misery. The outside elevator engine raucous thundered ever loudly.
Our full-fledged symptoms seemed non-life-threatening. Merely life-interfering. Concentration was out. Patience was thin. It was time to seek a higher authority.
I scored two virtual urgent care doctor’s visits.
While waiting for the designated time, we behaved like couples who’ve been married a long while. Tolerant, up to a point. Admittedly, I did get a little testy. Communicating within three rooms shouldn’t be vexing. Yet our dialogue centered around these basics:
“What did you say?”
“I don’t understand what you just said!”
“Would you come in here before you say something?”
“You know I can’t hear you when the water’s running!”
Au contraire, it vexed plenty. Another Covid symptom? Understandable, I reasoned, trying my best to be compassionate with my perfect spouse.
I give myself a “C.” Maybe “A” for effort.
In my mind.
With Covid, every small task seemed insurmountable and had a steep cost. Reaching for a tea bag pulled my right shoulder muscle. Tossing and inevitably turning in bed nagged my left hip. The mouthwash tasted salty.
All the news was bad. We should have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Instead, pro-choice women were again marching on Washington.
I thought of my friend Faye Wattleton, the first African American and youngest president of Planned Parenthood. My Central Park dog walking mate and I had discussed the dire straits of women’s reproductive rights many times while strolling.
I tried jumping back into her memoir, Life on the Line, but concentration was net zero. I felt a little anxious about not being able to focus.
Sleep was difficult and my morning yoga routine was shot. Worrying wasn’t helping my mental state. Yet, it was a familiar fallback. I was kvetching about all things great and small. Whining became my love language. Unintentionally, of course. Sharing is not always caring when it comes to communicable diseases.
Who knew misery loved company? Everyone.
After all, that red flag wedding vow (“For better, for worse”) hadn’t stopped us, because we felt great the day we were married! So naïve.
When finally granted our separate doctor screen time in the late morning, we cited our symptoms and were each prescribed the flavor of the day: Paxlovid. The perfect elixir! Both doctors had the same caveat:
There might be a slight metallic taste and possible stomach distress after ingesting the pills. Not a problem. After the never-ending, unfinished symphony of sneezing, coughing, deep sighing and zapped energy, we were willing to chance tasting aluminum foil.
On board in a nanosecond.
Through a series of mishaps with the pharmacy, delivery of the “miracle cure” wouldn’t be sent until the next day!
The show got worse. We were both feeling miserable, and our pup needed walking. Talk about conundrums.
Lew slept between bouts of coughing. Sleeping was a briefly visited foreign land for me.
My usual 4 a.m. get-out-of-bedtime still roused me hours before sunrise and offered quiet respite from? pre-construction sounds drilling.
Delivery of the acclaimed medication finally arrived and we began taking two sets of three pills twice a day.
I’d like to report that all symptoms dissolved immediately, but nay, not true. What was immediate? The tinny metal taste both doctors predicted. It wasn’t vile, just an unpleasant undercoat per swallow.
Our symptoms slowly abated over the course of a week and our personal world began to right itself. My headache receded and my appetite returned. Lew’s cough has faded and we’re on the mend.
Last I checked, the news has gotten worse.
Fortunately, we’re both completely symptom-free.
And Janis still needs walking.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com