Systems Check: Ooooooouuuf

I posted this on a Twitter thread yesterday but I think it’s worth noting here as well: Not long after Athena had her COVID test, I had one as well. It came out negative, but it was also a less accurate test that apparently has higher error rates when the symptoms are (relatively) mild. In retrospect and in consultation with some people who think about this stuff more than I do, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably did have COVID, given the symptoms and some lingering (but, again, relatively mild) issues I’m having. At some point in the reasonably near future I’ll have an antibody test to confirm or deny this theory of mine. For now, I’m going on with the assumption I did have it but still interacting with the world as if I didn’t — i.e., staying home most of the time and taking all full and necessary precautions when I have to go out in the world.

I should note that generally speaking I’m fine and the rest of the family is fine. Athena has by all indications fully recovered from her encounter with it, and both Krissy and Dora (my mother-in-law who lives nearby) are perfectly fine and healthy. The lingering issues I’m having are general fatigue, which is generally solved by a nap, and a mushy brain, which is not horrible in a general sense — who among us is braining at peak efficiency in December of 2020? — but has been a real pain in the ass in trying to get this book done. Turns out, you need a sharp brain for writing! I’ve been plugging away at the current book while I’ve been under the weather, and, well, I have words, but at the moment that’s all I can vouch for.

More specifically, what I’ve noticed is that while there are some writing things I can still do perfectly well, there are other things my brain just can’t get it together on. At the moment I can write dialogue just fine, but I can’t plot my way out of a paper bag. This is a problem because while it’s fine that people talk to each other, they and the story then have to do things. I find the specificity of my fuzzy brain issues interesting in an academic sense, but in a practical sense, it’s annoying as fuck. I actually need to write this book and if at all possible, I want it to be good. Being able to plot is something I need my brain to do.

It does feel like the fuzzy brain thing is beginning to lift, which is good. But it’s happening slower than I would like, and it would have been better not to have had fuzzy brain to begin with. It is what it is. And honestly, if the worst thing that happens to me from this maybe-probably-COVID is I spend a some weeks plodding along in a lower gear, mentally speaking, I will count my blessings. Other people have had it much much worse. I’ve kept my editor appraised of things and (here we knock on wood) it shouldn’t have any effect on when the new book comes out in 2021. But if it does, I’m not going to beat myself up too much about it.

Consider this piece a closing bracket to this opening bracket piece, where I basically said the same thing but with less covidity. And be careful out there, folks. If in fact I did contract COVID, I’ve gotten off very very easy. But it’s still no fun at all.

— JS

36 Comments on “Systems Check: Ooooooouuuf”

  1. “…while it’s fine that people talk to each other, they and the story then have to do things. ”

    Samuel Beckett is evidence that they do not.

  2. Watch for lingering effects. Covid isn’t like a case of the flu or a cold. It can come back in other ways. There are some good articles out there regarding people dubbed “Long Haulers”. Those with health issues from their bought with covid.
    But, glad to hear you’re recovering. I look forward to reading your next book. Foggy brained or not.

  3. Back in April, my doctor expressed skepticism about the accuracy of then-available antibody tests, and recommended against trusting them. But it’s obviously been a while and I’m curious if there have been improvements. (My doctor has been, understandably, quite busy and I haven’t gotten to follow up with her on that question.

  4. Wishing you improved health, a clear mind, and a better new year. This entire political/pandemic/painful situation has cooled my creative jets for sure. I am trying so very hard not to let my pandemic fatigue erode my better judgment. After being careful all year, it would be just my luck to catch it right before the vaccine puts an end to all this misery.

  5. My students and RAs have generally had muzzy brain for about 2 weeks after being cleared to work (usually about 2 weeks after diagnosis, give or take). Of course, they’re mostly in their late teens and early 20s. Your circumstances may be very different. (But also it’s crazy how MANY people I work with who have had covid!)

  6. Unlike @pjcamp, I can’t claim to have read Samuel Beckett, but nothing much happens in the middle third of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which didn’t stop it selling many copies!
    I hope you get better soon.

  7. Sorry you have to deal with this. I hope you are soon beyond it and thinking robustly again. I have my 95 year old father living with me, and I live in fear of this scourge.

  8. Hey, John. I had also popped over here to mention the long-haulers and to be wary of lingering effects, but I see Paul beat me to it.

