Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 19, 2020

My COVID-19 scare

Filed under: COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

In early April I was really stressed out over medical issues. To start with, when I went to the CVS across the street to get a Combigan refill that I use for glaucoma, I was told that I needed a new prescription. After contacting AdvantageCare, I learned that my optometrist was on vacation. After repeated emails to him went unanswered, I had to go over to the clinic to track down his backup. They said that they would contact him and he in turn would then contact CVS with the new subscription. I had my fingers crossed that they would receive notification by the next day since I had just one last dose of the eyedrops left. I don’t think that I’d suffer nerve damage in just a single day, but why take chances?

On top of that, I was bothered by a persistent dry cough. I doubted that it was COVID-19 because it was a kind of reflex to a tickle in my throat more than anything from inside my lungs, almost as if I had swallowed a hair. But that I coughed every 10 minutes or so did make me worry a bit.

On top of that, I was tired all the time. For the past year or so, I’ve been getting 9 hours of sleep a night but often took a nap as well. Starting from the beginning of the year, I began taking two naps a day, once in late morning and once in the early evening. Was I getting old? Hell no, I was old. But when combined with the dry cough, I could help but think that maybe I had a mild case of COVID-19. I didn’t mention this to my wife since I didn’t want to make her worry.

Around April tenth, I hit the panic button.

I opened the red wine we had shared a night ago and poured it into our glasses. I took one sip and freaked out, as they used to put it in the 1960s. There was no taste. It was like drinking water. I didn’t say a word but felt as if I had been bitten by a puff adder. When would the deep symptoms kick in? Ventilator? Oh, no. My mind was racing at the dinner table.

A minute later, my wife took her first sip and asked me, “Why doesn’t the wine have a taste?” What a relief!

At that point, I told her about my worries. (She had been a bit worried about my coughing.) We decided to test ourselves by smelling and tasting various objects. No other food or drink presented problems. We opened another bottle of red wine and it passed both the smell and taste test. The New Testament says that Jesus turned water into wine but what happened in the Proyect household? A miracle that turned wine into water? That might make some sense given my devilish ways.

My wife’s brother-in-law, who has been staying with us, joined in the discussion. He had no idea why the wine now tasted like water but did have a suspicion that my fatigue was related to the melatonin that I take almost on a nightly basis.

Roughly two years ago, I had been taking one milligram a night not so much to help me get to sleep but to help me get back to sleep. With my enlarged prostate, I get up to pee 3 or 4 times a night and sometimes have trouble getting back to sleep when dark thoughts about the Sixth Extinction or nuclear war kick in.

When the pandemic started, I switched to a 5 milligram dose after reading that melatonin could help stave off COVID019. This was something I read in a legitimate medical journal rather than heard on Sean Hannity. Granted that this is a preprint rather than the final peer-reviewed article (lots of these have been cropping up since the pandemic, including the bullshit out of Stanford), it still seemed more plausible than drinking Lysol. In an article titled “Can Melatonin Reduce the Severity of COVID-19 Pandemic?”, three Russian researchers provided this abstract:

The current COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most devastating events in recent history. The virus causes relatively minor damage to young, healthy populations, imposing life-threatening danger to the elderly and people with diseases of chronic inflammation. So, if we could reduce the risk for vulnerable populations, it would make the COVID-19 pandemic more similar to other typical outbreaks. Children do not suffer from COVID-19 as much as their grandparents and have a much higher melatonin level. Bats also do not suffer from the virus they transmit, and bats too have a much higher level of melatonin. Viruses generate an explosion of reactive oxygen species, and melatonin is the best natural antioxidant that is lost with age. Melatonin inhibits the programmed cell death which coronaviruses induce, causing significant lung damage. Coronavirus causes inflammation in the lungs which requires inflammasome activity. Melatonin blocks the inflammasome. The immune response is impaired by anxiety and sleep deprivation. Melatonin improves sleep habits, reduces anxiety and stimulates immunity. Fibrosis may be the most dangerous complication after COVID-19. Melatonin is known to prevent fibrosis. Mechanical ventilation may be necessary but yet imposes risks due to oxidative stress, which can be reduced by melatonin. Thus, by using the safe over-the-counter drug melatonin, we may be immediately able to prevent the development of severe disease symptoms in coronavirus patients, reduce the severity of their symptoms, and/or reduce the negative effects of coronavirus infection on patients’ health after the active phase of the infection is over.

This might be true but I have stopped taking melatonin after my wife’s brother-in-law referred me to an article titled “I tried using melatonin for a week and felt exhausted, even during the day.” Like me, the author had started taking 5 milligram doses:

I have tried melatonin in the past with little to no luck. Having only ever taken small doses (1-3 milligrams), this time around I slightly increased the dose to 5 milligrams, which is the highest recommended dosage.

