the glaring Covid reality (and the bigger point)

My nephew was in the hospital for a total of 10 days — 6 of those in ICU.

My teenage, summer camp buddy’s entire household was affected — all 6 of them. Many lost their sense of taste and smell, but not him. He had little more than a common cold, if that.

Compare that still with my young friend on the college campus — who never tested positive but experienced a fever, chills, and prolonged muscle fatigue.

Obviously, the range of symptoms individuals have experienced with Covid has been extraordinarily broad, unpredictable, and inexact.

Let us also be certain not to omit the status of a dear professional peer; she continues to recover from what’s termed “long haul Covid,” a form of the virus which affects approximately 10% of those who experience symptoms, yet their symptoms last for at least two to three months. She was diagnosed in late December.

Adding to the ambiguity, the doctors say “long-haulers”could be anyone — young, old, healthy, sick. Demographics do not matter.

Let us ask the obvious. Why? How?

Allow me to quote one of the nation’s top hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic: “There seems to be no consistent reason for this to happen.”

So under the initial umbrella of Covid, allow us to proffer today’s bigger point: one of the things I think we’re not very good at as a culture is debunking this idea that “if it happens to me, it happens to thee.”

Because our experience is unquestionably valid — acknowledging that each of the above circumstances actually did happen — we equate our individual experience with another’s reality. At the very least, we equate it with the majority’s reality.

But it’s an unequal equation.

Let’s return to the glaring, current example of Covid, noting that as of Monday, the U.S. confirmed 53,204 new cases of COVID-19 per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 4.2% of the 1,254,065 tests reported coming back positive, and an additional 1,322 deaths attributed to the virus, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 500,201. Also, according to the COVID Tracking Project, 55,403 Americans are currently hospitalized with the virus. 

They are hospitalized with different levels of seriousness. Some will leave. Some will not. Some will never be there. Covid affects people differently.

Says Charles Bangham, chair of immunology and co-director of the Institute of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, “All infectious diseases affect different people to different degrees. You may suffer terribly from the flu, but even if you can detect the virus with a cotton swab from the respiratory tract, you may have a mild or completely asymptomatic infection, but another virus. So I may have a milder infection than you.” Each of us has a unique set of genes which controls the efficiency of our immune response.

Hence, for those who’ve said, “This virus is awful!” That is true.

And for those who’ve said, “This is nothing,” That, too, may be true.

They speak truth… based on their experience.

I thus think there are two steps of wisdom in response.

First, I believe it’s wise to resist applying our experience to everyone else or even to assume it’s the majority. My sense is we often invoke the majority clause because it makes us feel better, venturing to validate our individual account.

But second, I believe it’s wise to refuse concluding that a different experience is invalid…

Precisely because the experience is different.

Covid is a one example — a glaring one at that; may God be with the many who continue to struggle. But may we also be more honoring of another’s different experiences, not viewing them as anything other than valid.