Here is a good photo of me illustrating my baseline health in 2019. I am visiting San Diego and because it is the main activity I miss about the geography itself, I rode a bike to the top of Mt. Soledad. At least four times. The last time was on 2019-11-27.


Less than 10 days later I was in the poorest state of health of my entire life, as close to dying of natural causes as anyone ever has been who ultimately recovers on their own. Normally I would be horrified to complain or seem like I was complaining about any untoward ill-health. And I am not complaining now! Or fishing for sympathy or whatever it is that normally motivates people to complain/brag about their maladies. But because of the Virus That Broke The World, obviously everyone is much more interested in novel coronavirus symptoms than they’ve ever been before and ever imagined being.

I am hoping that this account can possibly be helpful in discussions about that other virus, which official people assure me, I could not possibly have had. My recollection of events was challenged even as they happened and time has naturally made them even fuzzier. I thought it would be interesting to review any writing I had from that time where I share interesting and relevant details about my ordeal. It turns out that my personal email was rich with statements which clearly illuminate my situation.

If you don’t like reading about other people’s medical problems (I’m with you there) or you don’t feel my personal life is worth a lot of reading (it is my blog after all) then feel free to skip this one. If however, you’re interested in my life, this is definitely one of the most interesting things that has happened to me. Let’s review the historical record.


The day after my last ascent up Soledad, I was in airports/airplanes all day, Thanksgiving Day, returning from a visit to SD.


My wife leaves for a routine visit to her family in SD. Something isn’t perfect with my health, but nothing worth mentioning. With some rest I expect to feel fine.


Instead of the deliberate rest I remember explicitly planning, I get a surprise opportunity to have some work done on my (job-related) boat. This prevents me from sleeping in and I end up standing outside chatting with the guys doing the work for 3 hours in 32F/0C weather. That’s standing outside doing nothing physical which is actually harder on the body than being active. I knew I wasn’t feeling full strength the day before, but this is where I think things took a serious wrong turn.


Because my wife is away, I have a nice written record which provides detailed insights. I write to her…

I hope you’re feeling ok. I am definitely fighting off a tough illness. I got out of bed today at noon and now, 1830, I’m going to head back to bed. I’ve had severe chills all day and I’m wearing my outdoor winter gear and my robe! I’m super unsteady and clumsy. My lungs want to cough, but it hurts too much for that. I could barely eat anything. Ug. Tough day.

The next few days I’m really out of it with no written record. I am completely alone in the house and time goes by in strange ways as I spend almost all of my time sleeping. I’m having serious fever issues. I made a change to my bedding format because despite being around 60F/15C in my bedroom, I was sweating so much that the polyester comforter could not vent the moisture fast enough. I remember doing that because I liked the format change well enough that it is still that way now.


Despite not having enough snow to ski I report that I barely managed to shovel the driveway, something I usually find easy and enjoy doing. Later, I write, "I did laundry. And now I’m very tired." Usually my lifetime of athleticism adequately provides for folding clothes!

I write to my dad…

I’ve been very sick for the past 5 days or so which is a novelty for me. This one’s a strange one. No food tastes good; I’m losing about a pound a day. My fingertips go numb. I can hear my eyelids. Each follicle of hair on my scalp seems somehow individually in mild pain. I’m wearing my outdoor gear all the time inside now and just can not be warm. I’m clumsy and have poor balance. All terrific fun! Still it clocks in at 3rd place behind real pain like dislocating your shoulder. And of course I can laugh this stuff off to my grave thanks to migraines spoiling the scale for any pain related phenomena.

Writing to a friend asking me for help with something…

I personally am unlikely to help at the moment. For the first time in my memory I have some very bad pathogen — worst since I had mumps at age 8 in Iran.

In retrospect — worse than mumps.


Despite taking me to a doctor precisely zero times for illness the entirety of my early life (including mumps), my dad was actually concerned enough about what I described that he recommends I think about professional help. I allay his fears by demonstrating his apprehension of doctors has been duly passed on. Maybe amplified.

This illness is not a big deal. It’s annoying to lose so much time, sure, but I’ll live. This ailment is nowhere near as bad as whatever would be required to see a doctor. [I meant the hassle to just figure out US medical "care" which is prohibitively complex to me. I literally have no idea how to "see a doctor".] It’s a bit hard to take them seriously when their ROI R is questionable and their I seems designed to cause poor health. I’ll be fine though. Migraines taught me patience waiting for health to come back. I’m just thankful that it hit me right as [my wife is out of town] - so she neatly missed it.