    Best wishes. Drink lots of water. Take some time to binge-watch LUCIFER or something.

  9. I’m not a doctor but you can pat yourself on the back. Although your precautions maybe didn’t stop you from getting Covid-19, they most likely kept the viral load down to a level your body could easily manage. It would be interesting to see if you get a positive antibody test six months down the line. There’s still not enough data to tell if resistance (I really doubt on full immunity) stays in the body for a significant time.

    Really glad everyone is safe and sound in the Scalzi compound

  10. That sounds like something I had a few weeks ago. I tested negative, but I wonder if I would have tested positive a couple of days later. I’m still having trouble with brain fog and energy (not good when I have work deadlines).

  11. Losing the top 10% of one’s brain is frightening. I used to be smart. Is this temporary or part of the natural aging process. What if this does not get better? Anxiety is up, but is it up enough? Crap is this going too?
    My father was a college professor, He lost processing power, and memory. Now he can not follow a conversation, unless he starts it. I have to remind him which color jerseys the Celtics are wearing. I do not ask him questions, where he might not know the answers as I do not want to embarrass him.

    May your brain get back to 100% capacity, quickly. Have Athena work more on the site, while the cats help you nap.

    How do the cats like the dog? How does the dog like the cats? I hope they bond, like Daisy did.

  12. Glad to hear that, if it was Covid-19, it was a mild case and you’re recovering.

    I’ve been feeling draggy all week and today was feeling draggy enough to NOT go into the office the one day per week I’m scheduled to do so. Draggy, sniffly, and a bit cough-y. It might be something; it might be nothing; it might even be an old-fashioned ordinary headcold that once upon a time I barely noticed unless I needed a decongestant. So, worked from home as per usual; and will see how I feel in the next few days before I hit the OMG-Panic! button.

    I’d feel like an utter idiot to catch the Plague mere weeks or months before vaccination is available.

  13. Evidence suggests that the general mechanism for the coronavirus is to attack the heart directly. SARS and MERS had noted cardiac issues. Covid 19 seems to create microclots, which can cause gangrene in various parts of the body but also has the effect of reducing the blood’s carrying capacity of O2. The fact that the heart itself seems to be under direct attack from Covid 19 (and coronaviruses in general, at least some specific types, see below) can also affect your O2 levels. Lack of oxygen can cause brain fog, whether it’s from Covid 19 or altitude sickness. (Sorry about the ugly URL!) BTW, I wouldn’t wait 6 months for an antibody test. My boyfriend had it, recovered, and 6 months later has NO detectable antibodies, which means that he can get sick from it again. Already. And yes, he tested positive for Covid 19.

  14. Hope you and Athena are both feeling better and that you all get well and stay well. Have you worked out how you and Athena likely got it? If that’s too private you don’t need to respond of course, but it strikes me that as you both work from home and both have clearly taken all the sensible precautions, that would have hopefully limited your exposure to it. But I can’t really fathom how rampart it is in your part of the world — where I live (Australia), it is almost non-existent now, so much so that we can freak out about 5 new cases in a city of six million people. I know from reading the news how bad it is there, but I still can’t imagine that on a day to day basis. Best wishes.

  15. @ Stephen Turner
    Covid 19 is so prevalent at this point that contact tracing is virtually meaningless. The virus is everywhere now. Here in NY, which currently has one of the lower rates of infection, there are still too many venues for infection. Did you take the subway? Shop in a store? Did you have to sign for a package, even if both of you were masked? Do you work in an essential profession? (Supermarket worker, EMT, fire/police, medical?) Do you live with someone in a high-risk profession? Do you live with a person or have contact with a person who is careless or reckless about risk? The homeless ride the subways and buses ALL DAY and they’re sure not hand-washing or wearing masks. The homeless shelters are a nightmare and due to the pandemic & accompanying economic crisis/meltdown, there’s more new homeless all the time. And given that the eviction stay is set to expire shortly, if Congress doesn’t get its act together, there will soon be a whole lot more homeless people who will in turn flood the shelter system and be at risk for getting Covid 19 and spreading it themselves. Right now, the biggest risk for getting Covid 19 is homelessness.

