Lost pursuit of normalcy amid COVID is a bitter pill

By Bud Herron

I find comfort in being able to name my illnesses.

When I am sitting on my doctor’s examination table in my underwear, I am unnerved when he shakes his head, touches his index finger to his temple and says, “Hmmm.”

I prefer him to nod with an all-knowing expression of confidence and say, “Definitely a case of epaglootus. I caught it in time to prevent chronic epaglootitis.”

My spirits rise even higher when he reaches into the drawer under his rubber gloves, cotton balls and sanitary wipes and pulls out a free sample of a pill — just delivered that day by a traveling drug salesman — and says, “Take one of these at bedtime, along with a glass of cabernet sauvignon wine, and you will be well in about 10 days.”

Then my spirits soar to elation as I am pulling up my trousers and he adds, “A lot of people have epaglootus this time of year. You will be fine.” (Knowing other people are suffering from the same rash always makes it itch less.)

Although I do not actually have epaglootus (as far as I know), I have been suffering from a nameless illness for much of the past two months.

The disease is a mental/emotional malady. An article I read in “The Washington Post” a couple of weeks ago gave it a name — “Pandemic Flux Syndrome.” My symptoms are exhaustion, anxiety, depression, frustration and anger — just to name a few. The illness has left me with with a nasty attitude, occasional feelings of hopelessness, chronic negativity, a crooked smile and a maniacal twitch in my left eye.

This syndrome is not caused by a virus but nonetheless has gone viral among those of us who thought back in June the COVID-19 pandemic was reaching its end and normalcy was on the horizon. After being on a scary roller coaster ride for more than 18 months, I was cheered that cases and deaths were declining.

Apart from the time when our former president went on TV to tell us COVID-19 was no worse than a common cold, would go away in a couple of months and could possibly be treated by drinking disinfectant, this was the most encouraging news I ever had heard.

For what seemed like an eternity, those of us with a desire not to die — or kill others — wore our masks, washed our hands, quit hugging, disinfected surfaces, avoided indoor gatherings and stayed six feet apart.

But a highly effective, safe vaccine had come to our rescue at “warp speed.” Even our former president, who had personally suffered through a bout with the virus, had been vaccinated after his recovery, just for good measure.

Throughout the spring and into the summer, those of us who had not been sucked into the culture wars and the cesspool of bogus information received vaccinations. The vaccines were said to be as much as 95 percent effective at preventing life-threatening infections. We finally began to relax.

Hugs returned. Family gatherings bloomed like spring flowers. We ate in restaurants. Churches moved from Zoom-only to indoor services. We sat maskless in the stands at the Indy 500, as well as at athletic events and concerts. Joy and hope replaced anxiety and fear. Some version of “normal” life seemed to be at hand.

But, by late July, the new Delta variant was in our county. Combined with the refusal of many residents to be vaccinated, infections and deaths began to rise again. Less deadly, but still disturbing “breakthrough” cases among the vaccinated population, also arose. Hospital critical care units filled up, as did funeral homes.

My June relief and optimism quickly turned into pessimism and mental exhaustion. I now realize I had been infected with “Pandemic Flux Syndrome.”

All that fluxing and roller coastering over more than 18 months of uncertainty had left me emotionally worn out. Having to return to safety measures I thought would soon be unnecessary only a few weeks earlier left me frustrated. Realizing the lost “return to normalcy” had to a great degree been killed by those who refused the vaccine in the face of proven safety and effectiveness made me angry.

I was unsure I had the strength to “do it all again.” I even considered joining the throngs of people who embraced “pretend normalcy,” turning a blind eye to the warnings of local, state and national health experts and living as if the new Delta version of the virus was not a mortal danger.

In the end, however, I couldn’t take that road — for myself, for my family or for my community.

I take some comfort, however, in the fact that my illness now has a name. And, I certainly am not alone in my infection. I know many friends and neighbors who are equally exhausted but continue “to do the right thing” — masking up, distancing, washing hands and avoiding large indoor gatherings, even if they have been vaccinated.

Now, if only some doctor would pull out a pill and tell us all, “Take one of these at bedtime along with a glass of cabernet sauvignon, and you will be cured of ‘Pandemic Flux Syndrome’ in about 10 days.”

Although, odds are, about 30 percent of our citizens would refuse the pill.