I’ve had experience/practice with my thinking being compromised.

I’ve stopped [having fires in my fireplace] while sick because I am not touching my razor sharp axes until my clumsiness is quite gone. My metacognition is fine!

Here I’m concerning myself with what I can possibly eat that I will be able to enjoy enough to make up the caloric deficit I’m sensing.

I had an exhausting day which under normal circumstances would seem like I didn’t do anything. I walked to the [nearby] store and they did sell matches. I was surprisingly exhausted after that, like I’d just run, on foot, [20km] or something. After a nap, I actually went to Trader Joe’s where I amazingly not only remembered everything on my list, but thought of the things I couldn’t remember when making the list! I was interested in getting some of that horrendously delicious [chocolate] bark stuff that in normal times I feel like I could eat non-stop until I died of an overdose. But they didn’t have it. Fresh squeezed OJ was a gamble, but fortunately, its taste is not too badly corrupted in my system. I bought lots of bottle water. I guess I need to drink more so I will.

I knew I was very dehydrated from all the fever sweating. The matches were for the fireplace once I felt able to use an ax.


I write to my mother in SD…

I meant to write earlier to say thank you for hosting me on my recent trip. But I’ve been attacked with some kind of lung infection that has kept me in bed pretty much this entire week. And it’s not letting up. I’ve lost about 5% of my body weight this week and if it keeps going down, that could get bad.

To my wife…

Well, still alive again today but really no change. I’m extra tired today, probably sorting out yesterday’s over ambitious activities [a short walk and shopping for food]. I’m pretty nervous that this will not be gone by the time you’re back. If I still have this I’m pretty sure you’ll conclude the best way to make me stop making the horrible coughing noises I can not not make is to just kill me. … Yesterday’s preliminary experiments suggested I could eat an entire tamale and so I’m going to do that now. I’m also going to try to make some lemonade. I’m very tired already just outlining the plan. Ugh.

My son had been sick with a strange fatiguing illness when I visited SD. My mother in a different household also reports recent strange lung infections. Here I reply to her skeptically about the source of my illness assuming my temporally closer contacts might be more relevant. But at this point, who knows? It seems well established that in December 2019 a lot of people in the USA were more sick than usual in weird ways.

→ I also have been coughing up stuff from my chest. … Now [other person in household is] showing the same signs and symptoms.

Ya, [my son] seemed to think I was suffering from his illness too, but I do not think so. I was back home for days feeling fine and got sick after hanging around my colleague at work who had been quite seriously sick. He’s a tough hombre too who we were surprised to see lose a week to this.

You know something is off when I overlook a chance to use whom pedantically.


Writing to my wife who is about to return, I first mention being worried about having the strength to shovel snow to get the car out to pick her up. Then I joke around about the grimness of the previous week…

It’s just too bad you can’t wait until I’m not half dead. You also must start working on your expectations. You can’t come back and say, "What the hell happened here?! This place is awful, like no one has done anything but awkwardly sleep in the bed since I’ve been gone." Because that is exactly what has happened. I stopped weighing myself but am still struggling to be calorie positive. I boiled some eggs tonight and eating one was not bad, a huge concession, I think, to the fact that I’m starving to death. I’m also quite worried about how much you will not love the horrible noises, which I can not stand to hear, which I must make or die. Yup, all night long!


My wife returns, so I no longer am writing to her to tell her how I am. She can see first hand now and wisely starts sleeping in a different room. (My emails to her now are, ironically, us trying to win the exhausting fight to maintain health insurance. No, not to receive care — that’s a ludicrous idea — but merely continued coverage to avoid a billion dollar liability if something really bad happened involving cars + my bike.)

Email to a friend…

Sorry to be out of touch for a while. I’ve been uncharacteristically very ill. I’m not that good at flu/cold/pneumonia terminology because it does not really ever happen to me, but this last week, holy fuck, it happened to me! I’d like to say I’m recovering, but who the fuck knows? I could still have this in May. Or at my current weight loss pace, I’ll disappear by May. I usually get up and then after hacking and coughing and getting dressed and ready, I’m exhausted and ready to lie down again and rest. The day pretty much repeats like that. A good measure of how useless I am is that I can’t even play video games for very long. Now I kick myself for not learning how to "watch TV" as a modern person. I can’t even do that!


