The last couple of months leading up to a Quest serology test that yielded “positive” antibodies for COVID-19 have been a roller coaster ride. Take a seat in the car behind me, strap yourself in, and let me recount a story that Agatha Christie might have written.
The tale began last October when I suffered through bronchitis for most of the month. This viral infection of the bronchial tubes is just another illness to which geezers like me are susceptible. It is usually not fatal but can lead to hospitalization. After recovering, I began taking measures to avoid getting sick again. They included using Purell, avoiding touching my face, and all the other defenses that should prevent exposure to any virus, including COVID-19. Being ahead of the curve, how the hell did I end up with antibodies?
Chapter two in this mystery begins in early April, when a persistent dry cough began to bother me, unlike the characteristically wet cough of bronchitis. I doubted that COVID-19 was responsible because I had no fever. Yet, being tired all the time worried me as well. I knew that this wasn’t a typical COVID-19 symptom, but this was a disease that kept surprising researchers with its twists and turns. For the past few months, I had often begun to take two naps a day, once in late morning and once in the early evening. My 9 hours of sleep at night was not enough to keep me from feeling beat. Was I getting old? Hell no, I was old. But when you combine the weariness with the dry cough, I wondered if I had a mild case of COVID-19. I didn’t mention this to my wife since I didn’t want to make her worry.
Around April tenth, I hit the panic button after taking a sip of the red wine from the previous evening’s dinner. All its taste had disappeared. It was literally like drinking water. Uh-oh, first it was the dry cough. Next was feeling tired all the time. Now it was losing my sense of taste. I was fucked. I pictured myself about to die in an I.C.U. with my wife not being allowed to be by my side.
A minute later, my wife took her first sip and asked me, “Why doesn’t the wine have a taste?” Unless she had COVID-19 as well, the problem was with the wine and not us. (To this day, I have not been able to find out what went wrong with the wine. The New Testament says that Jesus turned water into wine, but what happened in the Proyect household? A miracle that turned wine into water? That might make some sense, given my devilish ways.) To reassure ourselves, we tried smelling things as well. A lemon and some coffee beans had their old familiar scents, so we breathed a sigh of relief.
Having not confided to her about my COVID-19 worries before, I finally decided to fill her in. She admitted that she had been a bit worried about the dry cough, but just as much about my frequent naps. Her brother-in-law Haydar, who was our houseguest, joined in the discussion. He had no idea why the wine now tasted like water but did have a suspicion that my fatigue was related to the melatonin that I take on a nightly basis.
Roughly two years ago, I had been taking one milligram a night not so much to help me get to sleep but to help me get back to sleep. Three in the morning and dark thoughts about the Sixth Extinction will keep people like me awake. When the pandemic started, I switched to a five milligram dose after reading that melatonin could help stave off COVID019. This recommendation for melatonin was something I read in a legitimate medical journal rather than heard from a Stanford professor on FOX news. I had read an article in a legitimate journal titled “Can Melatonin Reduce the Severity of COVID-19 Pandemic?” (answered positively by the authors) and decided to increase the dosage.
Haydar referred me to an article titled “I tried using melatonin for a week and felt exhausted, even during the day.” Like me, the author had started taking five milligram doses and reported the same symptoms. “The daytime sleepiness I was experiencing started to completely overshadow the positive effects of gaining a regular sleep schedule. I had to take another midday nap and struggled to be as productive as I needed to be throughout the day.” She finally decided to go cold turkey even if it meant tossing and turning all through the night.
A few weeks ago, after bailing on melatonin, I have gotten back to an 8-hour sleep and far fewer naps. On top of that, I have gotten back to my old high-energy self. For a geezer like me, that meant walking a couple of miles every day, not gearing up for the N.Y. Marathon that will likely be called off anyway.
A couple of weeks after things had returned to normal (the dry cough had disappeared along with the torpor), my wife began to insist that we get an antibody test. Our health provider had just decided our insurance could pay for a serology test, thus saving us a couple of hundred dollars. I grumbled that I didn’t want to bother with the test since the results were wrong fifty percent of the time, plus I didn’t want someone jabbing me with a needle. Since my wife is even more hard-nosed than me, I finally relented and trailed behind her to Quest diagnostics on May 19th.
Three days later, we got the results. She tested negative, and I tested positive. Since neither one of us had been ill and since we had both passed the wine into water test, she was a bit surprised that I had now entered the charmed circle of the immune. I thought about it for a few minutes and told her might account for my positive antibodies. Ever since I was a teen, I averaged a cold a year and twice that every so often. Since 20 percent of colds come from the coronavirus rather than the rhinovirus, that might explain my antibodies.
The consensus of researchers is that the antibodies grant immunity for only a year. So, who knows when I got the antibodies and how long they will last? It was also possible that Quest labs generated a false positive. CNN ran a story about fifty percent of these tests being inaccurate, after all. It was not clear whether this percentage was a result of the test itself being subject to our own body’s complex reaction to a virus or the outcome of a fly-by-night laboratory’s third-rate standards. I didn’t even have enough confidence in my immunity to join the George Floyd protests in New York.
