I’m a Covid late-starter. Could people at least pretend to care?

There now follows an important public message. No one cares about your Covid. They did once but now, frankly, you are nothing special. Get taken to hospital and maybe we’ll be interested but otherwise, pal, move on.

I speak with experience here, having just got past an admittedly mild case that I probably caught on a flight home from holiday. It could have been worse. I could have caught it on the flight out, thereby gaining some clucking sympathy for a ruined vacation, but at the higher price of a miserable trip. I also recognize that getting a relatively gentle dose further eroded sympathy, though no one knew that initially.

It must be acknowledged that I did little to secure solace. But not seeking sympathy is no excuse for not being offered. I did miss out on what I hope would have been a tsunami of digital support by forgoing the obligatory tweeting out of my twice-lined lateral flow test. I have never quite got the desire to do this and also did not want to spend the rest of the day tweeting back “thank you” and “so far, so good” s. I have a very close friend who keeps score of his pals’ solicitude, or lack of it. It’s a trap I’ve tried to avoid, and sitting in bed counting up the “sorry to hear that, hope it’s mild” s seemed the ideal way to fall into it.

Nonetheless, canceling odd meetings or replying to texts, I noticed people were slow to respond to the news of my plight. With some honorable exceptions, they mostly carried on with what they wished to discuss and sometimes remembered to ask how I was feeling at the end. This was not so much compassion fatigue as indifference. It may just be indifference to me, but more likely I hope it’s since the vaccines, people do not regard most reports of Covid as potentially fatal. Naturally, this is not true of the increasingly forgotten immunosuppressed or those with good reason to remain frightened. But absent some other condition, the default is to assume people will be all right.

There is still long Covid for those seeking sympathy, but it seems a high price to pay for a bit of concerned tutting. I did remind people that this was still a risk. No one was impressed.

Covid-concern is so last year and frankly just a reason to muck up dinner plans. No one, other than close relatives, feels the need to check in on you. On further consideration, this may be the benefit of the Covid tweet. You give everyone the right to express compassion and then forget about it.

Even so, it was irritating. I may not have done much to whip up sympathy but it was galling to be denied opportunities for heroic and airy dismissal of my theoretically life-threatening complaint. Raised on the Boy’s Own approach to adversity, I would have welcomed the chance for a bit of “No, no, old boy, it’s nothing, just a flesh wound”. Of course, this panache would be diluted by the fact that an honest assessment of my woes would highlight the fact that it was actually nothing, not even a flesh wound.

At home my plight was treated more as an inconvenience than a cause for sympathy. Since the spawn were all home, my wife was forced on to a mattress in the study low enough to be reached by the hound of halitosis. The boy fled back to college, partly from fear of contagion but mostly for fear of being found unoccupied and forced on to some errand. As my wife was working, room service was, frankly, patchy. After the first uncomfortable days, I was forced to insist on a kettle and the ministrations of Deliveroo.

Once it was clear I was on the mend, I was reclassified as a nuisance. As I waited for the negative test, compassion dried up entirely. Towards the end, when I was well enough to look forward to a day of Netflix movies and room service, I was ordered to walk the dog. On pointing out, truthfully, that I was still fatigued by mid-afternoon, I was advised to get it done before lunchtime.

Viewed holistically, there is of course an upside to this. A world where diagnosis does not lead immediately to danger and worry for most people (though one cannot forget the hundreds still dying each week) is, all in all, a good thing. Covid was one of those instances where it did not pay to be an early adopter. But spare a thought for us late developers. You do not have to mean it, just look like you do.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email him at robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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