I evaded the modern plague for two years, four months and six days, but the COVID-19 coronavirus finally got its hooks in me just over a week ago.

It arrived on our shores in mid-January after starting in Wuhan, China and rapidly spreading around the globe, with the first cases in Alabama emerging on my birthday, March 26, 2020.

The March 2020 press conference where things abruptly got real in DeKalb County. It feels like a decade must have passed since that day.

There have been multiple occasions when I would have bet you money that I had caught it, but nine previous nasal swab tests (awful!) had indicated otherwise.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would have concealed having COVID from everyone except as part of contact tracing. I’m generally very wary of big data keeping a permanent record of which individuals the health insurers should deny coverage to based on specific medical history. My case, by now, is hardly exceptional in any way, except that maybe I was happy to arrive later to the party than most.

The stigma of having COVID isn’t really a thing by this point since more than 92 million of my countrymen were inflicted with it before me, more than a million of them dying pretty horrifying deaths — many unnecessarily due to the politicization of the public health crisis since we had the bad fortune of it happening during an election year during a time when America is bitterly divided along political lines.

I was immunized with the vaccine roughly a year after the pandemic reached America and boosted with three additional doses during 2021, the last dose of Moderna kicking my butt.

There’s now some comfort in knowing that doctors have finally wrapped their heads around what’s effective in treating it after much trial and error and lives sadly lost.

At the start, it was a complete mystery with no preventive measures certain to be effective in offering any protection except social isolation, which made for a lonely existence for months on end. Especially for me, a schmuck who had the bad fortunate of breaking up with my last girlfriend in February 2020, just before the crisis pretty much killed opportunities to meet women in social situations.

Hell, we’ve all sacrificed a lot of time and endured much fear. I recently realized with great sadness how traumatic the whole thing has been, costing me friendships and depriving me of opportunities to enjoy socializing and collaborating on my art.

At the onset of this collective shit sandwich we all were forced to swallow a bite out of, I encouraged people to make the most of a really scary and bad situation, finding a silver lining in how the days to come would make us collectively tougher and more resilient. It’s lasted way longer than I imagined, which is why we’re all so freaking exhausted and tired of thinking/talking about COVID. It definitely could have been even worse, though. At least it wasn’t Ebola, but something that horrifying wouldn’t spread as far and as wide as the coronavirus has due to people being extremely motivated to not screw around or dismiss it as “just like the flu.”

I’ve done what I could to squeeze out some quality of life, especially in the first half of 2022. That’s probably what made me vulnerable to catch it now, growing weary of taking  precautionary steps as I’d done in the months before. You couldn’t really blame me for growing sick of wearing the mask and depriving myself of chances to live and be around crowds.

I’m not sure of the exact time or circumstances in which I was finally exposed to the dreaded virus, but I stayed home isolating in quarantine the first five days, as the guidelines recommend. I was forced to leave the house, wearing a mask, after my daughter became sick despite having tested negative in two tests since my diagnosis. That was pretty miserable sitting in the waiting room of an urgent care while already feeling pretty badly, struggling to breathe though an N95 mask when my respiratory system wasn’t 100%.

The Omicron variant, COVID’s latest version, is comprised of a number of lineages and sublineages that emerge as the virus adapts to its environment and evolves to increase its chance of spreading. So many strains have emerged now, at least partially because so many people were too stubborn to get vaccinated and eradicate this alien invader once and for all.

It is believed that the vaccines and booster shots lower the severity of symptoms, so considering how terrible I do feel right now, I don’t even want to think about how much worse I might have felt if I’d been too stubborn and paranoid to get immunized. I know someone meeting that description who is in his fourth week of battling severe symptoms.

I am likely infected with the Omicron BA.5 variant, which makes up about 87% of the cases emerging right now. What’s known is that it spreads more easily than earlier versions and can reinfect its victims, even if they have recently recovered from COVID-19, as seen with President Joe Biden.

Data suggest BA.5 may cause more mild symptoms, although some people may still have severe disease, need hospitalization, and could die from the infection. Even if only a small percentage of people with infection need hospitalization, a large volume of cases in a community could stress and potentially overwhelm our healthcare system, which is why it’s important to take steps to protect ourselves.

August 1st was my daughter’s 21st birthday. We did not go out partying as we’d anticipated because neither of us felt particularly great. Now we know why.

The next day, after we returned from our hotel in Chattanooga, I had the good sense to test myself, yet again, before returning to the newspaper office as originally planned. If I had not done that, I likely might have failed to detect contagion and accidentally spread it to others.

Ironically, a few hours earlier that same day, I’ve overheard two people talking about their bouts of COVID, including one who I’d spent time around at the recent Alabama Press Association Summer Convention, where at least four attendees I know were exposed to an outbreak. These two women asked me if I had caught COVID yet, leading me to declare that I shockingly hadn’t. We speculated if I might have some type of immunity.

Timing is the key to comedy, right? 

