Like many creative transplants in Los Angeles, Darren Callahan faced numerous professional setbacks when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a statewide shelter-in-place order in March.
That new reality was altered again when Callahan contracted the coronavirus in April while flying cross-country for his mother-in-law’s funeral. The worst of the illness appears to be behind the Dayton native but this journey hasn’t reached its end.
“My UCLA doctor was certain I caught it when traveling,” Callahan said. “We got re-routed through South Carolina and put on a packed plane where we were the only ones wearing masks. It got me! Symptoms show about four to five days after exposure and I was right on that track.
“I was considered a moderate case but it was scary and psychologically taxing,” he continued. “Luckily, and I don’t know how, no one else in my family got it. I hope you or no one you know gets this, because it’s, ahem, not the flu. It’s weird and vicious. It lasted for 40 days, 25 days of fever and awfulness, then 15 days of tail.”
With positive COVID-19 cases on the rise in the Miami Valley, the writer, musician and filmmaker with Dayton roots shares his personal experience with the virus and how it has impacted his work.
What it was like having the virus
“It starts with intestinal discomfort,” he said. “That’s just a couple hours but that is, apparently, the first harbinger. Then comes fever, about 101, and then comes body wracking chills. These are basically the first three days. Try to get tested at this time, as you’re still mobile and can think.
“Then, seven days in, it hits an apex,” he continued. “The intensity of that is a sort of barometer for how dangerous the virus is to you. It lasts three days and this is where the coughing and breathing start to come into play. I basically felt like I had run up a flight of stairs, like, all the time, but could always catch my breath, or do deep breaths to assure myself I was all good.”
Some coronavirus patients report a brief remission during the virus outbreak.
“It goes away for five days and some people, though not me, feel like they’re over it,” Callahan said. For me, in this period, I slept 23 hours a day — serious fatigue. Then, it comes back... my second apex lasted about seven days with more fever, coughing, fatigue and, I hear, unusually, some neurological issues.
“I was having crazy nightmares and everything looked ugly to me, like you’ve had some acid,” he continued. “Lastly, this smell started — like someone ironing Ben Gay. It’s the most awful smell in the world but it does go away, albeit very, very slowly.”
Symptoms can be extreme, even in moderate cases, but Callahan was never hospitalized.
“We only talked about going to the hospital twice,” he said. “Once, in the second apex, I felt like something was sitting on my chest. Then, a couple days later, I started to get big migraines, which I’m prone to, but the breathing was better. I sometimes go to the ER for the ‘migraine cocktail’ — a heavy dose of pain meds through an IV. So, this might have had more to do with me than the virus.
“Oh, I forgot to mention,” he added, “the beast comes at night. From 8 p.m. to midnight is the worst.”
Callahan recommends keeping a drug journal.
“To fight the fever, they (doctors) recommended I do a rotation of Aleve, Ibuprofen, and Excedrin every couple of hours and it was easy to lose track,” he said. “I also took Mucinex, zinc and vitamins. At the very end, I took some anti-nausea meds...
“Like I said, this wasn’t the flu, but, like a horrible person pushing on a Jenga tower hoping to get you to collapse,” he continued. “It was, literally, every symptom in the book, in rotation. It sucked because you never know where it’s heading but it is also a bit of a blessing because nothing stays with you too long, except for the overall feeling of, ‘When is this thing gonna end?’ "
While there have been occasional flareups, Callahan said he is thankful the worst of the coronavirus appears to be behind him.
Impact of the pandemic on entertainment industry
Callahan, like so many Americans, doesn’t know what’s next. He’s unsure about the future of several projects. A West Coast mounting of his macabre stage anthology, “Horror Academy,” planned for June and July was postponed and his script for an installment of a long-running horror film franchise is in limbo.
“The entire entertainment business is shuttered in, like, a really weird and creepy way,” Callahan said. “It’s like a scene from ‘The Stand’ or ’12 Monkeys.' There is nothing going on in Hollywood: no new productions, no movies, no theater, no nothing.”
As was his nature before the pandemic hit, Callahan has found other pursuits to focus on while awaiting the return to normal life.
“I’ve got the 24-volume box set of ‘The Collected Screenplays’ that are being reissued with new art, revised texts and some new bells and whistles,” he said. “The original ones are being pulled from circulation and then these will replace them come fall.
“I’ve also produced some tracks for my daughter, Charlotte,” Callahan continued. “The first one is now out. As well, my son has a new, cool ambient album out, too, but I had nothing to do with that. Well, aside from turning Liam on to the Disintegration Loops.”
In 2018, Callahan spearheaded Brazildisc’s digital reissue of the long out-of-print 1986 album “Huh?” by seminal underground Dayton band Dementia Precox. He has two new digital reissues planned for the group.
“First up, maybe in September, is an EP of the post-‘Huh?' dance stuff to whet the appetite,” he said. “Then, we’re releasing ‘Face.’ Both are remastered with new artwork. I still can’t get rights to the pre-‘Huh?' releases. The reissue of ‘Huh?’ didn’t sell enough to warrant an LP or something but it was interesting enough to do the EP, I guess. Plus, I’m bored.”
More info: www.darrencallahan.com
Contact contributing arts and music writer Don Thrasher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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