One Year After COVID-19 Arrived In Los Angeles, It Finally Got Me

A mural along an almost empty La Brea Avenue. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

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I can't tell you how my wife and I managed to get COVID-19, but I can tell you that when I got my positive result I responded with a four-letter word I can't use at my day job.

We wore masks and stayed at home. Our social life for the past year has been entirely virtual. There was no Thanksgiving with family. No Christmas. So when I first felt a creeping soreness in my back and arms, my reaction might best be described as "denial."

But then came the fatigue. When I lost my ability to taste and smell the next day, it was all but inevitable.

THE UNCERTAINTY

To say we were surprised would be an understatement. But, as we've all learned over this past year, the virus is unmoved by our internal pleadings. You can't argue with it like a TV pundit, and you can't show it charts based on fringe science and expect it to nod in assent.

I host our newsroom's midday news show All Things Considered, which airs on 89.3 KPCC. My wife teaches high school biology. For a brief window, I thought the coronavirus knowledge we'd gleaned over the past year might serve us as we navigated the virus's nastier symptoms. But, as it turns out, there's an aspect to the illness for which no amount of information can prepare you: the uncertainty.

Yes, most people recover from COVID-19. But, as the families of close to a half million Americans can tell you, COVID-19 kills, COVID-19 maims, and when the symptoms start, you don't know what kind of experience you're facing. Even positive statistics for my age group provided little comfort. After all, nobody thinks they'll be the outlier.

In many ways, I was lucky. I had no fever, no cough. I could breathe just fine. But my voice was shot. I was more tired than I'd ever been in my life. It took energy to walk, to talk, to think. When I could think, it was often to bemoan the unfairness of it all.

We did everything right.

I always wore two masks at work. I was alone in a studio that only I used.

We stayed home.

We haven't been to a grocery store since Christmas Eve.

We only leave the house to walk the dogs. Even then, we keep our distance from others.

I hold my breath when passing people on the street. I wear two masks.

How could this have happened to us?

* * *

Austin Cross and his wife checked their temperatures while recovering from COVID-19. (Courtesy Natalie Cross)

I allowed myself a few days of self-pity. Eventually, though, I had to face facts. There is no logical explanation for why things turned out the way they did. They just did. Life's that way sometimes.

My wife and I live on L.A's east side. Our neighborhood has weathered the pandemic on par with the county's overall statistics. In the last two weeks of January, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases where we live rose 11%, to just over 4,200. In that same two-week span, the number of cases in L.A. County rose 12% but surged past the grim 1 millionth case mark.

By day three, my symptoms leveled off. My wife had it worse. Her fever was high. Her cough was loud. The only thing worse than having COVID-19 is watching your spouse experience COVID-19.

VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE

It's been two weeks, and we're finally on the other side of this dreadful virus. More and more I find myself thinking about those who don't get to say that. I think of the crematoriums working around the clock — the grieving families.

I also reflect on the helpers: the attendant at L.A. Downtown Medical Center, who calmly explained treatment options. Carla at the L.A. County Department of Public Health, a ray of sunshine and a KPCC supporter. Even the pizza delivery man, who left the pizza on the doorstep and then backed away some 20 feet so that I could sign the receipt. Nobody wanted this pandemic, but Angelenos are making it work. They give me hope.

It's hard to imagine this pandemic getting better anytime soon. And, if we caught the virus while following all the guidelines, it's safe to say anyone can. But that doesn't mean all of the preventative measures we took were for naught. After all, it took a year for the virus to finally catch us. Masks and isolation are nobody's idea of a good time, but I can say unequivocally that they work.

Our brush with COVID-19 brought with it some valuable lessons. It forced me to live in the moment. It's reminded me that suffering ends when I accept the things I do not want but cannot change.

And it's taught me to appreciate this quarantine life a bit more. At a time when slow vaccine rollouts, reopenings, and viral variants threaten to undo the progress of the past year, I'm thankful for the people who've helped prevent this pandemic from being even more devastating than it has been. I'm grateful to those who've been steadfast in wearing masks, given up in-person time with friends and family, and even those who doused every surface possible with Lysol and hand sanitizer. (To the folks who bought up all the toilet paper en masse, I don't know what to make of you.)

COVID-19 has changed our lives, and our society as a whole. It's also changed me and my perspectives, but I think for the better.

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