Focusing on COVID, which is no laughing matter

With a case of the virus himself, the columnist has mild symptoms and is trying to ‘keep it light’

By George Valadie

They call it the biggest shopping weekend of the year, cars and chaos out early and everywhere, and just like the masses, there we all were as well, having arrived early ourselves, lining up in an orderly fashion, patiently waiting for the place to open.

Just like millions of others across the country, we had each gotten ourselves out of bed early in hopes of beating the others to the front door.

Thankfully, there was no more than a handful of us at this particular site. Little chance of rowdiness or shoving to be first. In fact, as sometimes happens in such circumstances, we exchanged pleasantries while waiting across our six-foot distances.

When the doors were unlocked, we were even spared that mad and unruly rush that often makes the news.

Truth is, none of us felt up to it.

“If you’re here for COVID testing, please step to the right.”

There’s a good chance you’ve been through the process yourself. Many of us have.

While the rest of the world was shopping for Christmas, I was seeking a rapid test for which my insurance company and this urgent-care center required if I have symptoms. Mine were legit—I’d been coughing on and off for the previous 36 hours.

But since my lungs were at peace at that moment, the desk attendant seemed suspicious. I get it; he’s likely heard it all.

When I tossed in the fact that I work in a high school, he was sold.

Two days before I’d been feeling just fine and looking forward to the family Zoom on Thanksgiving Day. Daughters in Texas and Arkansas, the third in our living room, our holiday, like so many others, was to be different.

With a greatly reduced group expected for our annual feast, Nancy had opted for one of those smaller and more unconventional turkey breasts rather than the traditional big ole Butterball. And using our family text chain, she had shared a photo of it in mid-preparation.

A bit misshapen, odd in appearance, and wrapped in what can only be described as fishnet stockings, these compressed pieces of a bird were looking particularly rough at that juncture. And she had dared to ask her daughters’ opinions.

What ensued was hilarious with lots and lots of laughter. Nancy’s too. Thank God for her sense of humor.

What started as a few snickers evolved into one of those sorts of asthma-inducing, deep-down belly-laugh laughters none of us had enjoyed in I don’t know how long.

It was a release and a blessing.

I avoided the asthma, but not the coughing.

A day and a half later, it persisted.

It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem possible. Can laughter lead to coughing and coughing lead to COVID? That’s not scientifically sound, is it?

Turns out yes is the short answer. Two nasal swabs and 20 minutes later, the doctor informed me that I indeed had tested positive for COVID-19.

Every single day at 3 p.m., our local county health department releases its updated statistics to the media, enabling its citizens to keep constant watch on the trends and numbers we’ve all come to know.

Hospitalizations. Deaths. New cases.

And every single day I pay attention.

Truthfully, for the last four months, I’ve found myself focusing on the “new cases” stat since that’s the one that seemed most indicative of how quickly things were spreading, a matter of greatest concern when you’re trying to keep 400 students and 50 adults safe and on campus in the same building every day.

That is until I actually became one of those new cases.

Now I’m suddenly a lot more interested in those other two stats: the hospitalizations and the deaths.

I don’t want or need to be overly dramatic. I’m so very blessed. My symptoms have thus far remained mild.

According to the $5.95 “Finger Pulse Oximeter” my wife ordered months before in preparation for end-times (I didn’t even know we had one), my pulse-ox reading is OK … I think. If a reading of 95 is normal, then the 97 I saw says I’m on top of the world; the 71 not so much. So who knows?

At this stage, I think it’s the unknown that most has my attention. I have no idea where I got it, and I have no idea where it’s going. Or if.

Preliminary contact tracing points to Nancy’s turkey, but that remains inconclusive.

A friend was kind enough to send a fruit basket. Thus far I can still taste and smell but am eating with great haste before those senses dissipate altogether.

I joke to keep it light. But we all know this can and does and has gone bad. Real bad.

And nothing was funny for them.

So there we are, millions of folks just like me who have tested positive but whose symptoms are mild to none at all.

Got it. Had it. Got the T-shirt.

Absolutely thankful, but still not exactly sure how I’m supposed to feel.

And maybe that’s the thing about this pandemic—it’s confusing, it’s silent, it’s invisible, and yet it’s able to impact so many in ways great and small.

Families have lost loved ones. Others have lost incomes, jobs, livelihoods. While others have barely missed a beat.

Nancy and I are blessed with the jobs we have—we won’t be negatively impacted in the least. The two of us will be isolated for a total of 38 days between us. Yet between working remotely and catching the school’s holiday break at the perfect time, we remain basically unaffected.

But that’s not at all true for so many others. For them, life is a big old mess.

May 2021 be a lot less messy.

Dear God—We always need your help; now we need your miracles. Please help us end what we don’t know how. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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