My son arrives. Less activity in the written record. Most of my energy is spent worrying about finding enough food for him and me to eat. Thankfully, grocery stores and restaurants were open but after making whatever meal preparations were necessary, I was exhausted. He was not feeling completely healthy at this point either. He does know how to "watch TV" like a modern person so we do lots of that.


This mail to my dad is the first recorded mention of the serious myalgia. First we get an idea of the general situation at this time…

I would not dare eat one [of the beloved holiday foods of my ancestral culture] anyway for many weeks since this pathogen has seriously messed up how things taste for me. I’m still fighting it but the chances of me surviving are much higher now. I can definitely see how a pandemic (e.g. 1918) can kill a zillion people in a hurry. It’s mostly on the run from my respiratory system and now has tried messing up the chemistry of my heavy meat muscles. I had some worry as it crept up my back (almost as painful as a migraine, but you can’t rest) but it mostly went for my legs where I can fight back. Thanks to the bike stand you have lent me, I was able to set up a "Pathogen Heater" and bake any imposter chemistry in my legs. In the last 24 hours it has lamely gone after my tibialis anterior muscles — this causes shin splints, something that while famously painful, is something I’ve been dealing with recreationally for decades. Again, burned some of that off on the bike. Feels great to be able to take the fight to the pathogen. Always an adventure to see what’s next on the hit list. I even had little red pox-like bumps (though not nearly so numerous or serious as, say, chicken pox, which I’ve had) on my chest and back as it messed with my skin chemistry. A tough thing has been the grinding pain making resting difficult and then I couldn’t get the Heater up to full burn because my lungs had been broken. And then it’s just dragged on and on. So many days wasted. So much of me wasted — I lost about 10lbs which I did not have to lose! Hopefully I’m coming out of the wraith world soon. I’m hopeful that my body has been laying good defenses for this kind of nonsense as we’ve made the grand tour through all my important subsystems. I figure if I can keep this shit at bay to every couple of decades (this is the worst I can remember) then it is probably acceptable that each recurrence will probably have half the chance of survival. But this one will not kill me. I will beat it. I believe very soon.

That’s a pretty interesting intuition about how being old produces a nonlinear susceptibility to dying from such an illness!

My dad then captures the essence of this blog post writing,

"That is really weird. Don’t you want to know what it is?"

He suggests I go to some medical service, the thought of which makes me ill for different reasons. And I offer my best guess at the time.

So my diagnosis is "some kind of virus, probably one of the many flu viruses". In theory I could get a "rapid test" (RIDT) but they’re not that accurate. … I picked up some flu virus (probably). I’m a very weird specimen with weird physiology. I am practiced at internal physiology battles. I am strong, especially in respiration (1918 flu strangely was especially harsh to the especially strong, but still, probably not a bad thing). … Now, if the situation radically worsens, say a bacterial infection wracks my lungs and I cough up too much blood, well, then some magic beans may be in order. Maybe some oxygen and other serious intervention. But I’m not to that point. No need to poke that bear with a stick just yet!


At this point I’m fighting back — my idiosyncratic belief is that there are only ever two ways to cure any and all health problems: 1. rest 2. ride a bicycle. I knew that doing my normal matador routine with cars would quickly be fatal in the state I was in, but there was a solution — I set up a (stationary) bike inside. And so how was that DIY approach working out? Here I describe things on Christmas Day.

I went to bed last night and writhed in pain all night until I couldn’t take it any more. I finally got up at 0500 and did 30m on the bike. Went back to bed and could then sleep fine. Tonight, I’ve got 30m scheduled before bedtime. I just need to marshal enough calories but being able to ride that bike inside has been a huge help.

This is what I was doing to fight the serious muscle pain in my legs. I’m no stranger to serious leg muscle pain but I’ve never felt anything this severe.


I’m feeling a lot better today. I think I’ve chased the pathogen out. If it’s not completely gone it will be soon. There are still some lingering strange things like I can’t look at close objects because if I position my eyeballs to look at something near, they hurt. That’s so weird, it’s almost funny. And I was sitting here and I realized my shins (those tibialis anterior again!) were freezing cold for no good reason. I now just need to recover from 3 weeks of being in the wraith world. But I survived this one.


Recovering. Replying to my dad.

