A Case of . . . ?

March 27, 2020 at 7:42 am (By Amba) (, )

This is me, settling happily into solitary.

Until . . .

3:30 a.m. Fell asleep with the lights on in a strange tumbled position, and woke up feeling weird: slightly nauseated, shaky, palpitations. Is this “it”? It’s not quite 14 days since I saw [a friend who later got sick].

7:05 a.m. That was very strange. My heart was going double time and palpitating; my head felt light, dizzy, achy, my muscles were quivering, my body not quite shaking, although I didn’t feel hot or cold. It felt as if my body was alarmed. Not my mind: this did not feel like it flowed from fearful thoughts or bad dreams. It felt very specifically as if my body was alarmed, independently of “me.” I didn’t know how to get comfortable or fall back to sleep. I could understand how people with the new disease could stand up and pass out. I wondered colorfully if I’d have to crawl to the bathroom.

My understanding is that the immune overreaction to something unfamiliar and proliferating is what kills you, not so much damage from the virus itself. So I tried having an unafraid, curious, and receptive, even welcoming attitude toward it, even though I also felt my mind was beside the point. “Hello, little virus. Welcome to the neighborhood. I hear you’re going to be living around here from now on. We’re going to get to know each other, so we might as well get started.”

For whatever reason, the physiological alarm gradually subsided. I felt floaty for a few moments, as if my horizontal body were weightless and starting to levitate. I thought, “Maybe one way to look at this is as a trip.” My heart had calmed. My quads and jaw muscles stopped quivering. I gradually relaxed and fell asleep.

I woke up several hours later feeling pretty normal.

I think this is what’s called “a case of overactive imagination.”

It serves a purpose, though. It gives me a concrete excuse not to go out and help [a stranded elderly neighbor], just in case. This thing notoriously comes and goes. You never know.


  1. amba12 said,

    I did worry about the cats. That’s my biggest worry: What would I do about the cats?

  2. amba12 said,

    A lot of the women in my family have what used to be called “palpitations,” which have been identified as “premature atrial contractions,” or PACs—harmless. They happen rarely in calm times but kick up in response to stress. If intense enough, they can make you feel lightheaded. In 2001, when my uncle died and J was getting sick and our building was being reconstructed with us in it (and later, 9/11), my heart jumped around so much I wore a Holter monitor to figure out what was going on. And found out that it’s essentially nothing. This was likely that.

  3. Heidi Gucinski Menocal said,

    I do believe you had a panic attack. I occasionally have them at night waking me up. It almost exactly as you describe. I just concentrate on breathing and eventually my nervous system calms down.

  4. amba12 said,

    I have never had one before! But it certainly does sound like it.

  5. amba12 said,

    Wrote to a friend (who’d read this):

    “I have never had a panic attack before, that’s the crazy part. Well, I take it back. Once. I had an agoraphobic attack, gasping for breath, the first time I walked out of Albuquerque Airport (1969) into the vast space of the Southwest. Again, the only one ever. That was more like an awe attack than panic, though. After some minute it flipped from panic to passion and I have craved that vastness ever since.”

    Whatever this “attack” was, it ironically did not affect my breathing (which should have made it less convincing as a coronavirus mimic). No chest pain. Just racing heart, light-headed, nausea. PACs.

  6. amba12 said,

    My mom thinks “I fought the Law, and I won”:

    “My take is quite different from yours. I have never had a panic attack.
    My take: your body had a battle with the virus; your body won. The episode was within the time frame of susceptibility to whatever [your friend] had—right? You (rather, your body) fought it off, the little bastard! That’s not “scientific” but it was my immediate & spontaneous response to your description. !!♥️!!”

    I said, “Oh, Ithere’s no way it could’ve been a battle with the virus so briefly fought.”

    And she said, “How do you know?? I don’t believe in fairies or magic, but ‘time’ is also not a ‘discrete’ object —isi it man-made, to explain the inexplicable?”

  7. wj said,

    The picture alone has family, friends, and co-workers laughing. Thanks!

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