    Add in the anti-vaxxer idiots and the “masks are an assault on my personal freedoms” idiots and you have a recipe for uncontrolled spread of the pandemic. And then there are the “I don’t know anyone who’s gotten Covid 19, much less died from it” idiots who think it’s all a hoax… (Not yet you don’t, but you will… sooner than you’d like.)

    BTW, 5 people is enough to restart the pandemic in Australia. You guys are really lucky it’s summer over there, the winter plus Covid 19 is really kicking our ass–take a look at the infection rates. Everyone is inside now; a blizzard just started in the northeast about an hour ago, so outside isn’t exactly an option in the Northern Hemisphere.

  16. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, John. I should look into an antibody test. I didn’t get tested for COVID and I didn’t experience symptoms. But …

    Remember those terrible wildfires in the West Coast states, like the one that made the Bay Area look like a Martian dystopia or … curse the people who did this … burned down a forest because of a gender reveal gone wrong?

    The air was suffocating during that time. It really felt like it was causing allergies, but the symptoms might have been COVID. Then about a week later the symptoms disappeared. Yet I do feel foggy brained and I have a hard time waking up and staying up in the morning. I am also having a hard time with meeting deadlines and focusing on everyday tasks.

  17. John, I hope you and your family get well and your brain starts working well again.

    I and my family have had some form of Covid. It hit my son kind of hard, twice. We are all sheltering in place. Sleeping way too much. My wife and I have trouble remembering things. The computer is useful there. I keep an O2 sensor handy and use it regularly, so far we are good on that.

    As for your plots, maybe your family could help? Get a roundtable brainstorming session (had to look up the term) going on where the plot might go. Take notes. While this may not directly help, it may start enough ideas going in your brain to get through this crisis.

    If not, there are always drugs. ;>) That’s a joke. It seemed to work for old-time rock and rollers.

  18. @Audrey

    Understand, and it’s terrible for you all to deal with there. In Australia, while we’ve kept it overall low we did have a large second wave in one state, which led to severe lockdowns there (which actually worked, unlike a lot of other countries, not just the US — the UK for instance has been worse per capita), so hopefully this sudden uptick in Sydney today isn’t going to lead to anything severe. I don’t live in Sydney but I have close family there – we are all hoping that because we’ve kept case numbers so low we can contact trace successfully and stop this latest thing before it gets bad.

  19. I did rather wonder, when you posted your nnnnnuugggfffff piece, if you had had a false negative COVID test. I suspect that you are correct in thinking so.

    I’m very sorry to hear that your experience with it includes the lingering brain fog. I guess a virus that interrupts the blood’s ability to transport oxygen could be expected to have brain fog as a side effect, but it has to be disconcerting for someone whose trade relies so heavily on clear thinking to suddenly struggle through mental murk.

    Be gentle with yourself, despite your understandable desire to get the book turned in – better that you take the time you need to recover than push yourself into a relapse. Please sleep lots, push fluids, and do things that give you joy. The book won’t be any worse for a bit of delay, and you’ll definitely be the better for it.

  20. When I say “fine,” I mean not suffering debilitating complications or having fallen ill enough to need hospitalization.

    Fuzzy brain can be extremely frightening, especially if you rely on said brain to do your job.

    I’ll echo others in suggesting that you be as kind to and patient with yourself as is possible; forcing it can’t be a good thing, either.

    I hope everything gets back to normal for you soon.

  21. My fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome both cause brain fog. That, in addition to CFS’ (obvious) chronic fatigue, has pretty well dealt a mortal blow to the fiction-writing career I have wanted all my life. Like you, I could probably make characters say things, but I have a lot of trouble making them do interesting things. I’m doing well to write a few haiku each month. I hope your fog will clear soon so you can tell more wonderful stories.

  22. BTW, 5 people is enough to restart the pandemic in Australia.

    Indeed, Audrey. Five has ballooned to 17, and the next couple of days will be crucial.

    A person “on the spectrum,” with the usual suite of comorbid conditions, may have an occasional episode of cognitive dysfunction. (Makes for a fun challenge staying fully employed.) Such collapse in basic everyday function is unwelcome, certainly, but less surprising the more often it happens. When you’re used to operating at full capacity all the time, suddenly feeling like trying to run through wet cement in a heavy fog? Rude shock.

    More broccoli in the burritos, mate! (j/k)

    Seriously, wishing you & yours well.

