Opinion | The Stories We Tell About Covid, Sickness and Health

Even at the best of times, when it comes to health and medicine, we all live in our own realities, drawn from the particular experiences and fears our minds contain, rife with irrationalities and imagination. Watching my father die slowly of cancer just as I was coming into adulthood made me feel that life was fleeting, hospitals were depressing and being careful was a waste of time. Somebody else might have started running five miles a day and juicing, but not me. I emerged with an outsize tolerance for risk and a skepticism of the medical arts. Naturally, both came into play during a pandemic.

When the pandemic started, our family lived in Singapore, where we sweated for months through a claustrophobic lockdown, as people could be fined and jailed for violating mandates. We moved back to Washington that summer, but the experience left me deeply, albeit quietly, leery of restrictions. I could never completely disentangle Covid rules, civil liberties and authoritarian impulses, no matter how many well-intentioned American friends tried to persuade me of the wrongness of my thinking.

Despite my many doubts, I tried to avoid Covid. I never consciously worried about getting sick, but I dreaded infecting someone vulnerable. Elderly people in my orbit, mostly parents and other relatives of friends, were dying.

In the fall of 2020, one of our sons joined a learning pod. All the pod parents pledged to observe collectively negotiated restrictions.

Gradually, however, I pieced together an important detail: Three of the five families in the pod had other children going back and forth to day care, and not the same day care, either. As time went on, we’d sometimes hear, via the grapevine of indiscreet children, that someone in the pod had gone to a movie indoors, or a parent would let slip that he’d attended a work happy hour. Each of these opened yet another gap in our collective defenses, and they were so numerous that the pod itself was a fakery, a kind of dream architecture built from our respective illusions.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t care.

I couldn’t stand to care anymore. In fact, I was sympathetic. It was all so human and predictable. Everybody wanted to cheat a little. We all perceived our own desires as needs while classifying the desires of others as luxuries.

All of those memories came surging up in the wake of my Covid. It all looked exaggerated and hyperbolic alongside the relatively unremarkable illness I’d just suffered.