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Before You Ask to Re-Open the Keys, Read This

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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29

Chills. Aches. Coughing. My temperature was over 101.

Yup, this is it, I thought. I’m going to be a number.

I just hoped it was a number on the “survivor” side of the CDC daily briefing.

* * *

Yesterday Jim and I went to the store to pick up the antibiotics that my doctor prescribed after our online doctor visit. The medication would help my painful armpit lump go away. The doctor said she thought it was an ingrown hair follicle or something like that, and I was glad it wasn’t armpit cancer.

Well, something distracted me on the way from the house to the car (I think my white Silkie chicken, Pearl, was doing something cute), and I forgot my mask. We were about to turn into Winn Dixie when I realized I didn’t have it. We turned the car around to go get it.

Both of the COVID-19 masks my mom made me were in the wash. So I grabbed a gaiter buff (a thin fishing sun guard) and put it around my neck to pull over my nose and mouth before entering the store. We’re out of latex gloves, so I just resigned myself to not touching anything but the package that contained the medication and to washing my hands thoroughly when we got home.

While Jim went to a few other aisles to pick up some minor things we needed around the house, I made my way to the sick people counter (pharmacy) and waited 6 feet behind the person in front of me. Then a woman got in line behind me… way too close behind me. I scowled at her through my mask. She thought I was smiling. (Read my previous “Superheroes” blog if you don’t get it.)

I picked up my medicine and adjusted my mask with my bare hands, standing about a foot away from the plexiglass between me and the pharmacist.

“Drink plenty of water with this,” she said, handing me the bag of antibiotics.

I was happy. My armpit lump would be gone soon. I went home, washed my hands, threw the gaiter buff into the laundry, and popped my first pill.

* * *

That evening, something was off. You know the fuzz in your brain from an antibiotic or some other heavy medicine? It was like that mixed with aches. Later, I put my head down on the couch pillows and the chills came.

I tossed and turned. I was hot. Yet I started shivering. Jim, becoming extremely worried about you-know-what (can’t say it when it might apply to you) took my temperature, and it was 101. And I kept coughing and tossing until after midnight on the couch. Finally, I went to bed and fell asleep.

I don’t remember my dreams. I usually do. But I woke up at 6 a.m., the normal wake-up time for a distance learning school day. I lie there in bed assessing my body’s condition.

Chills? No.

Aches? A little.

Temperature?

I got up, made my way to the living room, and put the thermometer into my mouth.

It was 98.2! I was almost back to normal! I had beaten the deadly virus overnight, and now I was invincible!

Then I took my antibiotic for my arm lump.

As I gave instruction over Google Meet in my distance learning classes that morning, my condition regressed: 98.6, 99.9, 100.8. I couldn’t do it anymore.

I canceled my last class’s Google Meet and gave them explicit instructions on the website what to do. Then I lied on the couch with chills, aches, and pains, and I eventually fell asleep.

When I awoke later that afternoon, it was 4:30, and my eyes popped open. Temperature: 98.8. Then I worked for a few hours and took it again: 97.6.

All of a sudden, it hit me; my temperature was cycling with the times I took the antibiotic. So, I turned to the trusty Internet where you can find any answer you’re looking for and searched the medicine. “May cause fever and chills. Call a doctor.”

Cool. I was happy that I probably didn’t have Coronavirus. Then I thought of the 3 million people on the planet who do/did and who can’t just stop taking their antibiotics to feel better. My heart hurt for them and their loved ones.

THURSDAY, APRIL 30

I took my antibiotic last night, and I woke up with a temperature of 100 degrees. Yet, I struggled through it. I canceled an after-school video interview for Rebekah in the Keys that I had scheduled for tonight (I had canceled one yesterday, too), then went to work teaching.

I also called my doctor and left a message to let her know about my fever and to run my theory past her — that it was a side effect of the antibiotic. But my temperature fluctuated between 99 and 100 all day.

When she called me back around 1 p.m., I was lying on the couch. I told her about my fever, my inability to breathe deeply, my cough, my soreness. She said these symptoms were probably not a side affect of the antibiotics. That would be highly unusual.

Right then, a lump formed in my throat. Hold it together, Rebekah.

“Well, I was kind of hoping that it would be,” I said. “Is there anything else other than… you know… going around?”

There was a pause.

“Sure, yeah,” she said.

She prescribed a Z-Pack and told me to tell her how I was doing before the weekend. A Z-Pack, she said, would not be effective for a virus. She added that her office has “ordered tests” every morning but they are still in short supply and she hasn’t gotten any (which makes me believe that there are A LOT more cases than what is being reported). She said that if I get worse — especially shortness of breath — go to the emergency room; they have “the tests” there.

“But try not to go to the emergency room if you don’t have to,” she added.

