Well, I finally got COVID, or should I say COVID finally got me. In this article, I discuss some things I learned from my thankfully brief bout with COVID.
Despite being fully vaccinated and trying to be reasonably careful, COVID finally caught up to me during a trip to visit family and friends. I swear, you let your guard down for one minute and boom! Anyway, I started feeling symptoms on my way home and tested positive upon my return. Fortunately, my encounter was brief and not terrible. Basically, I felt like I had a bad cold for a couple of days, although the fatigue still kind of lingers. It could have been much worse, and has for many.
As regular readers know, I’m a fairly reflective sort, and I try to learn from my experiences. So, I’ve been thinking about what I can learn from my encounter with COVID. In this article, I share some of what I learned. Before getting to that, however, even though COVID wasn’t terrible for me, you still do not want it. So, do what you can to avoid joining the ever growing list of folks who have had COVID. Also, I’m still suffering from a bit of COVID fog, so I apologize if this article is a little more stream-of-consciousness than normal.
So, what did I learn? The first thing isn’t something I learned, but rather something that was reinforced. I definitely married up. Tracy, my wife, was awesome throughout my illness, which wasn’t a surprise, but was very much appreciated. (And yes, I’ve told her this many times.) Taking a step back, COVID made me realize that it’s important to have a solid social support structure. I’m fortunate to have some good friends, and it was comforting when they checked on me. As the saying goes, dig the well before you get thirsty (or something like that). It’s important to be a good friend so you’ll have friends to rely on when you need them. To paraphrase Emerson, "To have a friend, be a friend." Few things in life can match the dividends paid by investments in friendship.
I also learned that I’m not quite as tough as I thought. It didn’t last long, but I felt mighty poorly for a couple of days. All I wanted to do was sleep. Toughing it out just wasn’t an option. I just didn’t have the energy to do much of anything. This was tough on Tracy, but she’s pretty tough herself and never complained, or at least didn't complain to me. When you’re really down, whether physically or emotionally, it’s best to take the time you need to recover. Trying to “cowboy up” and fight through it often is a bad strategy. And this is coming from a firm adherent to the “take a lap and shake it off” philosophy of dealing with adversity. Sometimes you just need to slow down and get better. This isn’t weakness, in fact it’s a display of strength and reason. You’ll be better off in the long run if you take the time you need to recover properly. The world keeps spinning, you can sit out a few revolutions and things will keep going. I will admit that I taught a doctoral seminar while I was sick (on Zoom, of course), but otherwise I tried to take it very easy, which is NOT easy for me.
COVID also reinforced my belief in being prepared. We have a running joke around the house that I always have at least one backup plan. I think that's a pretty prudent thing to do. We were well stocked with medicines, masks, test kits, vitamins, sanitizer and the like. So, I was able to treat the symptoms and take precautionary steps. I was also fully vaccinated, which may well have helped reduce COVID’s effects. We also had an isolation plan in place, nothing extensive, but a good plan that helped me stay reasonably isolated during my contagious period. Maybe more importantly, I try to pay attention to my general health. I eat reasonably, exercise regularly and try to stay in good physical condition. This really paid off, I think.
Being prepared for adversity also means being ahead on your work. Fortunately, I was an episode ahead with Live Well and Flourish. My summer research projects were on track. Bills were paid or set up to pay automatically. We had a stock of feed for the horses. I even mowed the pastures before I left for my trip. Not having to worry about these mundane sorts of things made it easier to recover properly. I did get behind on some work, but if I hadn’t built a bit of a cushion catching up would have been much worse. Think what you will of the Boy Scouts as an organization, but their motto of “Be prepared” is solid advice.
Getting COVID also reminded me that adversity is part of life. You can be very careful and prepared, but bad things are going to happen. When they do, you just have to deal with the situation as best you can. That’s all you can do and stressing over the fact that something bad happened just saps your energy to no good end. I talked about this in detail in the last episode of Live Well and Flourish, but it’s worth repeating. You cannot change what has already happened. You can only deal with what is. Put your efforts into controlling what you can, and let the rest go.
COVID also illustrated the importance of controlling what you can. I had COVID. Lamenting my fate or thinking about a bunch of “what-ifs” would have been pointless. Maybe I should have stayed home. But I didn’t, and I can’t undo the trip, so Tracy and I tried to control what we could. What could I do? Rest, stay isolated, eat well (surprisingly, my appetite remained pretty normal), and stay on a medication schedule, which was harder than I thought it would be. I could not un-catch COVID, so why add to my difficulties by wailing about my fate. (Not that I’m the wailing type, anyway.)
