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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
It started with a sore throat.
Within just a few hours, I knew something was wrong. I’d never had a sore throat this persistent and sudden congestion this aggressive before.
Comes with age, doesn’t it? Once you’re past middle age, things like colds feel different from the way they felt at twenty.
Must be a cold.
But it wasn’t.
I had caught the coronavirus.
I was sure of it, somewhere deep down, the way Captain Smith was probably sure of something dreadful after his ship bumped the berg. You know that feeling. It emerges slowly from the pit of fears that we suppress every day. It floats to the surface of the murky sludge down there, edging past global warming and polar bear extinction, carbon monoxide poisoning, asbestos, calories, drug cartels, nuclear war, being assaulted by gibbons or hitchhiking in Belgium… past all the things that we’ve been told are awful. It bumps against big bolsters of denial on its way up, sometimes faltering, sometimes accelerating.
I just couldn’t be really certain. Why? Because there was no coronavirus testing available at short notice. There was none at all in La Salle County, and the only place that would do it in Frio County was at a clinic in Dilley whose helpful staff were supportive on the telephone but regretted that I couldn’t be tested until the following Wednesday.
That was more than five days hence.
I surfed the internet for rapid testing. None of the big pharmacies that advertised testing booths were taking appointments. None in San Antonio; none in Laredo. Any retailer who had once said home testing kits were now on sale had none left in stock. Some had never had any at all.
After two days of headaches, sneezing, body aches and the kind of fatigue that makes the arms and legs feel like three hundred pounds of wet mud, I knew this was no ordinary cold. All the usual symptoms of a bad cold were coming on fast and furious, not in stages one day after the next as I had come to expect.
The New Year’s holiday was upon us. I called friends who had offered to host a meal and an evening of revelry. I had a nasty cold, I said, and asked whether this would be a problem.
There was that denial again.
If I can’t be tested, then I can’t have the coronavirus, can I?
I know it doesn’t make sense. But lots of fears play tricks on us all the time. I grew up in the Cold War. My children couldn’t imagine the things we feared might happen. Those were things that didn’t make sense, and those fears were never realized. So, in a mind fogged over in fever and aches and congestion, the stupidest things start to seem plausible.
I learned from a quick bit of television and internet clicking that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has the appearance of a severe cold if one is vaccinated. Having had three vaccines already, I was not one to think that it couldn’t happen to me, but I was ready to believe that it wouldn’t kill me.
I couldn’t go to work in this condition. I called the hospital in Laredo. A kindly lady said she understood my dilemma but, again, regretted that there was nothing she could do for me. There was a little place near a gas station, she said, that might offer rapid testing.
I drove an hour to Laredo, found the recommended gas station and sat in my truck for five and a half more hours before finally being tested. The line of cars went all the way down the street. This was the only place in the city still offering tests, said the chap shoving a swab up my nose. Then he disappeared into a shipping container.
When he emerged thirty minutes later, I already knew what he was going to say. Yup, I was diseased. No denying it now.
I considered my options. There weren’t any. I shrugged, rolled up my window and drove home.
Then I sat in an armchair for three days in a funk.
At least I wasn’t dead.
The sneezing stopped. The headaches went away. My arms and legs stopped feeling useless.
I had suffered from the virus for seven days. I was no longer contagious. I was awake.
Life went on. I went on, grateful for the vaccine.
I’m still not hitchhiking in Belgium, though.