When my coworker asked a few weeks ago if they could have a sip of my drink, I paused and thought: I’ve dodged it for this long, what’s a little longer? The stupidity I felt the next day when this coworker told me they had a fever and chills was unmatchable.
Oh no, I thought as I put my forehead in my hand. I was leaving her house to pick up my leftover Coronas right as I got a call from my boss notifying me I couldn’t come back into work until my fevered friend’s COVID-19 test came back negative. Why was my boss apologizing? I was the one who chose not to social distance.It’s my fault for not acknowledging my invincibility yet again.
My friend and I work at a Kansas City area day camp. I’m a 22-year-old studying political science and journalism at Emporia State, but in the summers I look forward to returning to my hometown and working at camp. This year I even got to be a director. Staff had spent months creating scenarios, solutions and protocols in order to reopen during the pandemic. But within a few days of sharing that drink,I was asked not to come into work. My co-worker, along with another who also attended the get together and who I drank after both tested positive. Within a week, camp was shut down.
Soon I was sitting in an urgent care waiting room with my boyfriend waiting to get tested. There wasn’t much else to do other than hope and over think the situation. Is everyone as unhappy under their masks as they look? Probably.
I wondered how the woman at the front desk with purple hair felt. Does she know that most people exaggerate their symptoms in order to get tested? Did she know I drove an hour and a half from my house in Emporia just to exaggerate my symptoms so I could get tested, too? I was glad I had a mask on so she couldn’t read my guilty expression. Not only was I lying to her, someone risking her health checking in so many ill people, but I was also careless enough to be put in this situation. I wanted to tell her I appreciated her work and I was sorry I had put down that I had a fever and diarrhea when I didn’t, but I really wasn’t feeling well and I had been around two co-workers the night of the party who had already tested positive. She has purple hair, she must be forgiving, I told myself. What does that even have to do with anything?
Like most waiting rooms, this one had a television. I sat through each political ad listening to Republican Nominees Kris Kobach be called unfit and Bob Hamilton make promises. A voice reported the attempt of Brian Kemp, the Governor of Georgia, to sue Atlanta with the intention of blocking local mask orders. Elbowing my boyfriend, I giggled and pointed to the screen.
I looked back to the lady behind the desk. Her masked face said, “No comment.” Just as the mask lawsuit story was getting interesting, my name was called by a little blonde lady in dark cobalt scrubs that made her blue eyes pop. I wanted to apologize to her for how sorry I was for exaggerating the symptoms on my paperwork and for making her do extra work as a result of my carelessness.
Just then I noticed the grey phrase written in italics above the check in desk, “Extending the healing ministry of Christ.” Oh God I’m a sinner… Well, I knew this. Let’s get this over with. I followed the blue-eyed nurse into the door I had seen several other patients go into. She led me to a room with animated sharks, fish and turtles wearing Band-Aids painted on the wall. I took a seat on the table and the questions began. I tried to remember the paperwork I filled out and which symptoms I had exaggerated.
“Are you having symptoms?”
Uhm, sore throat...but my roommate says it may be from the bonfire we had a few nights ago.
“Loss of taste or smell?”
Eh loss of smell with a runny nose, like with allergies.
Uhh, yeah but it may just be from what I’ve been eating...all a lie.
“Are you sore?”
Yes, I’m also sneezing and coughing. That much was true.
She left and returned a few minutes later in head to toe safety gear. She wore a mask under her plastic face shield. On top of her scrubs was a plastic see through gown. Her gloved hands reached into a pouch and pulled out a swab. I shuddered.
“It will only go in your nostril, not all the way up your nose.”
Thank God, even though I know I deserve the brain touch.
“I’m sorry you have to do this,” I said.
She giggled and probed my nostrils. It lasted about five seconds on each side. It felt like the feeling of needing to sneeze and not being able to, but painful and with a sting. It followed with a sneeze that felt just like it does when I get water in my nose. I tried not to pull back but couldn’t help it. She would be back 15 minutes later with the results.
I was left alone with a dead phone, an electric clock sitting across from me and endless scenarios in my head. I lay back on the bench to try and sleep to avoid all the overthinking, but it was no use.
If it’s positive will everyone be mad at me? I prayed for even a false negative.
My boyfriend’s cousin was getting married that Saturday and I didn’t want him to have to miss it just because of something that was my fault. I know the campers were safe because of the extensive measures taken to social distance and wear masks. As promised, another doctor came in 15 minutes later to tell me I was positive. She said I would need to quarantine until that Thursday.
I left, sat in the waiting room for a bit to wait for my boyfriend and decided it was best not to sit in a room full of people at-risk of being sick if I was positive. Right as I got in the car, I received a FaceTime call from a coworker asking if I had seen the work group message.
“Dude they’re going off. Are you seeing this?”
I opened a screenshot saying the workers at the other camp were planning on striking.
“This is seriously our fault,” I said. “This wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t hanging out outside of work.” Even more to feel guilty about. Just then my boyfriend hopped in the car and showed me his negative results.
“How is that possible?” I asked.
Then I called the center’s Human Resources, my roommates, my mom and my boss. Each said they were sorry.
Then began the search for where to stay.