COVID—this time the BA-5 variant, the most contagious of the five or so strains out there—has reminded us, once again, that it’s not ready to move on, just yet. This week, this newest virus strain snuck up on Joe Biden and me, and tens of thousands of other folks.
Following five-days on Paxlovid, the anti-retroviral drug designed to moderate the virus and spare us severe symptoms, I’m coming out of my quarantine period feeling very strong, symptom-less and wearing my N-95 mask much more conscientiously. Like lots of others, I let my guard down a bit, having been twice vaccinated and twice boosted—just as President Biden was. I was feeling, kind of, invincible.
Fortunately—unlike the earlier killer-COVID strains that struck two years ago, emerging before vaccines, boosters and anti-retroviral drugs —we’re far better equipped today to handle this latest spike of a different sort, than we were for past variants. Better, that is, IF we are double-vaxxed and boosted.
My last booster was administered in March, like Biden’s, and the four months between then and now, is the usual period when the boost begins to weaken. Unlike, Joe, I battled an earlier, more virulent strain of COVID in the Fall of 2021, before the first booster shots were available, which gave me a dry cough for days, and left me lethargic for more than a week. This time around—thanks to two vaccinations, two boosters, and fairly regular masking (especially indoors and in public places), this COVID confrontation has felt no worse than a bout with post-nasal drip.
What astounds me, having battled the virus twice now—once before and after being boosted—is how clearly the boosters reduce the severity of the virus and the likelihood of hospitalization. I find it incomprehensible that some 75% of Americans still refuseto take the boosters—choosing, instead to play Russian Roulette with their lives and the lives of the people they love. Why is there even a question about coming up with a third, and fourth or more booster, if it’s going to help keep us healthy, reduce illness and save lives? Just because others don’t take it, is no reason to deny it to those of us who take our health, and the public’s health, seriously.
Unlike President Biden, I have not done any foreign travel in a few years, and my only recent trip on public carriers was to NYC last month, when we avoided taking the subway and walked everywhere around Manhattan. We started and ended that trip testing negative.
Like Joe, I still wore a mask in most crowded places—even outdoors– but was not as assiduous about it as my partner, Carol Villano, who—like Jill Biden, a fellow educator— also tested negative. We differed on the kind of masks we wore: I was comfortable with a light blue surgical mask (since it was what our doctors made us put on before entering their offices); Carol, wisely, noted that the N-95 offered far more protection, even if it was more uncomfortable. And, I’m the one who worked in public health for nearly 20 years. Go figure.
A few days after going to a crowded open-air concert in our town (when I stupidly let my mask down) I began to feel a sore throat, runny nose and slight headache. We immediately took a home antigen test. Carol tested negative, but my “Positive” line flashed bright.
I immediately wanted a “second opinion”, and scurried to my Sutter Health facility in Santa Rosa, CA, where I was administered a PCR test. The test confirmed my positive COVID status.
Like Biden, I’m over 70 years old, so my physician prescribed Paxlovid, instructing me to take the anti-retroviral drug for 5 days. He asked me what prescription drugs I was taking.
“Just Prosac and Viagra,” I said, assuming that most 70+ year old men took some combination of the two drugs.
“You can keep taking the anti-depressants, “ he said, “but cut out the Viagra while you’re on Paxlovid.”
Yeeeesh, talk about a buzz kill. (YES, some of us 70+ year old men, blessed with good health, still have sex, ride bicycles, walk or hike miles, and live a vigorous, love-filled life.)
I understood the smart, cautious medical reasoning behind not mixing contra-indicated meds. In Viagra’s case, that miracle drug affected blood flow and heart rate, and could interfere with the effectiveness of Paxlovid, or worse.
The only side-effect I’ve experienced from taking Paxlovid this week was having a metallic-like taste in my mouth, which neither tomato sauce nor chocolate could erase for too long, but which tasty Thai food, and peppermint life-savers, didtemper.
Still, one week without Viagra—and without wine or alcohol– were small sacrifices when it came to knocking out COVID, one-more time. Far bigger, but necessary, sacrifices, were staying isolated from my partner of 50 years, sleeping in separate beds, using separate bathroom, and eating meals in separate sections of the house. Doing without hugging, or kissing, or touching, were the toughest precautions to take, to protect those we love from COVID.