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A COVID Christmas Carol

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Selfie by Carla Occaso

Part I

Testing for COVID Past

‘Twas late Christmas Eve — long after I exchanged gifts with a friend on her office stairway (masked, but probably too close), days after I had an in-person (masked) meeting with colleagues, and after I had made several shopping trips — I got notified. I was informed I had had close contact with a person infected with COVID-19 three days earlier. Notification came in the afternoon. However, I did not check my device until much later. I had received two voice messages, but the vibrating phone and its messages remained unchecked in my pocket as I rushed around doing Christmas Eve stuff: shopping, wrapping gifts, stuffing stockings, posting pictures of my dog wearing sparkly green reindeer horns on Facebook, sipping wine.

Then, I finally retreated to bed. I checked messages. Eerie voicemails spoke to me like Jacob Marley’s ghost spoke to Ebenezer Scrooge. Shivering under my covers, wind blowing outside, I soon felt like Scrooge ruminating over his past conduct throughout the night on Christmas Eve. I, too, ruminated over my past conduct. I tossed and turned. How many people might I have encountered? Who should I tell? Who needs to know? 

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Had I known about my Monday brush with COVID, I would have conducted myself differently. I would have shopped curbside and met people virtually. But I did not know and could not have known before Christmas Eve.

I replayed the events of the past week in my head. The messages did not tell me who the person was, but I was pretty sure I knew. A person on the day the contact happened had stood up, literally put her hand on her forehead, and reached her other hand out, saying, “I don’t feel so well,” and rushed off to the nurse. She returned saying she did not have a fever, and we continued our tête-à-tête. No, I do not know for sure it was her. And it doesn’t really matter, except I had closer contact with her than usual on that day. We were both masked and not too close. Just at moments. We also both breathed the same air. But it really could have been anyone. I don’t know.

Then I reassured myself as night started breaking into morning. “Carla,” I said to myself, “you may have had close contacts with people for the last six months for all you know. You have entered the Central Vermont Medical Center after one of the first cases in Washington County. You shop at the crowded Shaw’s supermarket in Berlin and at Shaw’s in Montpelier. You may have had contacts. A contact doesn’t guarantee you will get sick. You wear a mask. You wash your hands. You distance. You sanitize.” I started to feel better. 

But doubts kept creeping back. It doesn’t mean I won’t get sick, either. Early that morning, using an application on my iPhone, I set up an appointment for a COVID test as soon as possible: the day after Christmas. I set up another test for the following Monday in case there was a false negative. This was after reading advice from the Centers for Disease Control all night. 

Christmas day arrived, and I couldn’t do much about the situation. It had rained all night and the National Weather Service issued flood warnings. The rain washed away the snow as gales of wind splattered raindrops against my window in what sounded like machine gun fire. I slept until mid-morning. I was alone in the house with my grown son, and together, we opened our stockings. ‘Santa’ brought us the usual candy and holiday items, but this year, he also brought hand sanitizer and homemade cloth face masks. The day crept on. As 2020 luck would have it, we lost power in the afternoon shortly before I was going to start cooking Christmas dinner. We ate crackers, cheese, and other charcuterie for dinner. The power came back on around 6:30. I went to bed early, feeling tired.

I set my alarm for the next morning’s COVID test and stayed in bed until just before I had to drive to the testing site, again, around mid-morning. “COVID-19 TESTING” signs lined the newly paved asphalt drive in Berlin up by the Knapp Airport. I followed the signs to a door, then went up two flights of stairs until I saw the back of another person. I stopped, keeping my distance. This office suite had clearly been abandoned by another tenant, as it had very little furniture and nothing on the walls except for the odd tack here and there. 

It only took about five or ten minutes before it was my turn. I first registered with a friendly young man who asked me some questions, such as my name and date of birth, and then I was directed to the next room after the man in front of me left.  A kind yet authoritative young woman wearing full protective gear, including a mask and face guard, squirted hand sanitizer on my hands, and then gave me a tissue and asked me to blow my nose. She then handed me a little vial with a Q-tip-type swab. She asked if I had done this before, and I had, but I sought reassurance.

“Both nostrils, right?”

“Right.”

I swirled the little swab around three times in each nostril, then placed the gooey swab in the little vial and handed it back to the woman. She squirted my hands with more sanitizer. I left.

They said I would get results within three to five days, but, in reality, the Department of Health called the next evening. On a Sunday.

To Be Continued…

Next installment of A COVID Christmas Carol:

PART II

The Results and Their Fallout