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?
At 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
Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.
Who’s writing? Check out About Me.