How to Endanger Dubois While Feeling Just Great

Where did I get it, and where did I leave it?

I have no idea how I could have caught it, and worse yet, no idea where I left it behind. I won’t even know what “it” is until I can get the results of the nasal swab test I had just this morning.

What I do know is that after going to bed on May 15–the very day that the Governor’s newest order allowed people to gather inside restaurants, gyms, and churches again–I fell ill without warning.

I slept very badly. All my muscles ached horribly, even the ones in my fingers and toes, and no medicine helped for very long. For a while I had chills.

The next morning I had a fever of 102 degrees, and I almost couldn’t get out of bed. I slept through that day, and all through the following night.

I’m puzzled about how I got this, whatever it is. I have been wearing a mask in stores and the Post Office. I’ve used Kleenex to open doors in town, and rubbed my hands with sanitizers before driving home.

There are two possible outcomes to this personal story, neither of which is pleasant.

Either the test is positive, in which case I’m the lucky winner of the First-Confirmed-Pandemic-Case-in-Dubois Prize, and my husband and I are stuck at home for another 14 days. Or it’s negative, I’m still vulnerable, and somehow all my precautions didn’t even protect me from something less virulent than that nasty, extraordinarily infectious pandemic virus.

While I was coming down with this, ironically, I read The Risks: Know Them, Avoid Them by Erin Bromage PhD, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts. I’m sure she meant to be comforting (in the “knowledge is power” sense), but the scientific reports in her article document how easily the virus can spread to the unsuspecting.

What probably troubles me most is wondering who I endangered over the past days, while I felt absolutely fine but must have been spreading my germs around (whatever they are).

This experience reminds me of bedbugs (alas), and also of true love and parenthood. Until you’ve experienced it for yourself, you can’t really understand the impact.

It looks like I got off easy. My temperature dropped quickly to 99 during the day after the bad night, and a day and a half later, I felt much better. But I’m confined to the bedroom now. I wear a mask every time I leave the room (unless I forget). I wash my own dishes in the bathroom sink.

My husband is sleeping in a guest room. For the moment, I have to work very hard to protect him. This gives me an insight into how easy it must be to share Coronavirus with your family members.

It’s quite a chore to be adequately careful. Inadvertently, I touch a doorknob without reaching for a Kleenex first, and have to circle back and clean it off. I sometimes forget the mask when I walk out to talk to my husband from across the room. (Mustn’t leave my germs in his airspace.)

I simply can’t make my own food or even my own coffee, because it requires too much touching this and that (although I do grab cans of seltzer from the pantry). Here’s a good one: Opening the front door with my gloves on, I realize that I had just worn them while readjusting the filter inside my mask — on the side my breath has been facing.  So I have to spray them as well as the outside doorknob with bleach solution, of course using a paper towel to hold the spray bottle.

For several weeks I’ve been dutifully keeping a paper record of my contacts on the off-chance I might have to give information to a contact tracer. Thinking idly about this as I lay in bed, I realized that I had overlooked several casual conversations that took place with my mask off, because I mistakenly assumed I was no threat.

But I had already read that people can pass the Coronavirus along before they experience symptoms. In fact, some infected people never fall ill at all but can still spread it around; I have a friend living elsewhere in Wyoming who falls into that category. Maybe someone I spoke with infected me. Maybe I have infected them. Who knows?

bluebirdAt least I can be glad that we are no longer living in that tiny garden apartment in the pandemic hell-hole of New York City. There, we couldn’t have escaped each other at all during quarantine (which makes me really sorry for any New Yorkers who are roommates and don’t like each other much).

Here, we have an open-plan main floor with high ceilings, several bedrooms and bathrooms, and a back porch leading to the vast outdoors and paths that go off into wilderness.

I get to step out the back door from our bedroom to enjoy the fresh air and enjoy sights I never would have seen if I weren’t confined. Today, I scared up a whitetail deer that stared at me from just beyond the porch railing before ambling slowly off. Yesterday, I watched a bluebird swooping down feed his mate inside the birdhouse, just as my husband drops off my own next meal.

I’m so fortunate that this is happening to me in Dubois, I think. But then …

I ponder what will happen, now that the doors have opened on our business establishments and there’s a steady stream of cars heading in the direction of Yellowstone. The restaurants and gyms can be as careful as possible, yet it will be very easy for the virus to spread nonetheless, if the rest of us are too easygoing–especially as tourists begin to arrive. In theory, any of them might pass it along to any of us. 