Why do I have an urge to spray Lysol into my mouth right now? I wonder. Of course, as a rational human being, I did not.

Since that conversation with my doctor, my world has been in a blur. I tried to work a little more. Then I lie on the couch. I do what I can. My mind runs to so many things. I try to take a deep breath, I cough, and then I try to let it go. Only worry about the things you can control, Rebekah, I tell myself. Worrying about the things you can’t control will only bring more of what you DON’T want.

I got into the hot tub for a while to alleviate the stiffness in my neck and shoulders, probably from coughing. It didn’t help much. Even against the pillow, they hurt.

But I try to keep it together. I told Jim that the doctor prescribed a Z-Pack, and he’s now on his way to get pick it up for me since my doctor told me I should avoid going out in public until this bug is gone. I try to be strong for him and pretend that it’s not a big deal. I try to tell that to myself, too. I mean, I’m 42 years old and in perfect health (except for an ingrown hair that caused an infection under my armpit causing me to have to go to the pharmacy to get an antibiotic and pick up some sort of ailment there.) I should be fine. Right? My mind flashes to Jim telling me about his friend’s friend who was about our age and died within a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. I push out the thought.

Jim texts me a picture from the pharmacy. It’s of an older lady in pink pulling her mask down to her chin at the pharmacy counter.

At first, I am outraged.

“That’s the only reason I caught something… that plexiglass window and people like that woman right there. If I was there right now, I would have words with her!” I text him back.

The plexiglass and the bag of medicine were the only things I’ve come into close contact with for about a week. I really haven’t been out other than that.

Then my anger toward the lady changed to worry. What if whatever I caught was still on the window? That woman looks a lot older than I am. What if she catches whatever I got from the window?

All the what-ifs and uncertainties run through my mind. But I can’t cry. I have to be strong. I just have to heal.

* * *

Monroe County: 79 confirmed cases: 9 recovered, 3 deaths.

I wonder what happened to the other 67 people. We’ve had 60 to 70 confirmed cases for the past week or so. Can we assume they got better? Or do we need to confirm that they weren’t buried by their neighbors in their own back yards? Either way, our follow-up skills are lacking severely in this county. Right now, for some reason I need to know about the other 67.

Screw Keto. I’m going to eat some Chips Ahoy cookies tonight. And drink orange juice. Plenty of orange juice.

* * *

It started raining around 4:00. I had just lured the chickens back into the coop minutes earlier after I saw the dark, ominous clouds rolling in. I threw chicken scratch in their coop, and they went running inside. The next time I do that, they’ll do the same thing. They are cute but not very bright.

I hope the thunderstorm scared away the snake in my yard today that kept disappearing under branches and palm fronds. I hate snakes. I told Jim to kill it, and he chased it from one side of the bushes to the other with a shovel, and even took one good swing at it, but it eventually alluded us.

I don’t know if it was a dangerous snake or not. It was black and didn’t look very dangerous. But I don’t want it living near my chickens, and one thing I’ve learned is that if a snake makes your yard its home, there’s only one way to get it off your property. Not only do I not want it near my chickens, but it would be my luck this week that I would step on it, it would bite me, and then I’d have to deal with that along with my armpit lump and… whatever this illness is that I have.

I’m kind of glad the snake got away, though. I’m tired of death. I’m tired of thinking about it. Can’t I just enjoy this peaceful quarantine without something having to die every few days? I’m a little worried that karma won’t come back and get me for the rat incident a few weeks ago…

It’s 4:21 p.m., and I’m tired. Just tired. I think of canceling my video interview tomorrow, then reconsider. I’m going to do this. I’m going to get back on track. I’m going to push through this with an antibiotic, a Z-Pack, a positive attitude, and an early bedtime.

Yup. That’s what I’m going to do.

I kind of want to text my mom… see how she’s doing. But I don’t. I don’t want her to worry. I already told my dad I’m sick, and I felt he got worried. He never gets worried.

* * *

When Jim got home with the Z-Pack and cough medicine, I took the first two pills in the Z-Pack. I don’t like the pearly beads of cough medicine and should have asked for hydrocodone, but whenever I ask for some specific cough medicine, I feel like the doctor is weighing whether I’m some sort of cough syrup junkie. So I don’t ask; I just keep waiting until it becomes popular again with doctors. (Can we hurry up this process, please? I have three vials of bland, pearly white, sucky cough medicine that doesn’t give you a buzz collecting dust in my medicine cabinet. Why can’t you have a buzz when you’re sick? It used to be the one thing that was good about getting sick, and now we suffer with these tiny angel droppings… Hmm… maybe I just figured out why my doctor won’t give me hydrocodone anymore.)

