It started with a bat that infected another mammal — maybe a pangolin (a very endangered scaled anteater-type critter) — that was being sold in a live animal market in Wuhan, China. Then, through a mutation in the virus, it jumped to a human who visited said market. Then it mutated into something that humans could pass to each other. Thus in December 2019 began the citywide infection in Wuhan. From the news we followed, it looked horrendous: Wuhan, a city of 11 million, now a ghost town in lockdown. People being boarded into their apartments by the authorities, and lines of sick people outside the hospital being told by overwhelmed staff, sorry, there’s nothing we can do. There’s no cure, there was no room, there weren’t enough medical personnel. So they were sent home to recover or die, and infect their families. The city was being cordoned off. Desperate people were trapped there.

An ocean away, it seemed distant. Why would the stock market here take a dive because of what was happening there? And of course this kind of thing would happen someplace like China. Never here. We don’t have live wildlife markets, and we don’t have an authoritarian government like China’s, which silenced the original whistle-blower, Dr. Li Wenliang. People protested the government’s handling of the crisis. Was this going to be another Tiannamen Square? Would it really change China this time? Interesting to ponder, but still, something far away.

Then, as people were gradually able to leave Wuhan, the virus, Covid-19, flew with them. Soon it ran rampant in northern Italy and Iran. We heard about towns in Italy being cordoned off. We saw video of people fleeing Lombardy before the lockdown began. It seemed crazy. Milan, home of La Scala opera house and sophisticated center of fashion and international businesses. I thought of my long hoped-for trip to Italy, one I’d hoped to make in summer 2019, which would have been the 40th anniversary of my trip to Calabria, to the town from which my great-grandparents immigrated and where a branch of our family lives, who warmly welcomed me in 1979. For various reasons, I did not go last summer, and it surely will not be happen this summer, though initially I’d thought “Well, it’s just northern Italy. Calabria seems safe.” And now all of Italy is in lockdown.

A video went viral, in which Italians talk to the “themselves” of 10 days ago. It was a warning to those of us 10 days behind them to take the social distancing orders seriously. A rumbling of thunder in the distance. And now two-thirds of us in the U.S. are under “shelter in place” orders, as well. (Written in late March. Now it’s higher.) New York City is turning hellish. We’re seeing scenes that seemed unbelievable when we saw them in northern Italy: freezer trucks pulled up to the hospital to collect all the dead bodies. People dying alone in ICUs because family members, rightly, can’t be allowed in. Trump himself and Drs. Fauci and Birx said yesterday to prepare for the coming week to be shocking. That this week would be our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11.

I’ve been obsessively reading the New York Times, and one day a few weeks ago (or a couple — time has telescoped) — I saw a headline that made me shudder. I didn’t even read the article. Too horrifying. More unbelievableness. The gist was that doctors in Italy were being forced to make horrendous decisions about who to treat and who to let die. There aren’t enough ventilators. Really? That could happen? Well, yes, it happens in war. Triage. Treat the wounded who are most likely to live, and let the others go. Then people here in the U.S. started debating: should everybody go back to work and let the old and the weak die in service to the economy?

This is a war. The Army is building field hospitals in Central Park. A Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, has pulled into New York City’s harbor to serve as a floating hospital. Health care workers, who don’t have nearly adequate personal protective equipment (PPE: one of those terms many of us have learned recently) freely admit to being scared every day.

Wherever you are in life, this pandemic makes it all the more so. Are you alone? Now you’re really alone. Are you with others, in a family? Now you’re really together. I’ve thought, this must be an important relationship marker for some couples: are we going to quarantine together?

Are you selfish? Are you good? Heroic? Now you are all the more so. As for heroic, the Today Show this morning showed some of the 80,000 health care professionals who have answered Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plea to help in New York City. Many health workers are sick, and some have died.

But then there are the low-paid heroes, just trying to hold onto their homes and feed their families, and in doing so, they are feeding us. These are the grocery store workers, the people we don’t notice and don’t give accolades to. They’re risking their health and lives for little pay. And the warehouse workers, all the people in the supply chain. And for that matter, other workers in the hospital besides the medical personnel: the custodians, the guards, the receptionist, the cafeteria worker.

Here in my apartment in Minneapolis, I am useless. I can barely stand it. At least it’s been said that staying home right now is heroic. You save the human race by sitting on the couch and watching Netflix. A few times in my life I considered nursing school but thought it too far out of my realm. I was a literature person and squeamish about blood and needles. Now is one of the times I wish I’d done it, though I’d surely be sidelined for being too old and also immunocompromised due to my meds. But oh, a big part of me would like to be one of those people.

For now, we brace ourselves for the tidal wave we saw envelop Wuhan, followed by northern Italy. We know it’s coming here, we know what it looks like, and we read the ominous predictions: 100,000 dead and millions infected. Soon we will all know someone who is sick or someone who has died — or so it seems. (I wrote this only a week or two ago, and now it IS here. Not quite in Minneapolis, but with the delayed time from infection to symptoms, most of the healthy-looking people out there right now could be ill in a few days.)

I’m seeing more info that suggests that this teeny virus spreads not just through droplets from coughing and sneezing but also through aerosol — that is, in even smaller invisible fragments, from someone’s breath, where they can hang in the air for three hours. People can shed virus for days before they feel symptoms and know they’re infected. If that’s true, it’s no wonder this thing spreads like wildfire.

I’ve been keeping to myself, doing all the right things. But what about that runner who passed me on the nature trail out back, who was huffing and puffing within a few feet of me yesterday? What about the woman I almost bumped into at the door of one of the stairwells in our building, where I said “Sorry,” and she said, “That’s OK.” Was any virus breathed out with those words? Will I die for these little exchanges?

Wuhan was only two months ago. And now here we are, the whole world, practically, in lockdown. Lord have mercy.