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Are You Positive?

Funny word “positive.”

It’s what we grow up being told to be. Our attitude should be positive, our outlook, positive. Our convictions, our opinions, our image...positive, positive, and positive. Moms tell us that positive is good. Conversely, negative is bad. Even that proud battery top (you know the end with the little round copper chapeau) is positive. And of that I am certain (positive). Don’t believe me? Just ask the Energizer Bunny or anyone who has loaded batteries upside down in the flashlight.

But along comes the pandemic, and like everything else, things are turned upside down. A perfectly good word is shamed, dragged through the mud, and completely redefined as something we want to avoid. That “positive” test score we used to run home to show Mom is now a negative outcome that we want to cram into the bottom of our backpack under a squashed bologna and cheese and three faded gray M&M’s. A positive test is enough to bring shame on your household and have the family lock you in the basement with the crickets, the expired paint cans, and the leaking bags of snowmelt crystals.

As you might have guessed by now, I tested positive for COVID last Tuesday, July 12th at 7:05am.

I had followed all the rules. I had waited in long lines to get vaccinated twice. Had immediately signed up and gotten both boosters. I was an early adopter of mask wearing and still am “that guy” masked on airplanes, in airports, and the grocery store. I wash my hands frequently and have continued to keep the hand sanitizer companies in business.

Please don’t say, “see, everybody gets it eventually” or you’ll force me to raise my voice. No, everybody doesn’t get it and most of my family and friends are a testament to that fact. So, let’s tie that one off right there. Even if we rely on the latest CDC numbers, while 60% of Americans have now gotten COVID, that means 40% have not.

Given the mildness of my case and everything I have read, the fact that I had done all the right things continued to contribute to my health and my body’s ability to fight the virus. I also witnessed the difference that monoclonal antibody therapy can make in further neutralizing the disease and lessening my symptoms within 36 hours. Amazing stuff.

Let me add that I am at a place in my life that ensured that I did not have to leave the house during the height of the pandemic. I didn’t have to drive a bus, empty a bed pan, or suffer the daily risks of courageous first responders. And I have excellent health care in a county with nation-leading access. I am lucky.

While that is all true (positive one might say), when I looked at that little self-test kit on Tuesday, I had a sense of failure. My run of 835 days or over 119 weeks (I had not been keeping a tally, but this is the kind of math you do while lying in bed) had come to an end.

I am blessed with a loving, considerate family who I know would do literally anything for me. I saw countless examples of that this week. Multiple meals prepared and delivered, encouraging texts, and death-defying taxi service to and from my monoclonal therapy, to name just a few. My friends responded with texts and phone calls to let me know they were thinking about me. All very nice.

But if you want to know how people behave when a leper wanders into the village, be the guy with COVID in a house filled with 15 people enjoying their vacation. Hushed voices outside your door (you assume of course that they’re talking about you), that mix of fear and pity in facial expressions, and the “freeze and backup” choreography on chance hallway encounters as I traversed the 20 feet between my cell and the bathroom. All pretty awkward.

The little ones in the family were more apprehensive than fearful in the rare glimpses we got of each other. Wanting to hug them and not being able to was a rare twist on our protocols of the early days of the pandemic. Then, the old folks were fearful that the urchins were “unwitting carriers” who could give us the virus and send us on a one-way journey. Now, Popsie had the cooties, and everyone was afraid of HIM.

So, what to do with five glorious days of isolation?

As an introvert (yes, you read that right), I usually seek out opportunities to be alone to read, write, think, and recharge. But five days? The sun is shining; I can hear the ocean; the joyous laughter and conversation of the family is literally just outside my door. As I laid there counting my blessings, even a lucky bastard such as I ran out of blessings before I ran out of numbers.

Four things kept my mind occupied as I traversed the week of solitary confinement.

First, a good book. If you have never read “The Bridge on the Drina” by Ivo Andric, you should correct that omission in your life as soon as possible. The book had been recommended to me by several fellow travelers on our recent voyage through Eastern Europe. Through this historical novel written in 1945, a distinguished Yugoslav writer and diplomat tells the cultural origin story of the Bosnian and Serbian people. The bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is a key character that weaves the story together and elicits a sympathetic connection to the reader. Andric won the Nobel Prize for literature for this book in 1961.

Second, current affairs, which due to the non-political nature of this blog I will leave right there.

Third, a rare winning streak by my beloved Baltimore Orioles. The O’s have recently caught fire and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Even that mindless “Gameday” feature on the free MLB app can add excitement to an evening lying in bed.

And finally, the 150th Open Championship played at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Given the time difference and the complete disruption of a body clock that sleeping during the day can create, it was the perfect late night, early morning diversion for the entire week. Having traveled to the town some years ago and walked those sacred grounds, it helped transport me from my current circumstance both into the past and the future. While a round at the Old Course was always on the periphery of my Bucket List, it has now jumped into a top 5 position. My game has improved to the point where I’d qualify to play. Now I just need to schedule a round while I can still make that walk.

I am now home and feeling better. Wearing a mask in my own home seems a bit retro, but my life partner has still stayed COVID-free, and we are going to work to ensure that remains the case.

Contracting an infectious disease that has killed over 6.3 million people worldwide has an impact on your mind as well as your body. It made me thankful for a lifetime of education that taught me to trust science. It made me thankful for being born in a zip code that set my economic future on a path of financial comfort and for the example of hard-working parents who taught me not to ever take success for granted. It made me thankful that I live in a county and a state whose educational foundation proved fertile ground for good healthcare. It made me thankful for Wake County’s nation-leading access to free COVID testing. It made me thankful for family and friends who are there when you need them.

Finally, it strengthened an instinct that has intensified as I have grown older. The instinct I will call: Do It Now.

I was 69 years old when the pandemic descended on the world. I am now 72 and know that I will never get those two years of isolation back. I made the best of it by trying to entertain my friends with crazy videos, reading bible stories to kids, inventing a ZOOM Santa gig, growing closer to my neighbors, and beginning to write down many of my life experiences. I tried to assume a healthier lifestyle knowing that this old ship needed two more years of life expectancy to even the score. I gained a new appreciation for the people in my life and spent more quality time with Hayden than I had for decades.

But with all my caution, planning, and care, BOOM a positive test.

A wise man once said that he had grown frustrated every time an interruption encroached on his life until he realized that life IS the interruptions. Do they cause us to retreat, or do they spur us on? Knowing that interruptions will not adjust to us, do we figure out how to adjust to them?

So, as I look down the road, my Bucket List has grown, my timetable has moved up, my excitement for life is as strong as ever, and if I don’t continue to experience new things, I won’t be able to write new blogs.

Of that, I am positive.


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