I start to feel better. My temperature starts dropping. I fall asleep on the couch with a sore neck and a just a little pain from the infection of the stubborn ingrown armpit hair.

FRIDAY, MAY 1

I wake up at 6 a.m. and do my daily body check assessment. I don’t feel a temperature. My neck and shoulders, still stiff. Armpit lump, less painful than yesterday but still tender to the touch. I pick up my thermometer, no temperature.

I walk into the kitchen and pop what has become my daily line-up: First, Alleve for the neck. Then, a Z-Pack pill for whatever illness gave me a temperature for the past two days. Next, the antibiotic for my armpit lump infection. Finally, the pearly, white non-hydrocodone cough suppressant. When you have four or more orange bottles of medicines in your morning routine that you didn’t have last week, you know it really hasn’t been such a good week.

Today is the first day that teachers have to work on Friday since distance learning began. But I’m up early, so I check the opinion poll we posted several days ago. Almost 3,000 votes! Wow! The results: 67% of people do not want to open the Keys to non-residents, while 33% do.

And then, as a survivor of an illness (probably not COVID-19 since the Z-Pack worked), I feel compelled to express my own opinion on the poll.

I understand the economic impacts of closing down the Keys. I really do. I hope the people who voted in favor of reopening the Keys find some way to change and adapt their business or their role in society to this environment and the next environment that is coming. I’ve talked to and interviewed so many people who are thriving at this time because they’ve changed the way they’ve done things in the past. For example, the owner of M.E.A.T Eatery and Taproom, Tom Smith, offers curbside pick-up and now virtual wine tastings. (If you haven’t seen the online wine tasting video yet, you’ve got to watch it! Tom’s business will survive this!) Businesses can do this. Not only can survive, but they can even thrive. Jim, who is a digital marketer, has helped so many businesses in the last month reposition themselves, not only for this quarantine environment but for the next phase of business when re-opening happens and business life isn’t the same as it was before. He’s standing ready to help more.

And consider this, if your state opens the physical economy again (I use “physical” because the digital economy is alive and well), who is going to walk in to your business?

Nothing will be the same. Ever. Sadly, I don’t know if I’ll ever go to a concert or event or even a bar to watch live music again. Maybe I’ll sit at a restaurant on a special occasion if the place observes table distancing. After being sick during a pandemic this week, I don’t know how comfortable I’ll be going to the grocery store for a long, long time since I was wearing a gatiter buff when I apparently contracted this illness. Who needs to? Jim is using Instacart to order most of our groceries. We’ve had the technology to change and adapt, and we can do just that in this next phase of hybrid pre-Coronavirus/COVID-19-rampant world.

Plus, what’s going to happen if we do open the Keys before this “Coronavirus flu season” ends? Our COVID-19 cases will spike, and all the good that Sheriff Rick Ramsay and the people who want to keep us safe have done will be for naught. Opening the Keys before it’s gone would erase all the efforts they’ve made to protect us. Those who pushed for re-opening the Keys will have suffered financially for two and a half months for nothing, as the 18-mile stretch door will once again slam shut after cases rise higher than before.

I hear people say, “Well, that’s the chance we’re willing to take to financially survive.” I get it. But there are plenty of jobs being offered right now for delivery services if you’re willing to go to take that chance you say you are willing to take. Jim gets multiple job offers daily for local places, such as restaurants and grocery stores that need someone to deliver products. In this new world, you might not have the same role. But you can have one.

Will I teach at school again? Yes, when it is deemed by the powers that be and the teachers’ union that it is safe. If I don’t feel it is safe at that time, I’ll have some tough choices to make. I wonder what it will be like, though, when I go back to school. I wonder about the reaction to the first student who coughs. I don’t think I’ll be giving out hugs for a very long time. Again, the next phase will also be different than what was before, even in my line of work.

I get a message from a student asking if I’m available to help with some work.

“Yes,” I reply. “Are you available right now?”

This world is different. It’s a safer environment than “business as usual” would have been. I see things differently than I did before the COVID-19 threat. And now I see things even more differently after being sick in a global pandemic.

I waited to publish this blog until I found out I would get better. And I am getting better. If you’re reading this and you believe opening the Keys is the thing to do right now, I hope you will have now virtually lived through my experience this week of being sick (instead of experiencing it yourself) during a global pandemic. I hope you can reposition your business or adapt to the new roles this world has to offer. I hope you don’t have to go through what I did.

Before getting to work, I pick up my phone and start to text:

“Hi, Mom. I just wanted to let you know that I was sick this week, but I’m better now, so it wasn’t Coronavirus. My doctor gave me a Z-Pack and I got better. Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. Didn’t want you to worry.”

And even with a lump on my armpit, four vials of meds on the counter, and a sore neck, I feel lucky that was the message I got to tell my mom.

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