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After COVID-19, retired music professor takes stock of health, privilege

Paul Taub plays flute professionally, and is a retired music professor from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. He recently recovered from COVID-19.
Paul Taub plays flute professionally, and is a retired music professor from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. He recently recovered from COVID-19.

Paul Taub is a retired flute teacher. He also plays professionally around the Seattle area. And his years of playing a wind instrument have put him particularly in tune with how his lungs work.

Still, when he developed a cough, a fever, and some chills, he just thought it was a cold.

“And then it got worse,” he told KNKX, “and I thought that I had a bad cold.”

Right now, in mid-April, it’s easy to guess that he was wrong. But this was late February, before Washington state would report its first death from COVID-19, before school was canceled, before businesses were closed, and before we were all told to stay home.

It also was before the widespread cancellation of elective surgeries like the one Taub was scheduled to have to correct atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat that’s treatable with medication. The surgery eases long-term side effects, like fatigue.

On March 5, he checked in at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, underwent some routine pre-operation scans, and then the surgeon came in.

“And he said ‘Uh-uh, no surgery for you. It looks like you have pneumonia,’” Taub said.

He went straight to the emergency department, where he found himself heading into a room for a coronavirus test, with a person “dressed like a beekeeper,” wrapped up in protective gear.

“It was a bit of a lightbulb moment.” Taub said. “The sort of denial I had been in about how sick I was — all of a sudden it made sense that I didn’t have a cold, like I had been saying for a week.”

He spent two nights in the hospital and went home on March 7, “when they thought I wasn’t going to get any worse,” he said. The implication, Taub said, was that the room needed to be freed up for someone else.

Taub says he’s aware that the detection and treatment of his COVID-19 case was the result of a good deal of privilege. It showed up because he’s insured and can afford elective surgery. He’s also taken stock of the good things he has in his life, including a comfortable home in which to recover, with the help of his wife, Susan.

As for the flute, Taub says he is starting to play again. One of his practice exercises involves sustaining a tone for as long as possible. He used to be able to exceed 30 seconds.

“Now it’s more like 12 or 14, and at the end of the exhale, I start to cough,” he said. “But over two weeks, I think I could probably get it back up into the high 20s or 30 again.”

And he says, before too long, he’ll be playing like he used to.

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Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.

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