It’s a call you never want to get. I was into my second Chivas at my virtual birthday party with my editor when the phone rang. It was my friend, Naomi. “Oh, how sweet of her to remember my birthday,” I thought. I started to text her, but she called again immediately. I sensed something might be wrong and stepped away to answer.
“Hey, I have to talk to you,” she said in a grim tone. “My friend, Chip, who I hung out with last week, tested positive for Covid yesterday.”
“Holy cow” I thought.
“And I started feeling a little weird over the weekend,” she said. “I got a test tonight — and I’m positive.”
My heart sank. I had contact with her four days ago.
I went back to the party a jabbering bundle of nerves.
“So what do you think my chances of getting this thing are?” I asked my editor.
“My sister’s a nurse. She said it’s the most contagious virus they’ve ever seen,” he told me.
I felt doomed. I had given Naomi a ride to have her wisdom tooth removed. We were in the car together with the widows up. I walked her out after the surgery and took her to pick up a prescription afterwards. We were wearing masks the entire time, but still, it was way closer than I wanted to get to this thing.
I’ve been super vigilant, too. I haven’t been to a bar or restaurant since March. I’ve been a hermit, getting lost in YouTube, and catching up on reading, working on a three-foot stack of back issues of The New Yorker, as well as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Hunter S. Thompson’s Kingdom of Fear.
To come this far only to get the virus now, with a vaccine on the horizon, it felt like getting killed in Vietnam at the end of your tour, a week before you’re supposed to go home.
I scheduled a Covid test for the next morning at the college where I teach and poured a tall glass of Chivas to calm myself. I laid in bed unable to sleep, and got up at 5:45, brushed my teeth, and drove an hour and a half in the rain and early morning moonlight for my test.
Now there was nothing to do except wait for the results. The whole situation racked me with guilt. I wasn’t even thinking about myself. I live with my elderly parents, and I don’t want to kill them just yet. I also had contact with my friend, Matt, a 264-pound diabetic who had open heart surgery last year.
I started obsessing about the virus. After all this time there was still so much I didn’t know. What exactly was the incubation period? And how soon would I be contagious?
It was a white-knuckle, nail-biting 36 hours, with dismal scenarios ping-ponging through my mind: I infected my mom. She gave it to her friend, Merrilee, when they had coffee. Matt’s kids are going to be orphans. I kept seeing the creepy preacher from Poltergeist II at the door screaming, “You’re gonna die in there. All of you!” I felt like an irresponsible jerk.
I monitored myself furiously for symptoms. Was that a sore throat I felt coming on, or was I imagining it? I did random smell tests and checked my temperature every few hours. Finally the results came in through my patient portal — “undetected.” The sweetest word I’ve read in months.
What an ordeal. Knowing that my decisions could catastrophically impact my family and friends was maddening. I never want to go through that again. The Covid vaccines can’t come soon enough. I can’t wait to get my dose.
I’m going to party like Jay Gatsby when this thing is finally over.