My Covid Perceived Injurious Experiences

I got covid.  So did my wife, Ann.

Our daughter and son-in-law stayed with us for the week leading up to Christmas, and they spent some time with his family.  We assume that we got it from them and they got it from his family.

Throughout the pandemic, Ann and I have been very cautious.  We got our vaccinations, including boosters, as soon as possible.  We generally avoided contact with others, especially avoiding being indoors with groups of people.  When we went shopping, we wore masks.  But we got covid anyway, like countless others around the world who had taken great precautions.

Fortunately, we have had only mild symptoms – as if we had a cold – and they are pretty much gone.  We didn’t have fevers or serious aches.

It feels a little weird to publicly acknowledge having covid.  Almost as if it is something we should feel ashamed about.  But I don’t feel ashamed because we have been so careful, and we don’t blame our kids because they have been careful too.

My Covid PIEs

My getting covid produced what Felstiner, Abel, and Sarat called “perceived injurious experiences” (PIE) in their 1980-1981 Naming, Blaming, Claiming article describing the genesis of disputes.  Their framework describes how people sometimes have PIEs, only some of which do they blame on others (i.e., grievances).  They may blame others but don’t always demand that the others do something to remedy the PIE.  When people make demands, disputes arise when the demands are not satisfied.  Some but not all disputes end up in the legal system.

Not every negative experience is a PIE.  For example, if you bump into someone in a store, you may or may not perceive that as a PIE.  You may consider it as an egregious affront or think nothing of it.  This highlights the role of people’s perception in the creation of PIEs.

There also is a subjective element in the creation of grievances.  If you bump into someone at a store, even if you consider it as a PIE, you wouldn’t have a grievance if you think that it’s your fault or nobody’s fault.

In my case, I have a lot of PIEs and I feel aggrieved.  My PIEs aren’t as obvious as if someone punched me in the gut or sold me a defective product.  Rather, my perceptions of injury are a function of complex assessments.

My covid symptoms were just like having a cold.  Although I don’t like getting colds, when I get a cold, I don’t get all bent out of shape and I don’t blame other people.

If I hadn’t gotten a covid test, I wouldn’t have known if I had covid.  We couldn’t get a test for several days and the anxiety of not knowing was a PIE.  Subtle symptoms came and went, so I wondered if it was over.  That uncertainty was a PIE too.

When I first got the test result, I wondered if I would merely have a “mild” case – however mild that might be – or whether I would have a more serious case.  I sometimes got more tired than usual.  Is that just “life” or a covid symptom?  I have heard that some people have lingering problems after getting covid.  Would I?  Those worries are more PIEs.

My PIEs are small potatoes compared with others’.  During this pandemic, more people have died in the US than the annual deaths from the most serious illnesses and the number of military personnel killed in each of our wars, including our deadliest war, the Civil War.  In addition, people have PIEs from their non-fatal covid illnesses.  Many people described extremely unpleasant experiences (even in some supposedly “mild” cases) – sometimes hooked up to ventilators in ICUs.  Not only that, PIEs from covid illnesses and deaths have radiated through families, workplaces, communities, and the entire globe.

I have a lot of PIEs in addition to my personal symptoms and worries.

I am angry at all the leaders who have recklessly spread false and misleading information that discouraged people from protecting others by wearing masks, maintaining appropriate physical distances, and getting vaccinated.

I am especially angry at political leaders and judges who affirmatively make the situation worse by preventing institutions and people from taking prudent actions to protect public health.

OSHA estimated that its vaccine-or-test rule would save 6500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations in six months.  On Friday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether it should prohibit enforcement of the OSHA rule.  Some of the (selectively “pro-life”) justices’ questions displayed deplorable indifference to human life, such as questions implying that employees should assume the risk that co-workers will infect them, including employees who do not get vaccinated for religious or medical reasons.  If the Court prohibits enforcement of the rule, I will feel angry and sad about the preventable deaths, illnesses, and suffering that its decision will cause.

I am angry at people who self-righteously declare their “freedom” to do whatever they want without acknowledging that their behavior may harm others and perpetuate the pandemic longer than necessary.

I am angry about people who have opposed reasonable government actions, based on a theory of personal responsibility – but then they don’t act responsibly.  They don’t take responsibility for degrading shared public resources – like medical facilities and personnel – and putting great pressure on large segments of society that serve us all, like employees at groceries, pharmacies, and all sorts of stores and service providers.  Many of these places are staffed by low-wage employees who put themselves in harm’s way every day so that we all can live as normally as possible.

I am angry that I – and everyone – can’t go about our normal lives as usual before the pandemic.  Just going to the store, eating out, attending a meeting, or getting on a plane are risks we need to protect against or avoid entirely.

I am angry that I feel wary about being physically close to other people.

I am angry that I don’t trust people who aren’t wearing masks in public indoor spaces.  When I went food shopping today, much less than half the people were wearing masks.

I am angry that I haven’t seen lots of articles counseling unvaccinated people to be understanding of people worried about getting covid, corresponding to all the articles urging vaccinated people to be sympathetic to unvaccinated people.

I am angry at schools that force teachers and students to crowd into spaces that put them all at risk – sometimes prohibited from requiring everyone to wear a mask.  A friend told me that he will teach a class of 80 students in person but he is resigned to getting covid, just hoping that it won’t be too severe.