Infection can reportedly precede the detection of symptoms by as many as three days. It’s possible, then, that I might have gotten it during my late July visit to Nashville, where I did a photography gig documenting a model client’s 30th birthday celebration. It was a large group and we spent hours on the Broadway section of downtown, plus I partook in two different Uber rides to reach the venues. However, I’ve not received word of anyone else from that group becoming sick, however. Maybe a bunch of fitness models in their late 20s are just in far better physical shape than a middle-aged man who really needs to eat better.

I can’t stand the thought that I brought COVID home and gave my daughter this bug we’d fought so hard to avoid for so long. There’s no way to really know for sure, so no sense in beating myself up by speculating.

Considering how contagious BA.5 is, it’s very likely that other people caught it from me. A tough situation for any of us to control, but I would still have a hard time accepting it if my exposure resulted in someone I’d sat next to facing a severe illness or, even worse, dying.

In any case, this experience has bolstered my determination to be more careful and return to indoor mask-wearing in crowded situations due to the high levels of new infections. I don’t care whether I face peer pressure. Mind your own biz-whacks…

Eight days after testing positive, I’ve felt nearly human again before experiencing a setback in how I felt a couple of days ago. I was told that’s common.

Early in my infection, symptoms had mostly manifest as severe sinus congestion, the worst headaches I’ve ever experienced (and I used to have chronic sinus infections before undergoing surgery to repair a deviated septum a few years back), along with a very sore throat, runny nose, fever and fatigue when I’d initially expected it to be mostly coughing; there was not much coughing to write home about. That changed this week as my symptoms shifted from my head to my throat and chest, along with some pretty intense nausea. I’ve experienced some of the most intense coughing episodes of my life since early Monday morning.

We used to hear about victims losing their sense of taste and smell, but thankfully, I can still enjoy a freshly made pizza. I’ve also not experienced any shortness of breath or difficulty breathing that I can recall. So I suppose it could be even worse.

I returned to the newspaper office that morning and again today, maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask to prevent the spread of infection to my co-workers. I’ve dreaded a potential outbreak when we’re already so short-staffed and having a ridiculously tough time filling vacancies with new hires. I was fortunate to have co-workers who were able to mostly cover for me while I stayed home and mostly rested last week. I did manage to do a good bit on the laptop thanks to the Internet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a COVID-19 quarantine and isolation calculator on its website. It indicated I was fine leaving my home two days ago as long as I wear a well-fitting mask around other people.

Ten days after first experiencing symptoms now seems to be the magic number when we’re likely to no longer test positive or be at risk, assuming our symptoms continue to improve during that period. So I think I’m on track to be in the clear by Friday afternoon unless I have a setback in my recovery. I appreciate anyone and everyone’s thoughts and prayers.

I’ve been incredibly overworked and stressed out since February, so it was welcome to catch up on sleep and rest. I would have much preferred to do that on a tropical island with a beautiful woman at my side, but I’ll take whatever I can get in these insane times. I struggle with delegating tasks that are usually faster to do myself than to explain to someone else. The circumstances forced me to surrender control and trust my people to rise to the occasion. I appreciate them doing so. We hardly skipped a beat.

It seems to affect various people differently, most harshly impact those with underlying health issues. We were told that getting vaccinated did not mean zero chance of catching the disease. So many people had told me their symptoms had been mild, with some even having the great fortune of their cases being asymptomatic. That’s the situation I was sort of hoping for if catching it was inevitable. No such luck.

I’m confident that I’ll make a full recovery in a few days. At least I hope this reversal ends and I start to feel like myself again by the weekend. I plan to use one of the home kits I ordered to test again on Friday evening. I’ll celebrate when this crud weakens enough to no longer show up and I’m no longer contagious.

I’m documenting this because this is a (hopefully) once-in-a-century epidemic. A century from now, people will research what it was like to live through something like this, just as it was fascinating for me to look through old bound editions from the 1920s to scrutinize the impact of the Spanish Flu that killed millions.

Sad to say, tremendous advances in medical science failed to make as much of a difference as you might think. Hard to reconcile what to do when there’s so much distrust and disinformation out there. We are once again locked in a battle for the supremacy of our species against microscopic invaders created by nature to humble our perception of ourselves at the top of the food chain.

Of COVID, I can say it’s definitely been miserable for me and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I’m trying to be extremely careful, still, in halting the spread of this scourge. I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

Trust me, you don’t want it…

Update on 7/26/22: Today was the first day since August 1st that I’ve felt like myself. Symptoms are now limited to coughing spells, but they are ferocious and violent. One coughing fit hit me so hard the other day that I threw up. I’ve gone through about three bottles of DayQuil and a couple of Robitussins, along with a ton of Ricola Swiss Alpine Herb cough drops. Had a severe case of food poisoning this week, which I am also just now on the mend from. That was surreal and the course of about 8 hours felt like three days in my perception. I was delirious, which I did not expect, and very dehydrated. I’ve really got to take better care of myself!