When thinking about preparation and control, something struck me. In an odd way, preparation is a form of control, or maybe a form of expanding what you can control should a negative event occur. In any case, a basic amount of preparation will help reduce stress if something bad does happen. Of course, you can go overboard with this. As with many aspects of life, there’s a balance. You don’t want to be unprepared, but you also don’t want to spend all of your time preparing for low probability events. I try to think about how I can mitigate the worst effects of bad events, but not worry about taking the effects to zero. For example, I have quite a few water containers stashed around the house. When a storm is heading this way, we fill them just in case we lose our water service. Afterward, we use the water for Tracy’s plants. I thought about putting in a water storage tank, but decided that doing so would be going too far. So, find the right extent of preparation. Too little and you have problems, too much and you’ve wasted time and money.
The Thing About Risks
The final thing having COVID reminded me of is that you can’t live a risk-free life. Risk is part of living a full life. Again, seek the golden mean between being timid and being foolhardy. Either one is bad, and the right mean varies across individuals, yours is different from mine. But no risk is no way to flourish (and I don’t think being risk free is even possible.) I knew traveling was a risk, but it had been a long time since I’d seen my old friends and my family. So, I was willing to undertake the risk. The risk caught up with me this time, but that’s the nature of risk. Sometimes the probabilities work against you. Just like you take out insurance against the risks of driving, your preparation serves as a sort of insurance against the risk of unexpected events.
I feel like I’m rambling a bit (or maybe a bit more than usual), so let’s turn to the three things you can do this week to prepare for potentially getting COVID. (Some of these are longer term than a week, but you can get started this week.)
Three Things to Prepare
The first, and perhaps most important thing to do this week is to start paying attention to your health. For the most part, the healthier you are generally, the lower the effects of any given illness. COVID hits people differently, so even a very healthy person can get very sick from COVID. But, everything else being equal, you’ll be better off if you’re in robust health than if you aren’t. So, improve your diet, cut back on the junk food or your drinking. For God’s sake if you smoke, try to quit. You know what you can do to improve your health. Get started. Remember that you don’t have to change everything at once. Small changes can bring about big effects. And you might want to listen to my episode on the Small Wins Strategy if you haven't already. I provide details about how you can use small projects to bring about huge results. It and all of my episodes are available at livewellandflouish.com .
Second, put together a COVID kit. For the current variant, many doctors are recommending treating the symptoms rather than seeking COVID-specific treatment. This worked for me. So, stock up on your favorite cold meds, aspirin, ibuprofen, cough medicine, etc. And put some easy to prepare foods in your pantry. Soups, peanut butter, whatever your go-to easy prep foods of choice are. Most of those sorts of foods keep pretty well, so you’ll use them eventually anyway. Make sure you have a good supply of proper masks, such as the N95 or KN95 masks. The US Center for Disease Control has a list of things to have on hand. You guessed it, I’ll put a link below. I also recommend having some COVID home test kits available. The US Federal government will send you eight rapid antigen COVID-19 tests for free. You just have to fill out a form. As always, see below for a link. If you do get COVID, be sure to let people know, especially if you live alone. It’s important to have someone check on you from time to time. It’s also a good idea to have an isolation plan in place. If you get COVID, how can you isolate yourself from others in your household? Think about this BEFORE someone gets sick. (By the way, isolation is a good idea even if someone just has a cold.)
Finally, try to get ahead on some of your tasks. This isn’t always easy, but it can be a comfort when you’re sick. You can also prepare some lists, such as monthly bills that need to be paid, in case someone has to take on tasks for you. Automate what you can, such as setting up certain bills to be paid automatically. (I realize that this isn’t for everyone.) You might be able to plan ahead for your work as well. For example, at Louisiana Tech, we are required to have a couple of weeks worth of classwork ready to go online at a moment’s notice. How you can get ahead will vary according to the nature of your work, but it’s a good idea to do what you can to allow yourself time to recover if, God forbid, you should become sick.
Well, that’s all I have for today. I’ll close with a quote that has pretty much nothing to do with today’s topic, I just like it. The quote is from Kahlil Gibran, “ And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and the sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of the little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” Go, and be a friend to someone.
Until next time, be well my friends.
Live Well and Flourish website: https://www.livewellandflourish.com/
In Times of Trouble: https://www.livewellandflourish.com/in-times-of-trouble/
The Power of Small Things: The Small Wins Strategy of Change: https://www.livewellandflourish.com/the-power-of-small-things-the-small-wins-strategy-of-change/
Free COVID-19 Home Test Kits (U.S. only)
U.S. Center for Disease Control list of supplies to have on hand
The Live Well and Flourish podcast covers this and other topics that can help you live a flourishing life. Episodes are available at https://www.livewellandflourish.com/ and on all major podcast apps.
If you liked this article, you might want to listen to episode 34, ”In Times Of Trouble”
For a deep dive on what it means to flourish, check out episode 8. “Human Flourishing – Living the Excellent Life.”