How is 2020’s Christmas holiday season going for you? Mine has been different from previous years’ celebrations. Normally my family and I would be with our extended family. But this year I have spent it isolated inside my home, “socially distancing” from my wife and children. Around 23 December, I seemed to have developed what appeared to be a sinus infection. I began sneezing a lot; my eyes grew puffy; I got a piercing headache just above my eyes; my energy level took a nosedive; I lost my sense of taste; I lost my sense of smell. Something was going on, right? I was about to learn what it is like to experience the holiday season off the grid.
I tried to get an appointment at a pharmacy near the house for a COVID-19 test. However, the websites and links to all of them (yes, all of them) near us said, “Due to high demand, we are unavailable to meet your request at this time,” or something to that effect. Not exactly the message I wanted to read when I felt so miserable. On Christmas Eve my pain got so bad I had to drive to a CVS 40 miles north where my wife finally found an opening for me. I was to remain in my vehicle but go through the pharmacy’s drive-thru and take a COVID-19 swab test. So for my 1:30 appointment, I was in one of the scores of vehicles to stage in the CVS parking lot and wait my turn. Finally my time came. I arrived almost an hour early, thinking I could perhaps get my appointment done sooner. But like so much of 2020, it was not to be. Scores of others were in line, too. Even though I was almost an hour prior to my appointment, as I inched my way closer and closer to the CVS drive-thru, I memorized the back of the silver Dodge pickup truck in front of me, and read a book of Shirley Jackson short stories, while we all waited our turn. Finally at just after 2:15 p.m. I was the next vehicle in line.
I pulled up to the nurse practitioner-teller at the CVS. Wearing her gloves and mask and speaking through a speaker and window, she instructed me on what to do. I swabbed my nostrils, snapped off the swab inside the vial, wiped down the bag, verified my name and date of birth, etc. and deposited my info into the receptacle near the window. My clear plastic bag was just one more among many. The parking lot and drive-thru were, as I said, jammed with us. I could tell from her body language that the nurse-practitioner-teller had been doing this all day. Her words had the lifelessness of someone who has said the same thing so often, the words have become programmatic and empty of human connection.
“Three to four days,” were the words that pushed me even lower. That’s what she told me as I was about to pull away. Three to four days is how long it would take to get my official results of the COVID-19 test.
It was a long drive back home. Rain set in. Temperatures dropped to well below freezing. Then the rain turned to sleet. Then it turned to snow. I got home, updated my wife and family on what I had been told, and now, I am still waiting.
So for Christmas, I sat in my library and tried to read. I love to read, but the level of this headache is a match even for my passionate commitment to reading. I even found myself doing what I usually criticize. I watched TV. My wife has an account to one of the movie channels, so I have watched documentaries and adaptations on Edward Snowden and other folks that intrigue me.
I watched a Netflix series on David Koresh entitled Waco. Events the FBI and other U.S. government agencies (in my opinion) exacerbated in 1993 kept me watching. Then I watched episode after episode of Criminal Minds. The characters played by Mandy Patinkin and Matthew Gray Gubler fascinate me. Gideon, the Patinkin character, is intense and laser-focused. His character speaks to me on several levels. The same goes for Reid, the Gubler character. Spencer Reid reads the classics, and it is not uncommon for him to reference Shakespeare or Sophocles, Plato or C.S. Lewis, Arthur Conan Doyle and the Bible in almost every episode. And I track with the way his mind works. It’s comforting for me to see a character in contemporary entertainment who actually has an intellectual life. Most shows are mere vapid plots with laugh tracks and/or canned characters utterly devoid of depth, but not so with Criminal Minds, in my view, and especially not with those characters. Thomas Gibson’s character, too, fascinates me. I mean, you have to respect a man who can see what he and the others saw, and yet still maintain a commitment to trying to rid the world of such criminality, one bad guy at a time.
So while I am off the grid, as it were, while I am hunkered down in my library at the house, I am reading as much as possible when the headaches subside. So far, I have completed John MacArthur’s Nothing but the Truth; a book of Shirley Jackson’s short stories; Jackson’s short novel We Have Always Lived Here, and have begun Foer’s book Everything Is Illuminated, and I am still in Barry’s long book The Great Influenza.
My wife continues to lay up treasures in heaven by putting up with me, the terrible patient. She has rubbed my chest down with things to help me breathe. She has made capsules of zinc and vitamin C and vitamin D and magnesium, etc. She has made sure to keep me hydrated. She has been better than I ever deserved.
I suppose some folks are good at being sickly, but I assuredly am not. I want nothing so much as to be able to go outside, to hike with my dog, to enjoy the outdoors, to go to work, etc. But none of that is to be for a bit longer it seems. I am checking the little CVS app on my phone now for the email that will tell me if I am positive for this virus. Then, if so, I will likely have to do the quarantine thing and miss work and miss some of my duties as a soldier. It will mean more time off the grid. It will mean more time watching documentaries, and trying to read between headaches, and watching others’ sentimental pictures and videos online of the holidays.
And I will continue to learn how being off the grid from my normal may be used to teach me how much I love those in my life who give of themselves when I have nothing to give in return except gratitude. I am thankful I could at least drive to a CVS 40 minutes north and take a test. I am thankful there are ways to kill this virus, if that is what I have. It is not just for me I say these things. When I looked around at all the vehicles that were inching their way through the drive-thru at the pharmacy Christmas Eve, I became well aware that this is not just about me. This thing levels the playing field quickly. I have seen some in my own extended family who have had this and have–thankfully–come through it. I know of many of my fellow soldiers who have gotten it and seem to be pushing through just fine. I am thankful for the calls, texts, and emails from those I shared with that I may have come down with this.
If you are with your loved ones, by all means, enjoy them. Take the selfies. Eat, laugh, nap, and repeat. Don’t take them–or the normal–for granted. I know that you may be tempted to think that “off the grid” sounds brave or authentic or some such thing, but as for me, I would much prefer to return to the grid, and be with my loved ones, leave off the documentaries, and just go back.