It’s funny how you know things. I stood up from my desk two Mondays ago and felt the world rock as if I’d stepped onto a boat and not the usually reliable floor of my home office. I thought, “I’ve got COVID.”

Dizziness is not one of the COVID symptoms that I’ve been reading about, writing about, thinking about and talking about on what seems like a daily basis for the last two-plus years, but, sure enough, a home test confirmed my diagnosis. COVID. Damn.

I also knew I wanted to write about my experience with this virus and spent a lot of time in bed wondering what I would say. It’s not every day that I’m an eyewitness to a major news story. But I know you shouldn’t come to too many conclusions based on a sample size of one. So I called Maine’s doctor, Nirav Shah, director of the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and ran my observations past the reassuring and articulate voice of the state’s pandemic response.

First off, he encouraged me to let go of the sense of shame I was feeling about catching the virus after being careful for so long. I’ve been vaxxed and boosted. I work from home, I’ve worn masks in public, avoided crowded indoor spaces and at times canceled plans to see family and friends. But in March, I let down my guard, visited a gym unmasked and brought this on myself. That’s not the right way to think about it, Shah said.

“Here in public health, we ascribe no blame, let alone shame, for anyone who gets COVID, regardless of the circumstances,” Shah said. “There’s no scarlet letters necessary here because it’s the virus that’s changed.”

The irritating fact is that some people who do everything “right” get sick, and some people who do nothing to protect themselves are fine. That doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work – it’s almost certain that I would have felt sicker had I not been vaccinated (and I felt pretty bad). Shah said we should think about vaccines the way we think about seat belts in cars – they won’t keep you out of a crash, but they will protect you from some of the worst outcomes if you do.

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Mainers might be victims of our own success when it comes to the speed with which we took to the new vaccines. Like a lot of people, I got my shots as soon as I was eligible. Now our immunity is waning, and new forms of the virus are finding a way in. I was sick in bed when the CDC recommended second boosters for people in my age group.

Three days after my positive test, I received an infusion of monoclonal antibodies, which is one of the therapies now available for people who are not sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID. It had a miraculous effect in my case. About 12 hours after the treatment, I was suddenly wide awake, my muscles weren’t aching and my dizziness was gone (unfortunately, it came back a couple of days later).

Catching up on my email, I found a message from my doctor that said that the reason he was recommending me for antiviral therapy was that I have a condition – long-term depression – that puts me at an elevated risk for serious COVID. That surprised me, and I asked Shah about it.

“With all infectious diseases, there are individuals with certain behavioral health conditions can experience worse outcomes, no matter what the disease or what their condition is. We sharpened our understanding of that during COVID.”

When I got sick I had family to take care of me, health insurance, paid time off and great coworkers to fill in for me. Without some of those supports, I can easily see how catching COVID could have spun me down a depressive spiral that would have made me sicker. I wondered who was looking out for the people like me who don’t have all that I have.

I asked Shah if this is what we have to look forward to – a world where the virus lurks, and any of us can catch it any time we let down our guard. He was a little more hopeful.

“COVID is not going away, but it’s also not going to be the thing that dominates our lives going forward,” he said. “It will ebb, it will flow and there will be periods where some folks will need to be particularly solicitous about where they go and what they do, but COVID is something that will be a risk that we can manage.”

I said goodbye to Shah with a little more hope and a little less shame. I’m still a little dizzy but feeling grateful that it isn’t worse. After two weeks in bed, I’ll call that a win.


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