Living in New York, which had the most fatalities during the pandemic so far, is enough to reduce you to a blubbering mass of protoplasm hiding in the bedroom behind closed doors. For someone in my age bracket, it might even come to hiding under the bed. At least, I don’t have any underlying conditions except “get off my lawn” crankiness that I take out on social democrats. That crankiness doesn’t help my high blood pressure. On the other hand, it doesn’t open the door to a coronavirus.
Now, my wife and I are waiting for word on whether she will have to return to Lehman College in September, where she is an associate professor in the Business and Economics department. Lehman has awarded three posthumous degrees to its Class of 2020, including one student who died just last month.
There’s an article by Corey Robin in The New Yorker titled “The Pandemic Is the Time to Resurrect the Public University” that offers a leftish perspective on how CUNY (City University of New York) can survive the pandemic and even flourish. Robin is a Brooklyn College professor, Jacobin contributor, and a Professional Staff Congress activist.
He alludes to sixteen deaths in CUNY campuses, making it the most afflicted university system in the U.S.A., just as New York is the most afflicted city. He is troubled by the N.Y. Times op-ed that Brown University president Christina Paxson wrote. She argued that college campuses should reopen in September because lower-income students “may not have reliable internet access or private spaces in which to study.” Since only about five percent of Brown’s students come from the bottom twenty percent income percentile, her concern for the disadvantaged seems duplicitous. It is CUNY that is serving the poor. It can’t begin to match Brown, whose endowment funds are flush from well-off alumni. Robin describes CUNY realities:
Paxson insists that campuses can reopen this fall if there is “rapid” and “regular” testing of all students throughout the year. At CUNY, even in the best of times, we often don’t have soap in our bathrooms. We also still have push faucets. To wash one hand, I must use the other to twist and hold one of the sink’s two handles, hard and continuously. This produces water of a single temperature—cold—leaving me, always, with one hand that’s touched a surface and must remain unwashed. It’s hard to imagine coronavirus tests when washing both hands is nearly impossible.
For the CUNY system, the big issue facing the left is whether adjuncts will be the sacrificial lambs of Governor Cuomo. He is hamstrung by a loss of tax revenue and, even worse, someone with little interest in CUNY’s well-being. Despite his inflated reputation and ego, he might be more of a neoliberal than Joe Biden.
Conditions are ideal for tenured professors and adjuncts to unite around a militant trade union program. With most tenured professors entering virus-vulnerable middle ages, they have reason to help adjuncts keep their jobs since the cuts will force them to make up for their losses. For reporting on the adjuncts’ plight, I recommend Left Voice upon whose editorial board Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) English professor James Hoff sits. An interview with a recently laid-off John Jay College adjunct named Sami Disu will bring you up to speed. Like Corey Robin, Disu favors the survival of CUNY as well as an even better future. Asked how he thought the Covid-19 pandemic would affect higher education, he answered:
I am hopeful that the course for public higher education in New York City will change for the better due to increased awareness of what CUNY means to the City’s health and economy during the pandemic. CUNY’s faculty really meet the description of essential workers because they have performed superbly in facilitating an abrupt transition to online-based distance learning, even though we haven’t been paid for the numerous unpaid hours of extra work that came with it. I’m sure there have been hundreds of illnesses and deaths of CUNY’s workers and students and it is very commendable that faculty and staff have successfully facilitated the uninterrupted studies of hundreds of thousands of students. When you look at how some CUNY college workers have launched their own campaign to save adjunct jobs like RAFA’s grade pledge, I am hopeful that some are clearly ready to fight.
But, the threats to public higher education that CUNY provides are significant and I think we should all continue to pay close attention to Gov. Cuomo’s ideas to reimagine education in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a delegate at Professional Staff Congress, I can tell you the union is paying close attention to this development as we know that fiscal crises are a perfect time to speed up privatization of public education in general. We can’t afford to be caught off guard anymore during the pandemic because very important decisions on how the university system will adopt increased roles of technology in reopening the campuses are being made right now.
If my wife has to return to work in these fraught times, she will have to take the subway—a prime incubator of COVID-19. Social distancing goes down the drain when you are talking about a husband and wife. I am okay with social distancing since there’s not much to see in New York nowadays. Museums and restaurants are closed. Also, most of the local color has disappeared, just like the taste of my transubstantiated red wine—victims of the city’s CVS-ization.
My bottom line is that I want to stay alive. I want to continue writing for CounterPunch, watching and reviewing offbeat films, and taking long strolls with my wife. My hope is for a vaccine that will take remove this yoke from our collective necks. It is tough enough to gather together the meager forces of the revolutionary left without having to deal with a virus that can kill you just as effectively as a puff adder.