I am angry that even though most people have acted responsibly, they nonetheless are at greater risk than necessary and may get covid anyway.

And I’m angry that irresponsible people have accelerated dangerous processes of social disintegration in the US and around the world.

I had these PIEs before I got covid.  My getting covid just added more.

I feel clear about all this anger.  The fuzzy part is assigning blame.

I wonder what would have happened if most of the people I blame had acted as I would have liked.  It’s not realistic to expect that everyone would have acted responsibly.  Even if most people did, presumably many of the same things would occur but at lower rates.  So it’s reasonable to blame people only for the increased risks and consequences.  Which are unknowable, especially considering that the disease has mutated over time and our collective knowledge inevitably lags behind evolving developments.

The Naming, Blaming, Claiming framework is oriented to creation of legal disputes.  In the case of covid, there is no plausible claim let alone a dispute or legal remedy.  Who could one blame?  There are so many people who contributed to the increased risk and harm that it’s impossible to assign blame to any individual or entity.  What remedy could one demand?  Who could mete out justice?  Obviously no one.

Of course, many people who are entitled to legal relief don’t get it.  Now people have justified but unsatisfied PIEs about the covid crisis.  In all these situations, people have no choice but to go on living, managing our unsatisfied grievances the best we can.

Take good care of yourself, your loved ones, and anyone else you are in touch with.

Here’s a sequel to this post:  More Covid PIEs and the Alice-in-Wonderland Supreme Court Decision Endangering Workers.

10 thoughts on “My Covid Perceived Injurious Experiences”

  1. I just read your article; I am an Italian lawyer and I have COVID in these days as well as
    My husband. I wonder what these experience will produce. I am afraid that the anger you wonderfully describe, and the impossibility of blaming anyone will turn into more frustration and social tension worldwide. A
    Sort of general mediation set is probably needed to go through

    1. Thanks for your reply, Francesca. I hope that you and your husband haven’t had serious symptoms and are recovering quickly. Unfortunately, I don’t see how the social tension will be resolved any time soon. It’s tragic.

  2. So glad your cases were mild!! So many people around me are getting Covid, some mild cases and some moderate. Luckily none have ended up in the hospital. The shame and blame usually would be connected to the person seemingly taking unreasonable risks. But after 2 years I think seeing family, when everyone is fully vaccinated, doesn’t seem like an unreasonable risk to many people. My conclusion is that we all have to decide what risks are worth taking. Full stop.

  3. I’m glad you had mild covid, but sorry that you had it at all! It’s very frustrating that so many people continue to ignore the importance of the vaccine and masking to help their friends and family, if not to help themselves.

  4. I agree with everything you say here John. You write so clearly and respectfully. I am glad you and your wife are recovered. I am a public health professional who designs and tests health behavior change interventions (not COVID-related). Messaging is a bit part of what I do. How do we develop better messaging? Have you read Jonathan Haidt’s book – The Righteous Mind? It really helped me understand the moral code of anti-vaxers and alike. If only we could use this understanding to create messages and get trusted leaders to spread them.

    1. Thanks very much, Lori. I tried to be both respectful and direct. I understand that some people have legitimate concerns about covid public health measures — and that some people make pretextual arguments hiding their real interests in promoting their social and political views based on false and misleading claims. My anger is at people who are indifferent to or disrespectful of others’ wellbeing.

      I don’t know about Haidt’s book. Would you summarize what it (and your work) suggests about how best to communicate with people who have legitimate concerns?

  5. “I had these PIEs before I got covid. My getting covid just added more.”

    This resonates with me. The daily experience of personal injurious experiences via the structural oppression and violence in the American regime was only exasperated by this COVID pandemic.

    I too am furious at the leaders that through politics and posturing, continue to mismanage this situation. That is not a new experience for me, though.

    Who do I blame for normal not coming back? Truly though normal got us here so, I am looking to bring forward something different. Thank you for sentiments.

  6. Social worker Miranda Featherstone provided a moving account worth reading of her covid perceived injurious experiences. Here are some excerpts:

    “I wondered how long I would gaze with mistrust at other people, wondering if they were a source of germs (the coronavirus, or the run-of-the-mill colds that still keep my children out of school until PCR results return). I wondered when this would all be over, and I worried that the answer was never. I wondered how long it would be before I felt less angry.

    “We are more Covid cautious than some, and less cautious than others. How easy it is to feel that people who are not just like us are paranoid on the one hand or reckless on the other.

    “Such characterizations might briefly soothe the hurts that we have all accumulated: the casual eugenics present in the dismissals of deaths of people with pre-existing conditions; the reckless sexism present in the indifference to the availability of in-person school; the cruel uncompensated loss of paychecks, customers and clients; the intimate-partner violence and substance abuse that has swelled behind closed doors; the crushing loneliness that comes from working behind a mask or seeing few people outside of your home. People have split themselves into warring factions over measures like mask mandates and school closures, with each side minimizing the harms about which the other is concerned. Many of us feel abandoned.

    “So many of us are broken, bruised, distrustful and longing for warmth. The satisfying bubble of righteous indignation — or even a simmer of anger — about what others have done or failed to do is easier to tap than the sharp pain of grief or the dull ache of prolonged sorrow and worry.”

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