To stipulate at the outset: Compared to most Americans, me and mine have been well-prepared to cope with this kind of crisis. My wife works outside the house (well, she used to), which means we are a two-income upper-middle-class family. We have carved out an affluent lifestyle, complete with a home office and an affordable mortgage. I can do my job remotely; even before the pandemic I worked from home a lot. Even the research I put into writing “Theories of International Politics and Zombies” has been put to good personal use, which is a fancy way of saying we did our serious Costco runs well before most of my neighbors.
Unless you are old enough to remember the pre-vaccine polio outbreaks of the late 1940s and early 1950s, you are undergoing pressures unique in our lifetime. More than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, more than the 2008 financial crisis, the novel coronavirus has forced radical changes in our daily routines. The exponential nature of the pandemic has also made it difficult to adjust to any new normal. About a week ago, a friend and neighbor cheerfully suggested that as the weather warmed up they would be able to host cocktails on their deck. That seemed like a nice idea at the time and completely insane in the present moment. Over the past few days the number of diagnosed cases in my state has more than tripled.
Societies have gone from canceling sporting events to canceling school functions to social distancing to encouraging sheltering in place in the span of a few weeks. These parallels to the first five minutes of any zombie apocalypse narrative might be cliched but that does not make them any less unsettling.
So far, everyone in my nuclear family remains healthy, which is a blessing. Over the past 10 days, we have adhered to the CDC guidelines for social distancing. But part of the stress is the waiting. I keep backdating to my last social interaction involving the shaking of hands, or the hugging of a friend. Has enough time passed to be in the clear from getting it from them? The long incubation period means it is difficult to know for sure.
My brain cannot turn off the constant and conscious personal health inventories. Is my nose stuffy? Am I coughing more than usual? These symptoms are just part of being a middle-aged guy waking up in New England in the cold. Still, I perseverate about them. One day I read about how hard it is to get this from food and relax. The next day I panic and wonder if it is possible to have a fever even if the thermometers insist one’s body temperature is closer to 97 degrees. What if the thermometer is busted?
Then there are the precautionary measures to stay healthy. I take perverse pride in my dry and cracked knuckles; they mean I have been diligent in washing my hands. I replay that time I went to the pharmacy to pick up my family’s myriad medicines to recall if I screwed anything up and infected myself and my family. Or did the person who handed me something wear gloves or not? How often have I touched my face while writing this paragraph ARGGH I JUST SCRATCHED MY NOSE!!!!