The other week I read some WSJ puff piece about how locked-down Americans doing burpees for the first time keep spraining their ankles. I rolled my eyes at all the bumbling idiots, like I’m not someone who once tweaked my neck so badly shampooing my hair that I couldn’t turn my head for a week, and then promptly burned my arm dumping a loaf of bread from an oven-hot pan, sliced my finger open with serrated knife, and stress-fractured my foot trying to jog for the first time in months.
All the while I have my hackles up for any sign of the creeping crud. I’ve Googled “covid or allergies” one zillion times (it’s always allergies) since March. More recently I’ve gotten into antibodies, and the other day I spent more than zero minutes trying to remember whether I’d had a cold in January or February. I didn’t — at least not according to my WhatsApps with my mother, where I register all of my complaints about my physical health and flight delays for unconditional sympathy (thanks, Mom) — but I did have a nasty bout of food poisoning. Did I Google “covid or food poisoning”? Yes. Did we have covid that January night when my fiancé and I woke up at 2 A.M. and then vomited for the next sixteen hours straight? No. Not only do I not have antibodies, but it’s still my fault for not washing the spinach properly before I stirred it into the curry.
Twelve years of ballet taught me to listen to my body well. I was always kind of a wet noodle of a dancer, which was good and bad; I was fluid and sinuous, but I never could get my weight out of my heels. And I always had a pulled groin, shin splints, mysterious hip pain, a bad foot, whatever. I learned to tell when something was about to go wrong so I could baby it. I did a whole Nutcracker season one year with my shins wrapped in Ace bandages. Now when my problem-child hamstring — the one I pulled a few years back walking wrong (wet noodle!) — acts up I listen to my Internet yoga teacher telling me to “put away my ego” and bend my knees in my forward fold.
(From my bent-knee forward fold, I think mournfully back on when I took ballet six days a week and had a perfect arabesque. Now I am Old Mother Hubbard.)
I know also when I’m about to be ill. Maybe my head feels an ounce heavier or I can feel a telltale pinch at the back of my nose. When I was still a performer and the cold inevitably began to creep on the week before the show, this was when I’d panic and start chugging a lot of water. (I maintain that Emergen-C is a scam.)
Lately I’ve felt similarly frantic when I feel the stirrings of illness. London is in full and verdant bloom, and every time I leave the house I return with a little sniffle. Then it subsides and I feel briefly sad that I didn’t get the virus, because in all likelihood if I got it I’d get better. I fantasize about being impervious and boarding a plane home to see my family, and then I feel irresponsible for daring to want to catch it, like I’m one of those mothers you hear about throwing chicken-pox parties.
I like that I have so much knowledge of and control over my body. Obviously, that was where the whole anorexia thing came from a few years back, but it’s not always so insidious. It’s helpful that I know (okay, knew, whatever, in my head I’m still a prima ballerina) to Ace-bandage my legs before I hop around on a poorly sprung stage six nights a week for a month. Even if I couldn’t stave off a cold, I knew how it would progress and how to hot-water-and-lemon it until I could sing passably.
I’m unaccustomed to a threat that I can’t steps one-two-and-three into submission, and one that has implications beyond my own body. A mask isn’t a knee brace, and my sprained ankles weren’t contagious. Lately I feel more like a time bomb, and with a world shrunk to the size of an apartment, it’s hard to see outside of what I can feel. (Especially when what I feel is searing pain because I bounced a loaf pan fresh from a 450-degree oven off of my bare arm!)