Yesterday morning, I sat in my office at home and answered email, helped draft an essay, had a meeting with graduate students, and smelled cigarette smoke, as if someone in the next room had smoked perhaps an hour ago. I coughed, not because I had to cough, but because the smell of cigarettes tells me to cough.
Later, I made lunch for the kids and smelled cigarette smoke, intermittently but regularly. As the kids finished, I felt deeply exhausted and laid down on the couch, unable to really focus. I smelled cigarette smoke and then twenty minutes vanished so I suppose I passed out. I hadn’t planned on falling asleep, but involuntary napping has been much a part of my life this last month.
I got back up and drank some water and didn’t notice the smell of cigarette smoke until I sat back down in my office chair to do a bit more work. Frustrated, and knowing it was a cool day, I went outside to take a break. I felt pretty good, so I got out the lawnmower – a light electric unit – and started mowing the lawn as I was at least a week behind. Within about twenty minutes I was drenched in sweat and dizzy, so I quit and went back inside and spent the next few hours feeling off. Right now, as I type this, there’s a faint aroma of cigarette smoke mixed with the lovelier scent of freshly brewed coffee.
The amazing science writer Ed Yong recently wrote a superb piece on long covid, and I want to say quickly that the people struggling with long covid are struggling so much that I’m almost embarrassed to compare my minor symptoms to theirs. But this stayed with me. Ed writes:
any discussion of the pandemic still largely revolves around two extremes—good health at one end, and hospitalization or death at the other. This ignores the hinterland of disability that lies in between, where millions of people are already stuck, and where many more may end up.
The hinterland metaphor pushes against to a fundamental problem in typical discourse around health, that its a binary between well and not-well. That’s not really how anything works with the body or the mind, but it’s how we like to talk about it. For the long haulers, it’s been devastating in ways that all people with chronic illnesses are familiar with (Ed Yong’s early insight that he needed to talk to the ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia communities while writing about Long Covid was essential to the quality of his work).
For me, it’s not a big deal, except I’m not really well and I feel like I should be.
My brain is mostly working again, though, and that’s been a pleasure. I had five essays in August, and am currently writing about Jewish suffering (with an art historian), medieval slavery (with my co-author), medieval infanticide law (with a legal historian), and autism (with a leading self-advocate). I don’t reveal co-authors until we get published together just so that I don’t embarrass us if the essays get spiked, which sometimes they do!
Take a read:
Rapid OTC Covid Tests should be Free (Washington Post, 8/25/21)
Mask Mandates and the ADA (The Nation, 8/23/21)
Who is LeVar Burton? (CNN, 8/20/21)
Covid School Year Three (CNN, 8/12/21)
The Modern Medieval of The Green Knight (Smithsonian Magazine, 8/12/21. With Matt Gabriele)
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