“I went out, it was a Friday night.

Wore a mask to get the feeling right,

Supposed to meet up, at the local bar,

But then I just sat inside the car.

And that’s about the time they said I was no fun,

Nobody likes you when you’re 61,

And still afraid to leave the house,

What the hell is COVID-19?

My friends say I should act my phase,

What’s my phase again? What’s my phase again?”

With apologies to Blink-182, I’m still having trouble getting my head around Commandante Pritzker’s Public Health Plan of Many Colors.

Let’s see. As of today, we are in Phase 4, Revitalization, which is a pleasant cornflower blue on the chart. This means gatherings of up to 50 people, outdoor activities, and schools and businesses obeying capacity limits are OK, as long as positivity rates, hospital admissions and significant outbreaks don’t surge in any of the state’s four health regions (we’re in the Northeast region, which is a pleasant blue-gray on the chart, along with Chicago and the other collar counties).

Wait, hold that. In mid-July, the state’s four health regions were split up into 11 new health subregions (we’re in lucky 7, probably because we have two casinos; it’s a pleasant emerald green on the chart). Permissible activity now is structured on a simple three-tier plan based on if “the three-day rolling average positivity rate surpasses 8%, or if the seven-day rolling average positivity rate increases for seven out of the past 10 days, and if one of the three following conditions occur: 1. Hospital admissions for COVID-like illness increases for seven days in a row. 2. The percentage of medical surge hospital beds falls below 20%. 3. The percentage of ICU hospital beds falls below 20%.”

And that’s why I never get out of the car anytime we’re in public.

I think it would have just been a lot simpler if someone in a leadership position somewhere sometime would have just mandated mask wearing and sheltering in place for everyone
4½ months ago before the virus hit the fan. You know, like they did in most of Europe, where new infections are now kept in the hundreds, as opposed to the U.S., where it’s in the millions and still climbing up that damn exponential curve.

It’s easy to blame our current woes on myopic millennials and morons. On the other hand, if I was a few decades younger and healthier, I’d probably just ignore the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warnings, too, and continue partying like it was 1999.

Like I did for the avian flu outbreak in 1997, the SARS outbreak in 2003, the swine flu outbreak in 2009, the MERS outbreak in 2012, the ebola outbreak in 2014 and countless other potential epidemics that always turned out to be a flash in the pan. I say that only because neither I nor anyone I knew ever got sick, let alone died.

All that changed for me in 2015. After a year of chemo and two stem cell transplants, I had to start paying attention to little things such as body temperature, white and red blood cell counts and something called kappa and lambda light chain levels.

In short, my immune system is shot. The stem cell transplants basically wiped it clean. And the maintenance chemo continues to suppress it, leaving me open to infection. Not to mention the everyday hurdles of anemia, chronic fatigue and assorted digestive disasters. Kinda nasty, but still better than having cancer again.

Because of this, I take little things like fevers, coughs and cuts very seriously. And for good reason.

A month after my second transplant, for instance, I ended up in the hospital for nine days with pneumonia. Last year, I was in for another nine days with sepsis. In between, I’ve had at least a couple of bad respiratory infections each winter.

So now when my doctor tells me something, I actually listen to her. Like when she tells me to get a high-dose flu shot each October, I actually go and do it.

I had my monthly oncology blood test last week. Still waiting for the cancer numbers, but I did get my white blood cell count: 2.9. A new low for 2020. The normal range is 3.5 or 4 to 10 or 11, depending on who you ask. Now 2.9 ain’t great, but I’ve been lower. Just so long as it doesn’t fall below 1.5, because at 1.5 you’re neutropenic and liable to catch a life-threatening infection from anything, including fresh vegetables, yogurt, raw meat or harsh language.

What with my bum immune system, I’ve mostly been hiding out at home since March 13. And I don’t see that situation changing anytime soon. Not before next March 13, anyway.

So, you true patriots can go ahead and mock us “sheeple” for wearing masks and sheltering in place. For you, it’s a matter of principle, I guess.

For me, it’s a matter of survival.

What’s my phase again?

• Bill Wimbiscus is a former reporter and editor at The Herald-News.


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