Something is going on with my lungs all of a sudden again. It’s not great. I was feeling fine earlier in the week, climbing up on a chair to rearrange the kitchen cabinets. Then Wednesday, I was working, and one minute I was fine, and the next I felt feverish and like my lungs were congested.
It was bad enough that I thought, Oh no, am I going to die of this after all? Did I somehow get re-exposed to COVID? I was racking my brain trying to figure out when or how that could be.
But then I drank a few glasses of water, and ate some soup, and I felt less bad.
Some days my energy level has been up to maybe a 7 out of 10. Suddenly today it dropped back to a 4, a familiar feeling. It’s scary and sad.
Every time it happens, though, I remember how far I’ve come.
One of the worst parts of being ill was not being able to read. I couldn’t concentrate or follow a thread, and I couldn’t remember any details. It was... think of the most boring thing you could think of, and it was more boring than that.
Now, even on low-energy days, I can still read. (At least so far). The novelty has not worn off.
Not only that, I’m doing language lessons again. Io parlo Italiano!
Will I ever get my cardio endurance back? Will I ever be able to rebuild my lung capacity enough to go hiking again, or run another 5k?
I have to think, yes. I have to think of people like Theodore Roosevelt, who was basically an invalid in childhood but who overcame his asthma to become an athlete and wilderness explorer. If his lungs could heal, then possibly mine can too.
I also think of all the medical innovations that I read about every day. The only real silver lining of a catastrophe like the coronavirus pandemic, or the Civil War, is that it fast-forwards medical research and technological advances. What we’re already seeing, and will see more of, is research breakthroughs about the immune system, and vaccinations, and pharmaceutical development, and respiratory therapies, and all sorts of other things.
That’s what I’m hanging onto, the idea of a new treatment that can regenerate healthy pink lung tissue.
Any time I make a wish for something selfish like that, something that would benefit me, I also imagine how many other people it would help. People with lung cancer, or mesothelioma, or asthma, or emphysema, or cystic fibrosis, or sleep apnea, or who knows what else. Also the people who did that research could win awards, show up in the news, get promotions and raises, and feel the satisfaction of knowing that their work helped so many people. And their families.
This is one of those ripple effects that isn’t always appreciated. Think of the coughing person, and the entire family and friend group of that person, who are relieved and happy that the treatment is working. Then think of the family and friends of the medical researcher, who smile when they think of their person being so good at their job.
There are so many people working in concerted effort to beat this thing, and their work is going to touch off innovations in other related fields.
Maybe it won’t help me in my lifetime, but I’m fully confident that it will help people who live after me.
I think about dying a lot these days, which is at least as dreadful as it sounds. But then I think, everyone dies at some point anyway. There’s no way I’m going to be alive in, say, the year 2589. (Unless I’m reincarnated, but then, would I know??) I still like to think of those future people, though, and wonder what kind of shoes they wear, and how they communicate, and what they eat for lunch.
Life goes on one way or another. Not just my life, or the life of some human somewhere, but the life of a tree, a sea creature that remains unknown to science, perhaps a sentient being elsewhere in the universe. I try to pull back and remember that, to put it all in context.
I’m still an optimist, even though I’m still living through the aftereffects of a devastating thing. Even though I’m surrounded by mask deniers and people who do not respect the commons. Even though it’s plausible that a million Americans will die of this before it’s all over, and many of them will refuse to believe that it is what it is even upon their very dying breaths.
The truth is that there is always something terrible happening at the same time as something incredible.
This has been true throughout human history, and it was true before us when dinosaurs were doing some unutterably messed-up things to each other, and it will be true after we are gone when there is eventually a heat death of the universe.
It’s all about where we put our focus and our energy.
What optimism means is the belief that it’s always possible to think of another way to approach things. It’s always possible to keep trying, to keep making even the most feeble or misguided attempts to repair a situation or think of something better.
This is what separates us from the other animals.
To elaborate, in some ways, animals never quit because they have nothing else to do but try to survive through pure grit. I once watched a black beetle at the zoo spend over five minutes wriggling around, trying to flip itself over, because somehow it had landed on its back. It eventually did it, through sheer... not abs, but... thorax energy?
What is it in us that keeps us from quitting? When we have our imaginations and the ability to preserve thought after death through writing and other recorded communications? When we have so many pessimists amongst us to remind us that there’s no point, that everything is dire all the time?
Whatever it is that keeps us going, it’s gotten us out of the caves and the mud huts where so many of us coughed ourselves to death for so many millennia. Here we are, in the future-that-was, figuring our ways out of yet another disaster scenario. We’ll never give up because it’s in our nature to keep trying.
Even when I personally don’t have much energy left to carry on, I know that someone out there does, and I send that person my good wishes.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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