The Good News Is, It’s Not Coronavirus

Last night I spent more time awake than asleep. My cough has been getting worse, and kicked in about every 45 minutes. It’s been over a week, and nothing seems to be touching this lower respiratory infection. This naturally has some folks immediately reacting for the coronavirus panic button. It turns out that it’s not any sort of virus, or the flu, or even an especially bad cold. I’m having a severe allergic reaction.

tl:dr I’m now on allergy medication because my neighbors live in squalor. 

Between 1989 and 2014 I had pneumonia or bronchitis 17 times. Almost every year I’d get extremely sick. Since we moved to Finland, I have never gotten that sick. A mild cold here and there, but that’s all. Until, you know, right now. Why is that?

It turns out that I’m severely allergic to cats.

Since 1988 I’ve lived in a household with cats. In 2014 we moved to Finland, and don’t have pets. Correlation isn’t causation, but I’ve been tested and oh yeah, that was the reason I was getting sick all those years. It’s a damned shame no American doctor could ever figure that out in a 10-minute HMO appointment where they just shoved antibiotics at me.

It’s Not Coronavirus

We don’t have cats, so why I am I suddenly sick? A new neighbor moved in recently, and they have two cats. They’re on a different floor, but to get to our apartment I have to walk past their door. That’s still not enough for me to have a reaction, because there’s at least one other apartment in this building that’s had cats for years and it’s never set me off. So what’s different?

Apparently these newer neighbors aren’t the most, um, hygienic people. Occasionally I would walk past and catch a whiff of dirty cat litter, but I’d assumed I’d come by right after they’d taken it out to the trash. Remember, though, that I rarely leave the apartment. I’m not out in the hall several times a day, every day. Other neighbors on that floor have complained that it smells like that all the time.

Given how tightly Finnish buildings are sealed up in the winter, it must be pretty bad inside of that apartment for the smell to be noticeable in the hall. If it’s in the hall, then it’s going to get into our apartment somehow. Even though we haven’t smelled anything, it’s not unreasonable that some particulate has made it into the building’s ventilation system, and ultimately into my lungs.


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