Friends Like These

After a year of masks, restrictions, gallons of hand sanitizer, and honoring safety protocols, I’m now in my second week with COVID-19. The germ invaded our home via my wife who is a school teacher. Thankfully, her immune system seems more robust than mine, and while I’m lagging, she is much better.

My experience began in textbook fashion with lightheadedness and a cough. A positive test was confirmed. I was prescribed the usual medications and vitamins. There were a few days of tedium as I read books, watched videos, and was more or less delightfully bored.

Then came the fever, raging and receding; the crippling joint pain; the feeling of broken glass being injected into my cranium; the loss of taste and smell. And as that first week became the second, I had collapsing blood oxygen levels, dehydration, and a resting heart rate that looked like the numbers from a treadmill run.

Also came the darkness. If you languish about home for days with nothing but impeachment television and social media to distract your pyretic mind, and you get lost in insomnia-stricken thoughts for hours in the night, you will come to some extremely troubling conclusions. 

Conclusions about the fragility of life and how precarious our existence is; and of course, conclusions about how badly we have botched this whole pandemic response, and how my few days of illness are but a tiny grain of sand on a beach of untold, unprocessed, incomparable worldwide suffering.

But also has come the kindness, kindness in the form of our friends. Quiches and casseroles materialize at our front door. Packages brimming with hot soup, get well cards, brownies, and love notes are delivered daily. There is always someone running to the pharmacy or to the grocery story so we can stay tucked in at home. 

And those who have directly provided medical care to me, how can I thank them enough? The doctor who routinely called to follow up; the old friend who is now a hospital administrator with on-the-phone advisement at midnight; the technicians who patiently, smiling behind masks, have administered intravenous infusions, breathing treatments, and simple cold compresses. 

When one is unaccustomed to being ill and a stranger to debilitating need, the kindness of friends is like effervescent refreshment. Having them reach out compassionately in your direction is nothing short of an elixir, not because their potluck meals and homemade salsa will heal you (though they might!), but because such friendship touches you in the place of your most sincere gratitude.

In one of my more feverish coronavirus nights, I dreamed or hallucinated that I was visiting Graceland in Memphis. Elvis was there – the skinny, leathery, happy one. So was my grandmother. She was tending the King’s marigolds and talking to Mark Twain. Twain called to me: “It ain’t hard making friends, just hard getting rid of them.” But with such friends as these Mr. Twain, I have no desire to be free of any of them.