I have COVID-19. I started feeling ill last Saturday with tiredness, a raging headache, and body aches. I almost always feel like that, and we were at the end of a 10 day, high-stress, not always fun, spend 8-10 hours a day in the car with an autistic kid who can’t stand driving, vacation. I wrote it off as vacation fatigue, and went in to work on Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, though, it was clear that it was more than just a vacation hangover, and I left work early. Wednesday, after sleeping for 15 hours or more and feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, I called the VA clinic who asked me to go to the emergency room at the local hospital where testing confirmed the presence of the SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) virus. I was sent home with a shot of Torredol, a blood oxygen sensor, and instructions to lay low and come back if I ran a fever over 102F, or had oxygen saturation below 80%. I’ve been following those instructions.
At this point, many people look askance at anyone who gets COVID. They reason that the vaccine has been universally available, and that there is no reasonable justification for someone like me not getting vaccinated. My illness, they argue, was unnecessary. I suppose they are right, at least in part. I have had ample opportunity to be vaccinated.
To further complicate matters, my wife is a firm believer in alternative medicinal approaches, and utterly hostile towards the current generation of experimental vaccines. She is active in several communities working to provide people the option to not participate in the grand social experiment that is society’s response to COVID. There are a myriad of reasons for her approach to health, and all utterly reasonable when viewed through the lens of her lived experience. I’ll not try to explain or rationalize here, but it’s enough to say that she would rather risk dying of the disease than accept voluntary vaccination, and I’m okay with that.
That choice is absolutely her choice to make. Either we as humans are masters of our own bodies, or we are not. You can’t have it both ways. Either we can opt out or into medical procedures like abortion, vaccination, body modification, gender reassignment, etc. Or we can’t. It’s that simple for me. If she chooses to trust alternative medical treatments that end up being ineffective against some future fatal malady, that is a choice she can make and my family’s consequence to live with.
My greatest concern at the moment is that the infection, should it become severe, will be used as a weapon against my wife. She will likely be treated as though it were her fault that I got sick and that responsibility for the outcome is ultimately on her shoulders. We have already seen it in the case of a close friend under similar circumstances. I need to address her role now. She bears absolutely no responsibility for my choice. She did nothing to prevent me from being vaccinated. She couldn’t have stopped me had I decided to take a different path than her, and she wouldn’t have tried. The idea that it might be her fault that I made my choice simply is not true. I want to set that straight, right now.
My choice not to get vaccinated was my own. Had I decided to get vaccinated, it would have happened. Would my wife have been disappointed? Sure. She’s been disappointed in decisions I’ve made before, and we’ve worked through them. That wouldn’t be an impediment if I felt it was something I needed to do. I know her well enough to know that we would have been fine, even if it took some tense conversations about potential side effects and other related topics. Vaccination (pro or con) is not nearly as difficult a conversation topic as many we’ve tackled in the past. Life has been hard, but my choice related to vaccination wasn’t one of the topics driving that.
So, why did I choose to forego the vaccine? There are a range of reasons, some articulable, some not. Understanding them requires understanding more of my history and experiences than is possible in this kind of medium. However, I’ll list a few just to make it clear that this was MY CHOICE.
For 25 years, I was subject to forced vaccination against any number of things that I wasn’t likely to ever be exposed to. For 25 years, I was told where to go, when to go there, how to dress, how long to leave my hair, etc. For 25 years, I was the government’s guinea pig, and I have the mental, emotional, and physical scars to show for it. After being robbed of my agency for so long, is it really that unreasonable that I should want to exercise it now that I have redeemed my soul from the purgatory that is government control?
That, alone, is almost enough of a reason. However, during at least the last 20 of those 25 years I watched from the inside as government decisions were made over and over again based on shit data, incomplete data, no data, political agendas, personal biases, institutional inertia, bureaucratic self-interest, raw power seeking, sheer incompetence, and a host of other equally terrible factors. I trust NO decision made by the State or Federal governments. I trust NO government “expert.” I was one. The entire decision making process is too fundamentally limited, corrupt, and irredeemable.
In the case of COVID, this is particularly true. Every step in the process that has led to the widespread vaccination of the world population has been subject to the worst kinds of governmental malfeasance. There was simply too much politically to gain (regardless of the speaker’s political persuasion), too much control to grasp for, too much power to take, too much money to make, too much influence to peddle, too many votes to buy, and too much of every other governmental vice. Even under the kind of message “shaping” or “fact checking” that the media machines engage in, more than enough evidence has come out to cast severe doubt on whatever the bureaucrats are saying. Under conditions like this, the safe bet is to bet against the government, and I did.
To those who would counter that I should have been able to “follow the science” to see that the vaccine really is safe, you are deluded. Science requires open inquiry both for and against a hypothesis. In a world where professionals with decades of relevant experience are shouted down because their questions cast doubt on the foregone conclusion, there is no real science. In a world where the outcome has been determined — and it’s just a matter of collecting enough “evidence” to support it — there is no real science. In a world where long-term impacts are never even considered in study design and decisions are made for only short-term outcomes, there is no real science. In a world where negative outcomes are suppressed at the individual, organizational, local, state, federal, and world levels, there is no real science. I have personally seen all of these behaviors. And, anecdotally, they really don’t appear to be infrequent aberrations in the data.
If my decision to forego vaccination results in a negative outcome, blame the “science” for not doing real science. I am a fan of science, and I have a hard-earned PhD in science and engineering to prove it. Had there been an honest public debate where nonconforming ideas were met with something other than a witch hunt, where data wasn’t so blatantly cherry picked and re-worked to “manage” the mass hysteria and support desired outcomes, where time was taken to evaluate (or at least acknowledge) the risk of long-term complications from the developed medical products, where people in power were willing to say something as simple as “I don’t know” instead of make grand pronouncements based on little more than hot air, where politics weren’t the driving factor in narrative, and where there was an honest conversation about risk, I might have chosen differently. Maybe. But then again, I’m not in a particularly high risk category for really negative outcomes even according to the scare-mongers’ data.
Don’t counter that I just happen to have been sheltered from the impacts on people who are infected. I’ve had friends, coworkers, and acquaintances who have died, almost died, or are dealing with “long COVID.” I’ve also known a large number who contracted the disease and passed through it like it were a common cold. It’s a capricious beast that leaves some people alone, and kills others. That is something I’m aware of, and was part of my risk calculus. Life sucks, and something is going to kill you eventually. I decided to accept that fact and get on with my life. There are worse things than dying. Is my risk calculation about to backfire? Maybe, but probably not. Statistically speaking, I’m probably looking at something like a one in 100 chance of death. Those are better odds than I’ve had at multiple points in my life, and I can live (or die) with that.