Man versus Coronavirus

If you’re looking for updated information on the spread of the coronavirus, or medical advice about how it might affect people with MS, or restrained commentary of any kind, this is not the post for you.

If you want an irreverent account of how the threat of the coronavirus is affecting one man with MS, keep reading.

Learning about the virus

Like most of you, I learned of this virus in late January, when American media started reporting on it with some regularity. It didn’t interest me much at first, but I took notice when 3600 passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were quarantined on February 5, because Kim and I, and our friends Dave and Dawn, would be boarding our own cruise ship on February 15. In fact, we were coming into our busiest stretch of travel since before I stopped working.

We are not easily scared

We are not easily scared. Virus smirus. As scheduled, we boarded Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas in Bayonne, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. For eight glorious days, we called this floating city home, enjoying ports of call in Cape Canaveral, Nassau, and Coco Cay, while binging on fine food and exotic drinks the whole time.

Perfect weather. Great company. No coronaviruses. And we did not practice social distancing. Didn’t know what it was at the time.

Returning home and preparing for more travel

After returning home on February 23, we had a short turnaround before heading to the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 11. I had served as a judge for the Novartis Innovation Prize, with a $250,000 award for first place and a $50,000 award for second place. I would be there for the announcement of the winners.

The first instance of COVID-19 in the US

Soon after we returned from our cruise, the coronavirus began to show up in the United States. On February 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention verified the first instance of what they were now calling COVID-19 in the United States, which had been contracted by local transmission. Oregon, Washington, and New York soon reported more cases of community transmission. On February 29, the first fatality was reported in Washington state. More followed. The game had changed.

Underlying conditions

One method that certain folks used to downplay concerns about the disease was to point out that most deaths occurred with people who had underlying conditions.

I felt there was more to this phrase than met the eye. In fact, I read on the Internet that if you take the sentence most deaths occurred with people who had underlying conditions and write it backwards, turn it inside out, flip it upside down, and run it through the delicate cycle in your clothes washer, what comes out is hey, if the coronavirus didn’t get them, something else was going to anyway. No great loss.

Must be true, I thought. The Internet said so. Then, I realized that I had one of these underlying conditionsprimary progressive multiple sclerosis — and I had it bad.

Decision time

On March 1, I consulted with my neurologist. Given that my respiratory system was compromised (I can’t cough as heartily or shout as loudly as you can) and that my treatment regimen included a strong immunosuppressant (Ocrevus), there might be a problem. Even though the chances of contracting the virus were minuscule, we decided the risk/reward ratio was unfavorable. I might become one of those No great loss people.

I wrote to Novartis to inform them of my decision. They were gracious. One day later, Novartis announced that they were pulling out of SXSW, rendering my decision moot. By March 6, the city of Austin had canceled the entire festival. Double moot.

Erring on the side of caution

Attending SXSW had been our first choice, but not attending SXSW was a close second. We had just returned from a cruise and had another cruise coming up in April. We were pushing ourselves by trying to wedge a trip like that between two others. Being silver lining people, we took this disappointment in stride.

Floating petri dishes

In the meantime, things kept getting worse around the globe. More people infected. More dying. But, thank goodness, most of the fatalities were still only people with underlying conditions.

Our next cruise would go out of Boston on April 17, stay in Bermuda for three days, and return on April 24. We live only ninety minutes from the cruise port, so it would be a short drive. But then we learned that the Grand Princess was sitting off the coast of California with a couple dozen infected folks, and they were trying to figure out a quarantine plan for thousands of passengers and crew.

The general consensus from talking heads on TV, when they weren’t talking about which of three ancient white men would become the oldest president ever to take the oath of office next January, was something like,“Bob, who would be crazy enough to get on a cruise ship right now?”

“I don’t know, Rob. You won’t catch me on one of those floating petri dishes.”

It would be a shame

Thing is, this was a family vacation for Kim and me, our daughter and her husband, and our son and his significant other. It’s tough, but not impossible, to juggle everyone’s schedules. Would be a shame to overreact and cancel. Would be a shame to act like wimps. Would also be a shame to get the virus. Would also be a shame to die from the virus and become a Jeopardy response:

 “Darwin Awards for $1000, Alex.”

“Double Jeopardy!”

“I’ll bet everything, Alex.”

“He was that guy with an underlying condition crazy enough to get on a cruise ship in April 2020?”

“Oh, I know. I know. Who was Mitch Surgeon.”


“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s Sturgeon, like the fish. Funny story. He was the last guy to die from coronavirus before Al Gore invented the cure.”

Setting priorities

Yeah, I guess we’ll have to reschedule that April cruise. In fact, perhaps rescheduling the cruise isn't my biggest concern right now. There is that damn underlying condition

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