After five days of taking melatonin, she began to see the drawbacks to a “natural” medication that left her listless during the day:

The daytime sleepiness I was experiencing started to completely overshadow the positive effects of gaining a regular sleep schedule. I had to take another midday nap and struggled to be as productive as I needed to be throughout the day.

On day seven, she decided to go back to a smaller dose and only on an occasional basis:

On the final day of the week, I was elated to stop taking melatonin. I felt that the benefits of the sleep aid had peaked on the third or fourth day of the experiment and the rest of the week had felt like a sleepy blur.

I had hoped that by the end of the week my body would have adjusted to the melatonin, but this was not the case. I considered possibly lowering my dose and trying for a second week, but truth be told I couldn’t picture getting through another week of being so tired throughout the day.

After bailing on melatonin a couple of weeks ago, I have gotten back to an 8-hour sleep and naps only once or twice during this period. On top of that, I have gotten back to my old high-energy self. Walking a couple of miles a day with my wife, even if we have to navigate the sports bar louts on Third Avenue like Odysseus avoiding both Scylla and Charybdis.


  1. Bats do have a high level of melatonin but some recent research points to their unusually high level of effective interferons that flood their system at the first hint of infection. This puts their immune system on steroids overpowering the pathogen, but at the same time this successfully frees the bat of symptoms – the battle for survival may have defeated the pathogen as far as the bat is concerned has also increased its virulence as it waits to be transmitted to another animal.

    Comment by Swanson Tudor — May 19, 2020 @ 6:53 pm

  2. Glad to hear you’re doing well, Louis.

    The melatonin that our body produces can be more effectively utilized if we follow some pointers from Johns Hopkins.

    General background:
    Your body produces melatonin naturally. It doesn’t make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep,” explains Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M.

    “Melatonin levels rise about two hours before bedtime,” Buenaver says. “Create optimal conditions for it to do its job by keeping the lights low before bed. Stop using your computer, smartphone or tablet—the blue and green light from these devices can neutralize melatonin’s effects. If you watch television, be sure you’re at least six feet away from the screen. Turn off bright overhead lights too.” Meanwhile you can help program your body to produce melatonin for sleep at the right time of day by getting exposure to daylight during the morning and afternoon. Take a walk outside or sit beside a sunny window.

    Source: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/melatonin-for-sleep-does-it-work

    Stay safe and be well!

    Comment by Reza — May 19, 2020 @ 8:54 pm

  3. Amusing. I’m always up for discussions on melatonin. I love it and rely on it, but a few times a month only, and fracture that 5 mg pill into quarters. For the record, did you mean to say it was ‘wine into water’ that happened at the Proyect household?

    Comment by Jana Pellusch — May 20, 2020 @ 1:28 am

  4. Thanks for the correction, Jana. Must be getting old. What? I am old.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 20, 2020 @ 3:00 am

  5. Louis, the report on your health had a positive effect here in the locked-down far south of Italy. The red-wine test, in particular, inspired me. If our local resources are nil in industrial might, our red wine production rolls on like the surf of our beaches. Lockdown that started in February gave me no excuse not to sit down and get on with writing. As week followed week and then became months, I could fill non-writing moments with rereading old favorites, noting how dumb I was first time around. But not going out for a quick espresso and subsisting on my own lame brew finally got to me. Was I really so vulnerable at 91 as I flexed my muscles among the flowers on our balcony? My wife thought so as she cooked up another midday feast of local delicacies. Okay, I agreed to stay home. Then I read about that dramatic meal in your apartment where I once devoured a New York English muffin with you. Eureka! I’d line up my local cronies online for a regular test by red wine. Our vulnerability demanded it. Brecht said grub comes first, before argument. But before grub comes the aperitif. My friends were ready and willing. We made the rounds. There were specialists of all the bottled treasures of Puglia. Primitivo did not disappoint the nose. Negroamaro teased the nostrils with its swarthy bittersweetness. Salice Salentino entered the human breathing apparatus above pursed lips on little cats’ paws. And so it goes. Santé.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — May 20, 2020 @ 10:38 am

  6. I wound up after years of anxiety, depression, and insomnia on a cocktail of trazodone, gabapentin, and escitalopram which allows me to sleep well, think clearly by my standards, and function at what passes for my best. The whole thing is tricky as hell, but doing this works 1H of a lot better for me than all the “natural” remedies I’ve tried over the years, including melatonin, not that they don’t work in certain ways. Careful medical supervision required.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — May 20, 2020 @ 2:02 pm

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