I had occasion to travel south over the long holiday weekend.
As it turned out, maybe I should’ve stayed home
My trip carried me diagonally across the state, down U.S. 65 to Conway, then on through Little Rock.
When I left Berryville, it was a bright, sunny day. By the time I got a few counties south, I could barely see the road. A thick fog covered everything, limiting visibility to only a few feet past my windshield.
I navigated that mess easily enough, but the sun never shined on me again that day.
By early afternoon, I’d reached my destination, checked into my motel and headed out to meet the person I was visiting.
As usual when I’m around people I don’t know, we both had our masks on and declined to shake hands or get too close as we spoke. We were both vaccinated, so I wasn’t super concerned about anything other than enjoying my visit.
I was there for about an hour before my phone buzzed, signaling a text message, then rang.
It was call I’d been half expecting and mostly dreading for the better part of two years. I’d been potentially exposed to COVID-19 for — as far as I know — the first time since the pandemic began.
I wasn’t particularly shocked by this — I cross paths with any number of people on a given day and I don’t know what their vaccination status might be — so I uttered a few choice words and went on with my visit.
It didn’t really sink in until later, after I locked myself into my motel room. Then my brain started working overtime.
I’ve never been particularly scared of the coronavirus. Before the vaccines came out, I always figured if I did catch it, I was most likely a goner. At the time, I was 49, overweight and a smoker.
Every time the temperature makes a big shift, I get the sniffles.
My biggest concern has always been unknowingly infecting someone else, someone who would either die from it or spread to another person who would.
That’s why I always tried to follow the recommended safety protocols.
I didn’t see my mother in person for seven months at the start of the pandemic, only speaking with her by phone.
In my mind, that would keep her safe. It might have, if she’d stayed at home.
My mother turned 73 on Sept. 1, 2020. On Sept. 5, she went to the hospital complaining of shortness of breath and the mother of all headaches.
She tested positive for COVID-19, and once her oxygen levels returned to a level the doctor was happy with, she was sent home with instructions to quarantine and return if her symptoms worsened.
Two days later, almost immediately after the most uncomfortable conversation I’ve ever had, she was sedated, intubated and placed on a ventilator.
Her last words to me were, “We’ll be OK.”
I wish to God she’d been right. Instead, she never woke up.
My mother, the rock and foundation of my life, the woman who raised me, molded me and led me to become the man I am, died a month later after I had to make the decision to let her go or ask her doctors to take further measures.
She’d made her wishes completely clear to me, but that choice still haunts me. Even now, more than a year later, I still play parts of that uncomfortable conversation over and over in my brain, wondering if I did the right thing.
Logically, I know I did, but logic is rarely comforting
Now, as I sit in a quarantine of my own, waiting the prescribed five days before getting tested, it’s in the forefront of my mind once more.
What do I want? How far am I willing to go? Am I worrying about something that won’t happen?
At this point, there’s no telling.
So far, I don’t have any symptoms, but that’s no real reassurance. By this time, everyone knows how tricky this virus can be.
My only real hope — if, in fact, I’ve been infected — is that the vaccine has done its job and has prepared my body to fight off the worst aspects of COVID-19.
For now, I’m not making many plans beyond getting tested. After that, we’ll see.
Wish me luck.