I’m not sick — really!

I’ve noticed a change in my behavior since COVID. Nowadays when I cough in front of someone else I feel obligated to explain it away. “It’s just a little tickle.” Or “I’ve got seasonal allergies.” Or “You must have cat hair on your sweater.”

It’s not just me. I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store today. While we were talking she coughed into her elbow and then said, “I’m not sick — really.” I smiled and said, “Of course not.” Then I backed up two feet.

You can’t help but be changed when you live through a big crisis like a global pandemic. I don’t know about you, but I keep masks and COVID tests on hand like people who lived through the Depression kept margarine containers and whipped topping bowls.

It’s not all bad. I think COVID made us realize what’s truly important: relationships, health and toilet paper.

And a lot of us became more tech savvy while we were in pandemic prison. I’m proud to say that I, a confirmed technophobe, managed to attend meetings, virtual coffees, church services and even a wedding on Zoom during the pandemic. And I can still do it when I need to. It’s a new world, a world where you can attend important events barefooted and wearing sweatpants with holes in them.

I think it’s more acceptable to take sick leave now too. And thank goodness for that. I never liked the idea of people with runny noses or stomach flu working in restaurants or food packaging plants. But like many Americans, I always felt like taking sick leave was frowned upon unless you were lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

Since COVID, employees are considered responsible and civic minded for taking sick days, and if they aren’t they should be — unless it’s to go fishing. That’s not civic minded at all unless they share the fish.

Maybe hygiene has improved too. Before COVID, I never heard anyone sing Happy Birthday while they washed their hands in a public restroom. I still haven’t. But I like to think that everyone is singing it under their breath. I know I am.

Early on we were encouraged to stop touching our faces so much. I read that on average we scratch our nose, rub our eyes and wipe our mouth more than 20 times every hour. Honestly I don’t see how we get anything else done. I thought about taking up smoking for my health. Not really.

But I did start knitting just to keep my hands busy and away from my face. No, I didn’t do that either. Apparently not many people did because if they had there’d be fewer colds and more handmade sweaters. 

There are other things that didn’t change the way we thought they might. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was talk of finding alternative ways to greet each other that wouldn’t spread germs. Some people thought handshaking might eventually be replaced by bowing or by bumping fists or elbows. But most of us are still shaking hands. Occasionally you do see people bump fists in a friendly greeting. A lot of folks raise their fists at each other these days too, but I think that’s something else.

It’s probably just as well bumping elbows didn’t catch on. It can’t be all that hygienic to bump our elbow with someone else’s after we’ve just coughed into it.

  Dorothy Rosby is the author of ’Tis the Season to Feel Inadequate; Holidays, Special Occasions and Other Times Our Celebrations Get Out of Hand and other books. Contact her at www.dorothyrosby.com/contact.