"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, July 17, 2022

After All That, I Still Got Sick- The Angry Confession Of A Woman Who Had Obsessed About COVID

Marcie Potter had been obsessive about COVID.   At the first sign of the pandemic and at the urgings of Dr. Fauci and the CDC she took all possible precautions.  She sprayed and isolated her mail and home deliveries for three days, installed industrial strength air purifiers in every room, scoured all surfaces with corrosive anti-viral and anti-bacterial powders, sealed the cracks in all external doors with an epoxy putty, never went out of the house except to empty the trash and even then only in the middle of the night when only raccoons were out. 

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She hung an ‘Absolutely No Visitors’ sign on her front door, warned her children and grandchildren away, and followed the pandemic on five internet sites, three broadcast television channels, and four radio stations.

After six months of her hermetic existence, she had not caught COVID, and as the CDC advisories became slightly less punitive and said that open air activities if undertaken alone and socially distanced were acceptable, she began her mid-night walks.  After dumping the trash, she walked the alleys and streets of her neighborhood, triple-masked, gloved, and as well covered from head to toe as a Saudi woman in full burka.

She had heard that the virus did not simply disappear at night, folded into the dark sky, but clung to living things.  A slight breeze might stir it from leaves, branches, and grass; so she closely monitored AccuWeather, NASA and NOAA sites, and the Metro sensing stations set up during the pandemic in most neighborhoods and waited for dead calm.

After almost a year, she was still virus-free; and thanks to new data which showed that surface contact was negligible in transmitting the disease, but that frequent hand washing was still advisable, she admitted mail into the house, but opened everything with disposable surgical gloves and then scrubbed her hands with powerful anti-microbial soaps.  She began walking during daytime hours, but only in open parks and in quiet residential areas.

As a year passed and she saw how care and caution could prevent the virus, she became politically active and was one of her neighborhood’s first vigilantes. During her more frequent walks, she called out those who were not wearing masks, no matter how empty the streets, with a loud J’accuse! She became a virtual activist, participating in local vigilante meetings via Zoom, energizing her neighbors to follow her lead and to shame virus naysayers into compliance.

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A year and a half passed, and she was still virus free , and was first in line for the Moderna vaccine.  Because of high demand from her well-educated, professional quadrant of the city, all vaccine appointments in white areas were snapped up within minutes of the appointment site’s opening.  Usually adamant about never crossing the Park into Northeast, and in all her 40 years in the District had never once come within five miles of Southeast and Anacostia, she accepted a vaccine appointment in the heart of the ghetto. The risk of assault, rape, and murder – all common in those areas – was nothing compared to The Big One, the pandemic which was sure to intensify and kill millions, especially her.

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She drove to the vaccine center in one of the worst, drug-infested, crime-ridden neighborhoods of Washington.  She went in mufti, ironically dressed in the real garb of a Saudi woman, black chador, veil, gloves and shoes; and hoping that a scintilla of respect for Muslim women still existed. 

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She dreaded the moment of her second shot, for she had to return to the site of the first; but luckily avoided incident.  The nurses at the vaccination center were respectful, allowed her to be vaccinated in private, and as she headed back to Cleveland Park, she breathed a great sigh of relief.  She had made it, a white woman in the ghetto.

She did not completely trust the vaccines, but went ahead and got boosted, this time at convenient CVS locations near her.  Now, quadruple-jabbed and with the virus seemingly on the wane, she made minor adjustments to her routine. She double-masked instead of triple-, ventured out by herself to all night supermarkets at 3 in the morning where there were sure to be few if any other customers, and sat out on her garden terrace when the weather warmed. 

So far, so good.  She had weathered the storm for two years, and now headed into 2022 she felt a bit more confident about stepping out.  She still avoided the gym and put up with the extra fifteen pounds that exercising kept off, shopped only occasionally and then only at odd hours, still avoided friends and met them only online, but she gradually abandoned her gulag mentality.  

Then came Omicron and its alphabet variants.  Quadruple-jabbed people were coming down with COVID and even those who had been infected previously, got sick again.  Her abandonment of her draconian measures had been premature, and she went back to her old ways.  But the new variants were more contagious than even measles, the most infectious virus ever discovered.  Airborne, aerosol, touch-sensitive, insidious and able to infiltrate the most tightly-bound masks, they infected everyone.  “Where could I have possibly gotten it?” was the meme heard around the city.

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And so it was on July 14th, 2022, Bastille Day, that Marcie Potter felt a scratchy throat, tested positive, and within a day was congested, feverish, and tired.  She had COVID.

Throughout the pandemic years, there was always a spectrum of reaction.  There were those like Marcie who panicked, retreated, and refused to accept the notion of managed risk.  There were those on the other end of the scale who correctly identified their risk, and if reasonable and acceptable went about their business responsibly but without undue limitations.  Most other people filled the middle ranks, neither overly cautious nor irresponsible.

For those who had more or less gone about their business, falling ill to Omicron B.4 was a disruption, a nuisance, and a minor bout of unpleasantness.  Everyone, it seemed, was getting sick no matter what previous precautions they had taken, so infection was taken for granted. 

However for Marcie who had spent the last two and a half years under self-imposed, penal quarantine, getting sick was a betrayal.  Months and months of doing the right thing to the extreme and she still got sick.  Months and months wasted.  Unlike others who had taken the virus seriously but refused penal incarceration.  Their sickness from B.4 was expected, incorporated, dealt with, and finished.

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For Marcie, getting sick with COVID was not just an illness, but a profound moral crisis.  Two and a half years for a woman of her advancing age was too much to lose.  She had abandoned her family, her pleasures, and her friends.  She had given up everything and everyone who had mattered for naught.  The clock could not be turned back.  She felt angry, depressed, and dispirited.  “How could I have been so stupid?” she asked herself over and over again.  She suffered bouts of despair and horrible self-recrimination.   “I have been a fool”.

In a fit of tearful pique, she threw all her COVID gear in a dumpster – gloves, masks, plastic face shields, chador, air purifiers, hand sanitizers, and door putty.  The old familiar feelings – what if, what should I do, then what? – surfaced for a minute but only a minute before she tipped her load into the trash.

Without admitting it, she had finally joined the human race; or perhaps less grandiosely, became populist.  Life was getting up, going down, managing, muddling through, and exacting as much pleasure out of life which if perhaps not as nasty, brutish and short as Hobbes observed, was still a bit of a slog.

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