EDITOR’S PICK: Watches helped me to survive long COVID by offering escapism and hopeBrandon Paul
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, an international task-force created by a psychology researcher from the University of New South Wales recommended a set of neurocognitive and mental health questionnaires to harmonise the assessment of patients with long COVID. “Because COVID-19 is a new disease and the research deriving from it is new, we need to develop excellent research methods to address questions, such as: how many people have the problem, how long does it last, how many patients fully recover,” said Dr Lucette Cysique. Despite the uncertainty surrounding long COVID, its effects can be debilitating as this article from Time+Tide contributor Brandon Paul (@theminutemarker) reveals. Here, he explains how watches offered a welcome source of escapism and hope during his ongoing ordeal. Get well soon Brandon!
In March of 2020, I began to experience respiratory symptoms that I chalked up to a cold. An itchy throat, a cough, trouble breathing. Nothing that couldn’t have been explained by being winded from a run, or the changing seasons. I proceeded cautiously for the next day or so, till it became clear that what I was experiencing was no cold. Without a moment’s warning, I was knocked down. Fatigue like I had never experienced before, joint pain similar to that of chikungunya, and a haze that descended on my mind that I’m not quite sure I’ve ever managed to shake. What was once a mild cough suddenly was hoarse and deep, bellowing like something within me was forcing all the air out.
After calling nearby hospitals it became clear that I wasn’t going to be getting any help unless I needed a respirator, as per city guidelines.
Those symptoms lasted for a week, to a week and a half. Once the respiratory symptoms subsided I made a very conscious effort to get back to the life I’d wanted. This meant running and working out again, as best as I could manage.
I believe it was right around this time that I put my name down for a Black Bay 58. Straddling a fine line of hope, and measured caution, I genuinely looked forward to the summer of 2020, and long-term perhaps a time when I could even give diving a go.
Progress was slow and painful, but it was possible!
Until it wasn’t.
I must have had a good couple of weeks at the most before a second wave knocked me down even harder than the first. This time, there was more. Perpetual nausea so bad that I ran through my options of meds that didn’t work until my primary care provider had to prescribe me some meds given to chemo patients. It barely did anything to quell the constant feeling of wanting to gag or the audible belching.
The only positive I had was receiving the call for the BB58. Unfortunately for me, my love affair with the watch was short-lived, as the dream of diving with it someday seemed to drift farther and farther away, whilst an unfamiliar disease continued to take its toll on my body.
I continue to experience the same fatigue as before, only now compounded by severe digestion problems. I have diarrhea thrice a day, on a good day. A bad day can be anywhere around five or six. I end up stopping in the middle of a sentence, trying to grasp for words that I know were once in my memory banks but don’t seem to be there anymore. This is apparently referred to as brain fog and is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 Long-Haulers. All of these symptoms combined have been wreaking havoc on my body day after day, to the point where my muscles and joints are in fairly constant pain, with the location of that pain being the only variable. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even wear the Tudor Black Bay 58 without the weight of it physically hurting my wrist and elbow, hence the fading adoration. There are weeks of my life in the past year that I have altered my memory of or blocked out because they have been so awful that it hurts me to think about them.
All the while, I’ve had to experience laughter and jokes made at the expense of my digestive health to the few people I had decided to open up to about my predicament. As you can imagine, this made me retreat into my shell for a little while. In part, this is because I genuinely fear that if my body has to endure another bad wave of whatever I’m experiencing, I’m not sure I’d be able to take it. It is also in part because I can no longer relate to the lives of those around me. Whilst my wife and I chose to shelter in place for the safety of ourselves and others, we continued to see our “friends” flouting any sort of common decency in favour of flying to Mexico and taking pictures on the beach, or using their own boredom as a reason to run around brunching and window shopping, putting everyone around them at risk. I tried seeing a friend at one point. He kept giving me a hard time for not wanting to go to a bar with him. In the middle of a pandemic.
I confronted another friend for belittling my illness and constantly being contrarian to me saying I was still feeling the aftereffects of COVID-19. He yelled at me over the phone saying that he’s sorry for what I’m going through but that if I just want him to say it’s COVID-19 when I don’t have any proof then he won’t do it. I broke into tears.
“You don’t know that it’s COVID-19. If that’s what you need to tell yourself then sure, but I won’t entertain that.”
I didn’t have any proof. I couldn’t have proof. No hospital in Chicago would take me unless I needed a respirator. So instead I stayed home and struggled through some of the most difficult days of my life, that have since turned into the most difficult months of my life. My life has been turned upside down. Over the past year at multiple points I believed myself close to death, or yearned for it, as a way to just stop the perpetual pain and anguish. Yet the argumentativeness of an arrogant individual made me question for a moment whether what I had been going through was real. I will never view this person or the world the same. Never in my life have I felt so invalidated. So unseen. Whilst standing there on the phone, with my stomach cramping and my tears streaming, I had to explain to someone that all my stomach problems started after my COVID-19 scare, solely because they didn’t believe me. I never received an apology. Instead a week or so on he forwarded me an article on COVID-19 Long Haulers, which detailed all the symptoms I’d been experiencing, being experienced by people all over the country.
America is currently battling two pandemics. Coronavirus, and the endemic that is American Exceptionalism, which is just another name for arrogant stupidity, coupled with unbridled selfishness.
It is for this reason that I have decided to be public with what I have been dealing with. It’s now months on, and I’ve had to deal with new waves of the disease, hot flashes, tremors, migraines, deteriorating muscle and joint health, and depression and anxiety that I truly could not fathom. This past January I had to quit my job because I could no longer pretend that I was capable of working a full-time job when I am partially disabled. Yet, for some reason, some of the most uneducated people in the world genuinely believe that they are entitled to their uneducated opinions. For some reason, people think they have the right to tell me what’s going on in my body. I’m willing for my horrific lived experiences to be put on display, just so that these simpletons no longer have any excuse for their atrocious behavior.
Pretty much immediately before quitting my job I went ahead and bought a Black Bay 36 S&G. In the same way that the BB58 symbolized a step towards a hobby I’d liked to take on, I like to think the BB36 was also emblematic of something larger.
As much as the watches themselves have been a genuine form of escape this past year, they have also brought me a community with some incredible individuals. People who have experienced a similar illness, loss, and trauma, that were willing to share with me, in the hopes that our communal struggle could bring some sort of healing. In part, it’s helped me pull myself out of despair regarding the loss of the person I thought I was going to be, and focus more on what that future might look like now.
It was with this in mind that I made this last purchase; understanding that this may be my last watch purchase in a good long while, if not the rest of my life, should this disease continue to affect me this way. All I wanted was something I enjoyed so that I could think less of my wrist, and how to make the most positive difference I can in the world. In that sense, as much as this hobby has been very important to me this past year, it’s also faded in importance. There have been much larger things to focus on.
So, this is to everyone whose life has been forever altered by Coronavirus. I hope that we can find community, and someday find some semblance of healing.
For those who have not been touched by COVID-19 as I have, I hope my story can act as a warning, both to be wary of the disease, but also to be thankful for your good health and good fortune. You never know when things could change. And for those of you who continue to be dismissive and question how deadly coronavirus is, to you I say, bite me.
Follow Brandon’s ongoing battle with long COVID on his Instagram: @brandon.paul