→ Glad to hear that the worst may be over. Quite an experience.

Indeed. I used to know in a statistical way that people did die from such things but now I know exactly how that could happen. But not this time!


I feel better this morning than I have in about 3 weeks. Still that’s not great but encouraging. I was getting nervous about a secondary infection that was going after my ear. I had lost hearing in my left ear. … I feel like I just need to keep aggressively going after calories. If I can regain some strength I’ll be able to kick this mess out of my body for good.

The best I’ve got though is going to [a restaurant with normal American food] where I could relatively easily pick up 2500 calories and burning some pathogens on the bike. I always feel better after such a burn but the weight loss is an unnerving challenge.

It was frustrating that it was winter because my California solution to severe calorie deficit is simply ice cream.


Feeling well enough to commit historical puns.

Ya, this serious illness thing is completely new to me. After a month of fighting it I think I’m starting to get on top of it. … If modern medical quackery (and agribusiness) continue to tragedy the commons of antibiotics, we’ll be back to [pre 19th century] levels of medical barberism pretty soon.


However, my illness is finally starting to properly go away. In retrospect, it is more obvious to me now that I had pneumonia. A simple influenza infection shouldn’t last more than a month! That’s why my lungs were so damaged and filled with pink sludge. With lungs at 25% power, breathing is difficult. With that kind of hypoxia, my appetite went away and my brain stopped working as well as it normally does. Pretty much like altitude sickness. I was down around 61kg which is much too light for my frame. I’m now eating everything I can and looking a bit less skeletal. I can breathe properly and my health is coming back.


My son goes back to SD.


I lost a lot of weight and am now trying to eat as much as I can. My lungs were pretty beaten up. I either cracked a rib or tore some connective rib tissue from coughing and that’s still not healed. There were a lot of random bizarre problems that were caused by the pathogen or my overactive pathogen defense — things like sore eyeball muscles, couldn’t taste things properly, couldn’t hear in my left ear, etc. The attack systematically went through all my main muscle groups simulating various large athletic exploits (e.g. running a marathon) when I had actually done nothing. For example, one morning I might wake up with shin splints… The next day, it was the muscles in my feet. Etc. But I’m actually pretty good at having those muscles be pushed to the limits. I know how to sort it out. I mostly was trying to stir up my main meat muscles on a bike set up on a trainer inside. But with my lungs very weak it was hard to generate wattage. But it helped. I’m mostly back now. I’m back to work and I’m hoping I’ll be ready to bike to work by next week. I don’t want to push my luck though. It was definitely a surprising brush with non-invincibility.


I’m still weak in the thermoregulation department. Wearing a puffy jacket (basically outerwear) right now indoors. And it’s not even cold outside!


I’m pretty much over my illness. It’s pretty obvious in retrospect that it was pneumonia. That’s how you take a normal flu in a very healthy guy and drag that out close to death for over 5 weeks. But I outlived it. Now I’m just beat up and weakened by it. But I’m coming back! I was on the bike (inside) today long enough to actually generate enough wattage to be mostly naked and covered in sweat. That’s a big improvement over having thermoregulation problems and being cold all the time. I still have to be careful with that but reminding my body that generating heat is something I’m good at is a reasonable part of the recovery IMO. My lungs are starting to work at a reasonable level again. It was a pretty huge change to go from my normal high level of oxygen processing to that of a heavy smoker. I could barely climb the stairs! … I also have some rib damage [presumably from all the coughing] that is lingering as rib damage does. Sit ups are still very hard for me. But overall, I’m coming back. My thinking is back to reasonable levels (no oxygen to the brain isn’t the best for mental clarity).

Patent drawing for my new invention



Here’s a good benchmark for my recovery.

Yesterday I just rode my bike to work for the first time in about 6 weeks (didn’t go in for 5 weeks!). (Last winter I rode pretty much every day.)

If going for a bike ride in the winter does not seem normal, remember that for me it is.


I’m still very weak on the bike but I have resumed riding to work again. And my rib still hurts when I do sit-ups but I can do sit-ups again. My thinking seems to work as well as ever now too. Making progress.

And that concludes my personal story. It is obviously weird to have had an exact functional replica of the terror-inspiring Virus That Broke The World, but my pretty reliable written record does seem to indicate that’s how it happened.

With personal details about me now safely ignorable here, I am likely to continue commentary about the strangeness of this generally in another post. Which I have now written.