We all have one or one hundred stories about the pandemic. Mine ends happily, with a Moderna vaccine on my right shoulder.
I waited my turn, and it was almost a birthday gift. I got it two days after I turned 63 and four days after my home state of Florida started to vaccinate people 60 and older. It’s one of the few times in life when it ‘s convenient not to be young.
My story, like everyone’s, started about a year ago. On March 1 2020 I went to a spectacular Billie Eilish concert in Miami. There were already grave reports of the Corona virus in China, but no one was wearing masks at the event. I remember my main concern was that the two nine-year-old girls with me did not touch the metal handrails. What fools we were.
And ignorant. We knew so little about what we would come to know as Covid-19. After the concert I flew to Washington to join two other moderators of the March 15 debate between Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders on CNN. It was one of the biggest opportunities for a TV journalist – and an even bigger one for me because I work in Spanish.
And then I got the call.
A very close friend I had just hugged at his birthday party had been exposed to someone who had the virus. In those days, it was almost impossible to do a quick test for the virus. Unable to know whether my friend or I had been infected, I took the painful decision to cancel my participation in the debate. No one would have forgiven me if I had transmitted the disease to Biden or Sanders, who were running against Donald Trump. “An abundance of caution” was the official explanation. Fortunately for all, journalist Ilia Calderon took my place and did a spectacular job.
The worst, of course, was still to come.
President Trump acknowledged to Bob Woodward that he lied to us. “I wanted to always play it down,” he told the journalist in March of 2020, because he did not want to “cause panic.” The lie did not help. More than 550,000 people in the United States died because of the virus. More than in any other country.
I am lucky not to be among the 121 million people around the world who got the virus. And I say lucky because I know a lot of people who were much more careful – with masks, face shields, social distancing and avoiding public places – but wound up in intensive care units.
This cursed virus flies and slips in.
Ilia and I broadcast the daily Noticiero Univision news program separated by a Plexiglas wall. Every time I go into the semi-empty newsroom they take my temperature and I have to answer a medical questionnaire. I use a glove when I gas up my car, avoid hotels, stores and restaurants as much as possible, buy almost everything online or by phone and applaud and support the heroic work of doctors, nurses, scientists, farmers and essential workers who help us to survive the worst tragedy of our collective lives.
I am, like everyone else, a hypochondriac recently graduated as a specialist in flying virus. Every cough and throat irritation drives me to the medicine cabinet to measure the oxygen in my blood, and I would rather turn red and explode than sneeze in public (TV reporter’s tip: if you want to sneeze, press an eyelid softly and it will disappear.)
If I ever did get the Corona virus, I would not know it immediately. Mi nose is totally useless. It is just skin and cartilage hanging on my face, with two asymmetric tunnels where air flows in fits and starts. After three nose surgeries – one because I was born with the help of forceps and two because of punches – I have lost the sense of smell almost completely. Covid patients often complain of the loss of smell. Anosmia is the technical word for the condition. I have had it for most of my life. I smell almost nothing.
My osmocosmos – a word invented by Harold McGee that uses osme, the Greek word for smell, to refer to the totality of our olfactory universe – is limited to a couple of smells per month. The problem is, those smells remain with me for hours. On the other hand, I can go places that smell terrible, or stand next to people who don’t bathe regularly, and I notice nothing. If I believed in the gods, I would be a follower of Yacatecuhtli, the Lord of the Nose in the Nahuatl language, protector of travelers and ramblers.
No one has been spared. What a terrible disease, separating us physically from the people we love the most. Even at the time of their deaths. It’s like the vengeance of our worst enemy. In fact, it is disease that came from bats in southern China or Southeast Asia, which transmitted them to domestic animals and in turn they transmitted it to human beings, according to what World Health Organization investigator Peter Daszak told The New York Times after a visit to the Chinese city of Wuhan. From there it spread around the world like a plague.
We are all waiting to return to normalcy. But that does not exist. Our social isolation, our masked lives, the never ending Zoom meetings and the fear of contacts with others have changed us. The world will never be as it was in 2019. It’s different. Beaten, in pain and perhaps a little wiser. It is amazing that so many vaccines against the Corona virus were developed in such a short time. But it is also sad that so many countries have not yet received them. That inequality is going to last more than the virus.
Now that I was vaccinated, I want to travel. A lot. But I still have to wait two weeks after the second dose to be fully protected. The first trip will be to Mexico City, to hug my 86-year-old mother. I haven’t seen her in more than a year, and she just got her vaccine. I can already taste that hug.
In the meantime, with the vaccine in my arm, I have only one thought in mind: There’s no time to lose.