COVID-19 and Its Impact on My MS: Part 1

January 3, 2022 - The day began just like any other. I spent the morning in my home office, working online as a multiple sclerosis advocate, moderating this very site, and writing articles. A man was due to arrive from out of town at one o’clock to take me on a first date, and I wanted to get my ducks in a row before then.

The first signs of COVID-19 symptoms

By late morning I noticed a tickle in the back of my throat. I thought I might be dehydrated, so I upped my water intake and chewed gum. But the tickle persisted. I felt well otherwise, so I used a familiar tactic whenever an irritating new symptom pops up: I ignored it.

By early afternoon I developed a dry cough. Not able to ignore this turn of events, I fired up the vaporizer, convinced that the brittle winter air had parched my throat as badly as if I were dragging myself through the Mohave Desert at high noon. It didn’t help. My date never showed up and I felt relieved, though not totally owning the reasons. Then things got even stranger.

Then came the difficulty concentrating

At four o’clock, a Medigap insurance broker called me. He reminded me that I would be turning 65 this year, and this was my only chance to sign up at this low price. We spoke for an hour and he threw a lot of information at me. I took notes and asked intelligent questions, mentioning my MS and other chronic conditions. Suddenly, I could no longer process what he was saying. I heard words but could not decipher their meanings.

An urge to cry pushed up into my throat. I gulped it down long enough to tell the broker that we would have to continue the conversation another day and ended the call. I sat at my desk, unable to pull my thoughts together. My brain seemed frozen. It was five o’clock, long past the time I usually stop doing the business of the day. I was over-tired, that’s all, and overdue to put on some music, pour a Scotch, and kick back in my recliner. From that point on, my mental and physical state deteriorated rapidly.

Trying to relax

I picked through some CDs that I usually overlook. The third one sported a familiar scrawl that melted me on the spot: a practice session of me at age 22 on flute and John Justus on guitar, circa 1978. I had totally forgotten that John transferred this recording from cassette to CD and mailed it to me years ago. We had both taught at Fisher Music in Toledo back then, and whenever we had some time between lessons, he would come to my room and we would read through Bach two-part inventions and other concert literature, then randomly flip through the Real Book and play Charlie Parker heads, Bill Evans ballads, bossa nova standards, whatever caught our eye. Memories of these good times flooded in. But the pain would soon follow.

MS and resurfacing grief

Over the years, multiple sclerosis wrecked my fine motor function and I could barely even get a sound of the flute mouthpiece anymore. But there I was playing at peak form, seamlessly moving through registers, good intonation and technique, pleasant vibrato, spot-on phrasing, soulfully and yes, sweetly, interpreting the Great American Songbook. I wept.

Forty-four years ago I was a musician - a lifetime ago. My dad was a tasty jazz tenor sax player, and through him, I met wonderful people and listened to the jazz greats, even met some of them. They were dead, all of them, dad too. My soft sobs deepened in my grief. Though it wasn’t the first time I’d thought about these things, it was the first time I had grieved so hard. But the drama did not stop there.

Lingering confusion and emotions

I woke up and looked at the clock, shocked that I had fallen asleep — passed out, would be more accurate — for an hour. Suddenly I was gripped by fear and paranoia. Was that conversation with the insurance broker a hallucination? Had I signed up for Medigap insurance without giving it much thought — or was I going to get back with him? What if it was a scam? What have I done? I struggled to remember what I did to ensure he was legit, but my memory was a blank. And what happened to my date? What in the world is going on? The people I have lost loomed large, the body count increasing with each passing day. Grief welled up once again, breaking my heart, breaking me completely.

A knock at the door brought me back to my senses and I composed myself. My friend Robin was due to arrive at seven and here she was, punctual as ever, bouncing into my living room with her cheery demeanor and chirping about her day—until she took a closer look at me. “Are you okay?” she asked. I burst into tears and collapsed in her arms.

In Part II of this series, I will describe what happened during the rest of this first day of COVID-19 symptoms and the ensuing six days until my recovery on day seven.

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