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22 September 2021

I had two beers and didn’t enjoy them. Something is seriously wrong

It’s a funny business, suffering from the after-effects of Covid. If indeed I am.

By Nicholas Lezard

It’s a funny business, suffering from the after-effects of Covid. If indeed I am. I was invited to lunch last week by my friend L—, who is a writer but also a qualified medical doctor. The sharp pain in my side had been going down, although I couldn’t lie on my left side for more than a couple of minutes. This rules out a significant percentage of one’s available options when sleeping or even just reading in bed. I had never suspected I’d miss it so much.

L— doesn’t practise any more but she likes to keep her hand in, and asks me about my symptoms. I tell her about the pain, the breathlessness when going uphill, the weird way in which I have to have three-hour long naps in the middle of the day. The energy vanishes as suddenly as if a plug has been pulled.

“It could be viral pneumonia,” she says. “Or pleurisy.” She also names another grim-sounding condition which I hadn’t heard of before, also beginning with P. Her motives are kindly, and her sincerity evident, but I sometimes wonder whether there are some in the medical profession who take a certain relish in the details, or the possibilities certain symptoms display. But if it’s viral pneumonia then there’s nothing I can do about it, except lie in bed, on any side I like, as long as it’s not my left.

It’s a sunny day, and we are sitting outside at a hip Japanese restaurant. L— is paying, and this is very good news as my bank balance is even grimmer than usual. The food is delicious. The company is delightful: L—’s husband is a Glaswegian who radiates decency, and Ben and Janine are there too.

This means I don’t get much of a word in edgeways but I don’t feel up to saying a lot anyway. After two hours I feel that I can’t stay awake for much longer. It’s slightly under a mile back to my flat and if I had the cash, I’d take a cab, but I don’t, so I can’t. I’ve had two small bottles of beer and I didn’t enjoy them. Something is seriously wrong with me. I’m with some of my favourite people and all I want to do is lie down.

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Is this it, then, what being old feels like? I have to pause for breath even in the flat. I have become one of those people who exasperate me: the slow walkers. The hill on the way up to the flat is an ordeal. And this hill is nothing compared to the hill I used to live on. It’s nothing, a joke of a hill, but now it’s killing me.

[see also: An almost sleepless night, until I have an anxiety dream about this magazine]

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The weird thing is that the days alternate between feeling like this and feeling more or less normal. One of my Brighton friends has been suffering from long Covid for well over a year now and she has described a similar pattern: days of feeling fine, fortnights even, and then what is in effect something like paralysis, during which she cannot stir. As a highly active person when in good health, this is torture for her. At least she has a partner who can look after her.

Being inert in bed is, for me, not torture. It is more or less my office, and that’s the way I like it, the path I determined to follow. But I am beginning to wonder if I have taken it too far. Sloth has me in its grip. Or is this the so-called brain fog of long Covid? L— asked me what I am reading at the moment. Reading? Jesus. I used to have at least five books on the go at all times. What am I reading at the moment? Twitter. This magazine. Something has happened to my attention span.

I pick up the post and take it to my sickbed. Among the bills are a couple of things from the New Statesman. One is a slim volume called A Century, Not Out: A Cricketing Tale, written and sent to me by one of my readers, Mark Richardson, which looks charming. (The abrupt curtailment of the Test match season is something that contributed to my low mood. This lousy summer needed but that. I had discovered, at an embarrassingly late age, that I can use my phone as a radio, and I would have Test Match Special burbling away in bed with me, which was delightful until the inevitable collapses of English batting.)

The other envelope contains a card and a piece of paper the size of a cheque. I unfold it. It is a cheque. And for what is, by my standards, a rather decent amount. Enough for me to pay some outstanding utility bills that had been weighing heavily on me for some time. Enough for me to go to the pub without fretting for a while. Enough for me to visit a friend who has invited me to Edinburgh. You know, all those things that middle-class people take for granted. My god, I think, I can get a takeaway.

It is, in short, life-changing. Not permanently, but it looks as though I should get through October with a smile on my face. I notice that my symptoms seem to be clearing up. My coat has suddenly become glossy, my nose is properly cold and my tail is beginning to wag. So that is what was wrong with me after all. I think I shall have a little nap, then order some Chinese.

[see also: Which of my troubles is worse – the lost bank card, the sold-out wine, or A&E with a dodgy heart?]

This article appears in the 22 Sep 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Great Power Play