When someone witnesses two recessions, two fabled doomsdays, catastrophic hurricanes, Ebola, H1N1, H5N1, SARS and a major terrorist attack on their home country that altered national security as we know it, the illusion of invincibility is everlasting.
Combine that with a young age and years of alcohol and drug abuse, and the illusion defines their outlook on life.
It never crosses anyone’s mind that I am unhealthy; and I consider those feelings to be mutual. Fitness played a huge role in my life. I competed in a sport that tests every system of the human body. I lifted weights, I hiked mountains and I’ve always considered the narrow pad of a stationary bike to be the best seat in the house.
But, altering my mind was a different story. I put many substances into my body; beer, bourbon, Copenhagen, cannabis, cigars, cigarettes, energy drinks, ecstasy, psychedelics, Seroquel, anything that would put my life on pause and take my psyche for a ride. Somehow, I’m still here writing this column.
As for the mode of ingesting these vices, inhalation was the most common. Don’t fret, the devil’s lettuce was almost always my go-to. After all, it was the safest. I thought that way, at least.
Fast forward to 2020, and the fear of mortality turned me away from that lifestyle. However, smoke and vapor are still smoke and vapor, and the relatively short period of breathing in both like oxygen did its damage. Recent breathing tests opened my eyes to discover that, although I’m in my 20s, my lungs are in their 70s.
Asthma; that was the diagnosis.
It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, as the world shelters itself from a virus that kicks the respiratory system to the curb, and some unfortunate souls to the grave.
Now, two inhalers are a part of my daily routine. Yet, those aren’t enough to quell my anxiety. With social distancing in place, the introverts are having a field day. They’re celebrating in solitude, playing video games or streaming their favorite shows. They might catch some vitamin D by strolling around the block or going for a bike ride. Me? I’d love to replicate their actions in solidarity, but I’m paranoid; just paranoid.
The chronicles of the Shelby brothers are interrupted by sudden shallow breaths and palpitations, and only a literal self-reflection brings me back to reality. Walking outside to do even the simplest errand is like hustling through no man’s land, except the enemy’s onslaught is inconspicuous and inescapable. Armed with latex gloves, it’s the same mission of crossing the block, getting the groceries and returning to my apartment as quickly as possible without giving off any idea of panic.
I detest (while secretly envy) the self-centered townies who take their time at Price Chopper and refuse to deviate from my path. I say nothing, but my conscious demands the words, “Piss off, I’m at risk,” escape my mouth.
No matter how long I stay outside, I remove all articles of clothing, drench them in isopropyl alcohol, wipe down every inch of surface that I or my purchases touched and scrub myself spotless in an attempt to keep any contagion out of my home.
I know that these steps are obsessive, but when The Guardian reports that 40% of patients hospitalized in the United States are under 55, with 20% between 20 and 44, it’s not worth being caught off guard. Furthermore, as an American, I’m not necessarily worried about death or the ICU. With our healthcare system, death seems like the better option.
I try to think to myself that this is not the end of the world, and other people have overcome my particular situation (I mean, it’s a better coping mechanism than what I used to do). Take former President Theodore Roosevelt, for example. Born a sickly fellow with my exact condition, he turned to strenuous exercise and a rustic lifestyle to overcome it. I’m banking on the idea that, should I stick to something similar and protect my lungs, this illness will be but a temporary nightmare, like this COVID-19.
These are my parting words, which most of you have already heard some version of: use your common sense, adhere to the guidelines and always look after your health and well-being, even when there is no pandemic to motivate you. Your age and vigor mean absolutely nothing.
I don’t say this because there is the threat of getting sick and staying in your bed for weeks, I say this because there is the threat of a surprise chronic illness and spending your final days alone, gasping for air in a hospital bed.