Back when we still paid for cable, I sat, mid-morning on my carpeted floor, back against the couch, a sandwich and chips by my side, and watched hurricane coverage. As the hurricane made landfall, I couldn’t pull myself away from the Weather Channel. I waited and waited for something, anything to happen. Never mind that it was three days later, when camera crews could bypass high water and downed trees that I actually learned anything about the destruction. I’m doing this today with the coronavirus.
Johns Hopkins University blogs a map with lots of cool data. Outbreak hotspots colored in red. Statistics for total cases, total recovered, total dead. It shows a line chart displaying the growth curve of the virus. Until this morning, it showed an arc resembling an airplane taking off, or a Nike swoosh in reverse. Right now, the curve flattens out. No growth so far today.
This is an illusion. I’ve been watching this chart for days. Around seven o’clock this evening, they’ll update China’s numbers, the swoosh will return. In the meantime, I scour the internet looking for new data. My fix. Settling in on a site, I hit the refresh button, again and then again. Waiting for the numbers to change. Of course, I could simply hold out until seven and pull up the Hopkins chart, but how will I feed my addiction to information until then.
It exhausts me. For the past two days, I’ve looked for excuses to get away from my laptop.
Who wants to go grocery shopping?
I’m going shoe shopping; anyone want to come?
Can somebody clean the cat box?
Today I went for a run. After walking to the top of THE HILL, I sat down on a rock and pulled out my phone. Let me explain. My go-to run is a trail loop around the Gettysburg battlefield. Most of it is pretty flat; a couple of long moderate hills get me breathing hard; and two short, steep hills are brutal. One of them, sort of resembling a slanted wall, comical. On Christmas day, I led a hike for Susan’s family visiting from out of town. Two thirds of the way through the hike, we came around a bend in the trail and faced THE HILL. Susan’s cousin actually gasped. I always walk THE HILL.
Since last summer, I carry a phone when I run. My pace slowed dramatically over the past two years. Sometimes, really slow. I check in with home when my run takes longer than planned. Once, last spring, I walked in the house at the end of my run to find Susan getting her coat on to drive out and look for me. Another time, she was already in the car. Now I send a text: Still running, all good, back in thirty minutes.
So where was I? Top of THE HILL, sitting on a rock, checking my phone. I needed a coronavirus update. New cases? More deaths? Human transmission in America? Yes, I interrupted my run to gawk at statistics. Fortunately, my phone was dead.
Sitting here right now, writing, crowded in my family room with my wife and two kids—Eli playing Grand Theft Auto, jacking cars and running down pedestrians; Susan reading her book, inching closer to bed; Sophie in the recliner, sniffling, coughing, cooking a fever of 101 degrees, doing her best to imitate a coronavirus patient—I periodically click my websites to see what changed.
Susan called me on this just before dinner. “Are you checking coronavirus stats again?” Earlier today, I confessed to her I don’t like the way the news is making me behave. While doing this, I undid her assumption that I shoe shopped with her because I’m sweet. My brain insists I keep up-to-date. If I don’t know about the two new cases in California, something bad will happen.
Something bad happens anyway. Every time I check, I find a few new cases, the numbers always climbing. I calculated a projection in my head while I ran. The CDC says the fatality rate is 2%. I think that’s low, but it made my math easy. Say all seven billion people on earth get sick, that’s 140,000,000 deaths. Closer to 8%? 560,000,000—a half a billion.
“Dad, not everyone’s going to get the coronavirus.” This is Sophie, I reported my calculations to her after my run.
“Yeah, they will. That’s what always happens in the books I read.”
“No one in New Zealand has even gotten sick. Maybe they never will. You should find some different books.”
I’m starting to drive everyone nuts. “Dad, it’s the only thing you talk about.” Really, it’s the only thing I think about. The troubling part, this epidemic is just getting started. I need to settle in, temper my reaction (or at least keep it to myself). I have to go to work and be productive. Sleep through the night. Be a parent and not be annoying. Be present as a husband. If I only write about the coronavirus, no one will read my blog.
I’m fully aware that my mental health is faltering. I need to get a grip. Susan and I have been married for twenty-three years. She’s my voice of reason. I don’t even need to talk to her to hear her advice. First and foremost: It’s out of your control. Worrying won’t help. And then: If you stop checking the internet every three minutes it won’t be so present in your thoughts. Step away. Doesn’t she have great advice?
Despite the hold the coronavirus has on me right now, I won’t blog about it again until March. By then, I’ll actually know something about the seriousness and the threat. Maybe I’ll have developed a coping strategy—something more useful than repeatedly freaking myself out with Google.
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay off the internet.