On Thursday evening I began to get a sore-ish sort of scratching in my throat, the kind you hope is voice strain, because surely you aren’t having muscle aches—was that a muscle ache, maybe that’s a muscle ache. I’m just tired, that’s it, just tired—I was coming up on the end of yet another twelve-hour workday, so tired was definitely on the table. Still pandemics being what they are, I got home and nipped straight over for a rapid Covid test, just to be safe.
At the time I left work, I was a regular girl, welcome anywhere, but by the time I arrived at the doctor’s office an hour later, I had entered a new category: Pariah, not even allowed in the building. I do not mean to imply the doctor’s staff was harsh or mean, because they were perfectly kind, and I completely understand and applaud their safety protocols. They were handling the whole affair exactly right, but there’s something about having to sit outside in my car and check in over the phone that has the whiff of the unwanted about it. However, the process was what it had to be, and after we had chatted on the phone long enough to give them my life story, and the DNA sequence of four distant ancestors, they took a page from The Kidnapper’s Handbook, instructing me to walk through an alley between two buildings and await further instructions.
So, off I went, hoping I had enough money to pay the ransom, when I came upon an enclosed concrete quad with an access door to the building. There I waited until a sweet nurse practitioner popped out to keep her social distance, and give me two thirds of the instructions I needed. “Grab a tissue, and just count to ten,” she said. “It’s easier if you’re counting yourself.”
“Okay,” I said, feeling all mature and stuff. I can count to ten, been doing it for years.
It’s really not her fault I didn’t get it. I’m sure she’s given the same set of instructions so many times that it would seem inconceivable that a grown woman such as myself might need one more bit of information before I would know what the heck she was talking about.
The sweet nurse went away, and shortly thereafter a young medical assistant appeared, equally sweet, and stationed herself behind a clear plexiglass barricade with thick rubber gloves protruding from the front. I was supposed to stand in reach of the rubber gloves so she could handle me as though I were radioactive material. “Stand here,” she said, and there I duly stood, clutching the tissue, and knowing she would stick a swab up my nose. She didn’t mention she’d stick it up my nose and halfway out my ear, but that wasn’t exactly the information I was missing.
“Ahhh! Ahhh! Ahhh!” Involuntary hopping. “Ah! Ah! Take it out!”
“I can’t reach it.”
I hopped back, closer to the plexiglass, but she didn’t take it out. Instead she began tapping on the end of the swab, marking time. “It has to stay in for ten seconds,” she said.
There it was, the missing data. The sweet nurse was right, counting to ten would have come in handy, if only I’d said 1 before I started hopping.
After approximately two weeks, she pulled out the swab, and I held up my trusty tissue, expecting blood, earwax, or possibly brain matter, but the tissue remained pristine, like a crime without a fingerprint. I thanked the nurse and escaped as fast as I could, my throat still sore, and worrying what was coming next. Twenty minutes later, I had my answer. Negative.
No Covid, just a cold, but that was enough to keep me out of work because in this time of corona, sniffling is tantamount to leprosy. I called the school the next morning, and heard our very kind principal tell the secretary, “Tell her to work from home for today.” I did of course, pulling yet another long day. By Saturday my body aches were a certainty as my little sore throat introduced itself as bronchitis. I wanted to hole up in a pile of covers and stare unseeingly at the tv, but I had too much to do, so I wrapped in a blanket and sat at my computer, creating lesson plans, shut in my office where I couldn’t breathe on anyone.
Oddly enough, I don’t know where I picked up my cold because as far as I know, I haven’t been around anyone sick, and in public I faithfully wear a mask. Maybe it was too many long days and short night, or the fact that I haven’t been sick all year and my body wanted me to appreciate my good health. I don’t have Covid, but I know I’m not welcome anywhere. All of us are running scared, hoping the virus doesn’t reach it’s nubbly tentacles into our kitchens and family rooms. As I write, I can hear my son, Porter, sniffling in the next room. Here’s hoping he just breathed in a little pepper.