Perhaps because so far Dubois has had the distinction of having a case count of zero, relatively few of our residents are wearing masks in town. I know of at least one who has actually refused to do so. It’s tempting to view this in the light of personal liberty and cowboy courage in the face of danger, rather than in the tradition of community self-help that has always prevailed here in the Mountain West. Perhaps not enough people realize that masks are worn to protect the other guy, as a surgeon does.

If I am the one to destroy our town’s enviable zero-case record, I won’t be apologetic. I did try to protect myself and everyone else. But my experience shows how important–and how difficult–it is to be vigilant enough.

Our best defense is to take this risk seriously, and make effective use of all of the protections we know about: social distancing, masks, and sanitizers.

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

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The End of Dubois As We Know It?

Down the rabbit hole into a very sad parallel universe.

face masks

People ask: So how are things in Dubois?

Well, quiet and slow. The “snowbirds” are returning from either coast. But they are in 14-day quarantine, if they are following the Governor’s orders.

Some people, myself included, wear face masks in the post office and the supermarket. Others don’t. Is it my imagination, or do they avert their eyes when they see me wearing mine?

In the winter, it was easy to distance. Wearing gloves and staying home seemed logical. But the sight of this young angler on a recent warm spring day at Pete’s Pond made me wonder whether a sense of social isolation is becoming even more second nature to us than it always was.

young fisherman in parkWill our way of life return to the fond and familiar someday? When, if ever, will we come together for the rodeo, the square dance, Happy Hour, the buffalo barbecue?

Of course these questions are far more poignant to my friends back in New York City, where “hanging out” is a way of life. But we too used to enjoy congregating, and our tourist economy depends on it.

With no cases documented here, and almost no testing, we have no idea how many of us have been exposed to the virus and recovered or never got sick at all, and now have immunity. But out-of-state vehicles have begun to pass through. I always use sanitizer on my hands after pumping gas, now that I’m no longer wearing gloves all the time.

So here we are, like everyone else, waiting to exhale–an unfortunate metaphor, in this context.

Cover of book by Prince Maximilian von WiedMy husband and I continue to read to each other at home. One reads while the other cooks or wash dishes.

We have been working our way slowly through the three-volume account by Prince Maximilian von Wied of Germany of his journey to the American West in 1830s.

In the last passage we read, von Wied and his party were traveling north by boat along the Missouri River, in that place where today Nebraska faces across to Iowa.

It’s familiar territory to us, after so many trips back and forth to New York by car. I was startled to find that the passage suddenly brought me into familiar territory, in a completely different sense.

Prince Maximilian described an encounter with a chief of the Ponca tribe, which had recently been impelled to abandon their former villages and become migratory because of conflicts with other tribes. The Ponca “have suffered greatly from smallpox and from their enemies, but are said to have been brave warriors,” he added, in a poignant past tense. “Even now one sees many pockmarks among them.” 

In a companion book, the wonderful illustrations of Karl Bodmer who traveled with von Wied, we found his portraits of two Native chiefs, an Otoe (below, left) and a Ponca (right.) Together, his drawings and von Wied’s writings are among the most detailed accounts of early encounters between Europeans and Native Americans.Portraits of an Otoe and a Ponca chief

Those two pale-skinned men were hardly the first European to encounter Native Americans. By that time, the tribes had had contact with trappers and explorers for far more than a century.

The man at left, the Otoe chief, was part of a tribe already decimated by smallpox when he sat for his portrait. 

According to the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains published by the University of Nebraska, the combined Otoe-Missouria population had been reduced to fewer than 800 by the time they met Lewis and Clark in 1804, 30 years before Maximilian passed through.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs estimated that more than 17,000 “Indians died of smallpox in 1837 and 1838 … ” Beyond the deadly impact of  smallpox, other factors such as the decline in the bison population and the reduction in their freedom of movement by relocation to reservations doomed many Native populations to what today we would call “economic decline.”

Of course you know all this as well as I do. But perhaps it didn’t resonate last year. In my case, anyway, a pleasant moment of evening companionship unexpectedly drove me down a rabbit hole into a very sad parallel universe.

Long ago, it was our forebears. Soon, it could be our contemporaries who bring with them a mystifying and threatening dilemma, simply because they want to travel in this direction and explore the surroundings that we enjoy.

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

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Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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