  23. COVID-19 seems to have some strange neurological effects. I think I got it back in late March (cough, chills but no fever, shortness of breath, severe fatigue, mild indigestion) and for many weaks afterwards it seamed like I couldn’t type anything without making weird typographical airers. (Mainly substituting homonyms of words.) I was worried it was going to be a permanent disability, but it seems to have gone away now, and I’m back to my baseline level of typographical errors [the ones in this comment were deliberate].

    I hope the plot functionality of your brain returns soon, because I want to read more of your books.

  24. As Bryon Cannon says above, post-Covid symptoms are quite similar to the ongoing effects of ME/CFS (chronic fatigue). I understand a clinical trial is being organized including members of both cohorts in hopes of learning more. I’ve had those symptoms for more than 50 years now, and it’s a bummer. You learn to monitor your energy and foggy levels very closely, because once you’ve exceeded your capacity you’re only going to produce garbage. So many job reviews came back poor, due to stupid mistakes made while trying to soldier through. Those of us with CFS currently have a diagnosis, a very recent accomplishment, with no cause, treatment or cure. Hoping hard that maybe Covid’s silver lining will be some insight there.
    One comment above said a dog? What dog? My brain can fasten on important issues like that.

  25. Some of the people I know who got COVID say the recovery is very uneven. Some days they’re much better, other days they’re much worse, though not as bad as when they were actively sick. This includes things like brain fog and neurological function. So be kind to yourself – recovery probably won’t be linear.

  26. Very curious how your antibody test turns out. I’ve been feeling much the same way but with no likely exposure I suspect I’m just having a stretch of winter blues.

  27. Wishing you the very best, and am glad to hear your family is doing well. I encourage you and family to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Even if you have been exposed/recovered, we know so little about recovered immunity vs vaccinated immunity. Also, the current vaccine goes bad after a few hours at room temperature. If you are in a situation where someone offers you the vaccine, don’t think you are stepping in line. Rather, likely it means a batch of vaccine has been thawed and some vials have no takers. This is probably due to disorganization and incompetence at the highest level, but that is a separate topic.

  28. I’m guessing you probably used your bad brain to try and figure out why your brain wasn’t working, correct? Did you swap it out or put it on a bench and run a diagnostic first? Covid is not Donald Trump. You can’t just let your brain blame everything on Covid. Have you been paying attention to what your brain has been telling you lately? “Take a nap, eat some cake, plotting is hard so write dialogue, take a poop, eat more cake, blame Covid, eat cake, etc”

    Your typical brain is only good for 50 years or so even if you did all the maintenance. You did do all the maintenance, didn’t you?

    Chances are you just have a bad brain, and you shouldn’t listen to anything it tells you. I would swap it out for a fresh one. Better yet, consider that your brain is obsolete and you probably don’t even need it anymore.

    I ran into the same trouble as you and decided it wasn’t worth messing around with the rotten gray mushy thing anymore. Now I just use the internet instead. It’s free, and a lot less work than taking responsibility for and maintaining one’s own brain. Haven’t missed it one bit.

  29. Ugh, I’m sorry, John! My 86-year-old mother got a very mild case of COVID-19 recently and while her obvious physical symptoms were slightly except for huge fatigue, and she recovered from the fatigue weeks ago (more or less), she’s still struggling with the mental effects, including memory/focus issues. Granted, the mental effects are no doubt exacerbated in her case by her age, but she’s frustrated and even embarrassed by it (embarrassed, despite knowing – and other people knowing – this is part of the COVID-19 effects).

    Anyway, I’m sorry and hope you recover swiftly and smoothly! And I hope Athena is 100% groovy now, too!

  30. It might be useful to get your vitamin levels checked too, next time you see a doctor.
    Brain fog can be a temporary result not just from Covid, it can also be a symptom of a lack of vitamin B12, and when my B12 levels were OK again my mental sharpness recovered. Then I started to feel a bit dimmer again and it turned out this time my vitamin D3 was way too low. An adequate level of vitamin D is apparently also helpful in fighting a Covid infection, so getting those two checked and if necessary supplemented might help.

    Might talking the plot possibilities through with Krissy help? She’s smart and she knows how you think, she might be able to figure out a plot direction or a solution for the fix your characters are in; then you can find the words for it.

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