Determination or resignation? Honestly, I vacillate. Many experts in health care, while encouraging everyone to be vaccinated and to follow the other covid protocols of masking, hand washing, and distancing, also sigh and confess, “But we’re all going to get it eventually.”
But is it time to have a Chicken Pox style Omicron party and get it over with? Hell No! Or at least, probably not. It isn’t simply about not overwhelming the healthcare system with millions upon millions of daily new infections, it is also because of the high likelihood of reinfection and “long covid” consequences.
But can you continue to work and live a reasonable life and still avoid some Greek alphabet version of the Corona virus?
2020 greeted me, not only with news about a pandemic but also with the deeply sad news that a close friend’s cancer had returned for a third time, the recurrence that her doctor had assured her would kill her.
Chris had just retired, she cared for her rather fragile mother in her home, and she had just been blessed with a first grandchild and had news of a second one on the way.
Chris not only had a lot to live for, she was desperately needed and I was determined to help her to survive as long as possible. Which, for us, meant me taking her a couple of times a week to treatments that were accompanied by long waits in hospital waiting areas that were loaded with very sick patients who displayed symptoms of as yet undiagnosed cases of Covid-19.
Chris had lung cancer and we were forced to spend hours breathing and re-breathing an atmosphere heavily laden with a virus that specifically targeted vulnerable lungs. Chris had virtually no chance of surviving more than a few months, but it seemed apparent that a Covid infection would turn those months into mere days.
I did everything I could to avoid the virus when I wasn’t with Chris. I stopped eating out, going to movies, I foreswore my usual social contacts in live music venues and bowling alleys and a dozen times I fled my favorite big box store with my cart full of items I wanted to purchase because other shoppers and store staff were getting too close to me.
Still, I would burst into anxiety riddled tears as I drove down the street, horrified that I might pass the virus to Chris. Many nights, I was awakened by a nightmare that I had unwittingly let my guard down somehow and had killed Chris by infecting her.
I did make it through 2020 without contracting the virus and Chris died, not from the virus but as a consequence of the rapidly spreading cancer, but only after she got to spend several months with friends and even babysitting her grandchildren on occasion.
We held a truncated memorial service for her, from behind plexiglass, and a month later I got my first vaccine. By then I had become the legal guardian for an Alzheimer’s patient, a member of the church (as was Chris) where I am pastor.
Omicron Sick Leave
This parishioner and friend has no living relatives and so she asked me to be the person who would make decisions for her when she could no longer do it herself. I took Pat with me to a rural county health department where the locals didn’t want the jab so that we were among the first to be vaccinated in the USA. Initially, I thought that I had enfolded my new primary concern in an impenetrable shield so that I could get her out in public to help to keep her oriented and to stave off the inevitable decline of Alzheimers (always a one-way ticket).
We went to restaurants and live music events together. We saw movies and entertained guests but then Delta came along and shook our confidence in our new vaccines. Then Omicron came and infected almost everyone around us, filling up the hospitals and closing schools.
Having made it through 2021 without being infected, what do we do now? I had promised myself, now that I am semi-retired, that I would never spend another winter in the Ozarks. I had promised Pat a beach vacation while she still feels confident enough to travel (in my care). But as much as we both want to escape the snow and freezing weather, I cannot bring myself to put us both in danger, not so much from being in an airplane as being in an airport waiting area.
I have traveled during the pandemic, carefully, but I have questioned the wisdom of having done so and, presently, with the most infectious variant invisibly invading every space, making even outdoor gatherings seem to be suspect, gauging the risk of travel is paralyzing.
I have always known that my home in SouthWest Missouri was no where near the MENSA Club capital of the world, but when I do venture out to any event that involves dozens of people in an enclosed space, I am almost always wearing the only mask in sight, making me question whether I am being brave or just hypocritical to go out at all.
Our schools are closed. Our hospitals are full. And the locals still live as if they were in a news bubble where no one has yet heard about the pandemic.
Should I just shrug and join them, a la the closing scenes of “Don’t Look Up” in which the main characters enjoy a Last Supper together as the global cataclysm sweeps over them as earth’s inhabitants all die simultaneously? Or should we double down on our protective practices and try to survive, covid free for one more year?
I grew up watching those black and white Civil Defense videos (whenever the coach didn’t feel like teaching History) which ostensibly taught us how to deliver babies, dispose of human waste, and survive with a couple of dozen people in a church basement for a couple of years, avoiding the radiation from the seemingly inevitable nuclear war that could come at any minute.
I imagined myself being the brave, self-sacrificing hero, who left the safety of the shelter to go find necessary supplies because death by radiation sounded much more inviting to me than spending two years in a basement with the same assholes I could barely tolerate for an hour long church service.
Someone had to survive to save the human race but I was more willing to play a bit part in the saga than I was to emerge, squinting at the sun, two years later, unwilling to perpetuate the species by mating with any of the females I had come to loath during that long sentence in the church’s boiler room.
Folks, the concessions we have made out of consideration of the pandemic are not, after all, worthy of a black and white survival film. It has been tiresome and occasionally frightening to make it to 2022 without having been infected but for the sake of a more healthy and productive civilization, maybe we can forego a beach vacation this winter, wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, stay off of the dating sites, and hope that Omicron burns itself out, and that the end of the pandemic is in sight.
I’m not even coming close to suggesting that we go back into Plato’s cave but, come on, can’t we find the courage, resolve, and discipline to try to avoid contracting or spreading the virus for just a little longer?
Dr. Roger Ray