The Universal Notebook: Testing, testing, testing

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Like a great many Americans, we have been turning ourselves inside out and upside down trying to figure out what to do about the holidays. The news is full of cries of doom if we risk having our family gather for Thanksgiving and, yet, I think that’s just what we’re going to do.

For the most part, Carolyn and I have been following CDC guidelines, wearing face masks in public, maintaining safe distances, avoiding crowds, washing hands, limiting travel. Our “bubble” over the summer included our three daughters, their significant others, our six grandchildren, Carolyn’s sister and her husband, my brother and his wife. 

Since school reopened, we have been even more careful, limiting contact with the grandkids to outdoor visits. Now that the coronavirus is surging all over the country, we have had to disinvite my sister-in-law from Thanksgiving, which will include immediate family only. I feel bad about this.

One of the perplexing things about the coronavirus is that the bad news seems all out of proportion to our experience. We see hospital ICUs struggling with the volume of critically ill patients, yet we only know one person who has been hospitalized with the virus.

The parents of my daughter’s fiance both had COVID-19 early on in Connecticut, but it was hardly more than a bad cold. And one of my nieces, a senior in high school, got it from her mother, who got it from a friend who works at the prison, but none of them had to be hospitalized. One of my brothers got sent home from work with a sore throat and a fever, but he ultimately tested negative.

My old Maine Times colleague Dennis Bailey is the only person I know who was sick enough with COVID-19 to need hospitalization and that was in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 8, the Maine Sunday Telegram published excerpts from Dennis’s Facebook diary that made the virus sound eminently survivable. 

“The other odd thing is that for the most part, I’m not really in distress,” Dennis wrote. “There’s no pain. As long as the oxygen is pumping (and right now it’s at 70 percent flow) I’m fairly comfortable, able to watch TV, read and listen to podcasts while my lungs slowly recover.”

Of course, that was right before he needed cardioversion to stop his heart from racing. Been there. Done that. Twice. 

What Dennis didn’t mention is how or where he contracted the virus. That’s because he doesn’t know. He’s guessing it was one of two places. Dennis fronts a Bob Dylan tribute band that played a gig not long before he got sick, but it was an outdoor, masked, socially distanced event and no one else got sick. Then he went to a clinic for a flu shot. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

If I get COVID-19, contact tracing be damned, I’m pretty sure I’ll never know how I got it.

Just to be on the safe side, I have been trying to get tested before Thanksgiving dinner. Most testing sites have been overwhelmed, but I did manage to get an appointment at the Midcoast/Parkview drive-through in Brunswick. By the time you read this, I assume I will have been given the green light for turkey and stuffing surrounded by munchkins.

Despite some misgivings, I plan to get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available. I’ve been willing to risk getting sick in order to see my family, so I’m sure as heck willing to risk getting well. That vaccine can’t come soon enough.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix, where he also writes the monthly Art Seen feature.