I don’t have a fun entertaining column today because I’m wiped out. But I saw this thing on Thursday that I can’t shake and I thought I might as well write it up here.
I’m exhausted because my day job, driving low-income, mobility-challenged covid-19 patients to and from the doctor is now six days a week.
Cases are up and we are still shorthanded. Despite a dollar an hour extra hazard pay, guaranteed overtime, and an additional per-patient hazard bonus on top of that, the boss has only managed to lure one more driver over to the plague-wagon crew. So that’s five of us on virus duty now, out of forty-three drivers total. (The initial four of us signed on before the bonuses and so on happened, but we are getting them now.) My week is now a nine or ten-hour shift Monday through Friday and an additional six or seven hours on Saturday.
Mostly it’s driving folks to and from dialysis. These patients are hugely vulnerable, they are immuno-compromised to begin with and the process of dialysis itself puts them at very high risk for any infection. So there aren’t many kidney centers really set up for the special quarantine requirements that come with a covid patient; most of them are, shall we say, festival seating.
Standard schedule for a dialysis patient is three days a week, Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, and only a few centers in King County can take covid cases. So it’s a lot of driving.
Okay? That’s the preamble. Here’s what happened.
I’m coming home Thursday night, after a non-stop day that began at four-fifteen in the morning to get a patient in Puyallup to his kidney center in Bonney Lake. He’s on oxygen, can only manage about four steps without having to stop and rest, and sometimes I need to break out the boarding chair for him (that’s our wheelchair we keep in the van for cases like this where it turns out to be necessary.) He’s a nice Filipino kid, twentysomething. His dad and his sister are thrilled at having found our service because driving him themselves would be very difficult, they’re not really equipped for it with the car they have and their work schedule.
Honestly? I’m not crazy about having to be there at five AM either–Puyallup’s a drive, it’s way out in the country, it means I have to get to the yard by around four to get the van and go through the sanitizing and the pre-check. But the boss had called personally and pleaded with me because there’s another patient south of Tacoma at the same time, in the opposite direction, and the driver that was doing that one can’t squeeze them both in.
So I said okay. (Boss man swore to me that he is trying to hire more drivers and I believe him, but we both know it’s a question of persuading people to step up, which is getting harder and harder.)
…anyway. Coming home and driving past the shopping center a few blocks from our place I see this.
I didn’t take this shot, it’s from a news story. But it was the same thing, a group of clearly privileged white ladies, holding up commercially-printed signs complaining about wearing masks.
I felt such a red wave of fury… I can hardly describe it, it was literally a physical thing. I could feel the bile rising in my throat. I almost pulled over to roar at them. You smirky little bitches! Do you have ANY idea– the DAY I’ve had–!
But I didn’t. These were women who would clearly get the police involved, and I was just too damn tired. Anyway, I don’t really enjoy being angry, it doesn’t exalt me the way it does some people. It makes me feel…. well, ill, like I said. Bile rising and so on.
But I keep thinking about it. You know what got me? The banners and signs. They were all professionally printed.
I worked in commercial printing for over twenty years, and those things are NOT CHEAP. We’re talking seventy bucks apiece minimum– just the printing, no typesetting or design work, which would be additional charges on top of that. (I should add those prices are what I remember from five years ago. I’m certain it’s all much higher now.)
And this posse of smug entitled whiners had at least three of those giant banners.
Figure at least three hundred bucks total they blew on this. Maybe more. (Unless the printshop donated the work, which is actually even worse.) Just to stand on the corner and yell at people to stop taking basic health precautions.
The election’s over. Their side lost. Thank God, we have an incoming administration that sees the value of science and understands that a deadly virus doesn’t respect political party affiliation.
So why are these women shrieking at people on a street corner in January? After almost 400,000 dead? And spending that kind of money to accessorize the effort? What are they trying to accomplish?
Do they even understand the risks of not wearing a mask?
Clearly not. The virus is not a gas, it is a particle; to get to you it has to be carried, usually on droplets of moisture such as you get with a sneeze or a cough or even a heavy exhale.
So it’s not like a filter, the mask isn’t functioning as a gas mask. It’s a catch tray. It’s trapping the moisture you exhale so you don’t infect anyone else. (Remember, this thing is asymptomatic for the first week to ten days you have it. You don’t feel sick. But you are still infectious.) The fact that wearing one can be hot and damp and uncomfortable means it’s fucking working, it’s supposed to feel like that.
The science on Covid-19 is still new. It only jumped to humans last year, it’s why we call it the ‘novel’ coronavirus. We are learning things every day. But the one data point that is established after the last year and a half of frantic, nonstop, desperate research, that all the scientists and doctors and nurses and EVERYONE with functioning synapses are on board with by now, is that masks fucking work. It’s got nothing to do with politics. It’s about health. It’s about safety.
I remember when I was little and got a chest cold, Mom would insist I drink a lot of orange juice, which I really don’t care for, and then slather me with Vicks, including a dab under my nose that made my eyes water, and wrap a wool sock around my throat. (Why the sock? I have no idea. Probably because I didn’t own a scarf.) Then sent to bed. Period. Non-negotiable.
I hated it and would often protest but solely on the basis of discomfort. It never would have occurred to me that this treatment was somehow an infringement on my liberty. Because even at the age of five I understood that idea was completely insane.
But now it’s got national traction.
I remember last year when this all started, how I was so pleased and delighted by how we all were pulling together during the first few weeks of lockdown. Good times.
Today? Not so much.
I don’t mean to keep banging on this, but look at all those professionally-produced signs. The expense of that, just to go be a shrieking asshole to people trying not to get sick–who don’t want you to get sick!–honest to God, what in the actual fuck is WRONG with them?
I understand that a country that was founded on the principle of “you’re not the boss of me” has this kind of assholery baked in, more or less. I remember when bikers were up in arms over helmet laws (it was actually a debate tournament topic when I was in high school.)
So it’s not new. But goddamn, it’s disheartening.
I wish I could take those smug idiots with me on a ride-along for a week. Hell, a day, just to watch what it’s really like out here. They can get up with me at three AM and start with my Filipino kid in Puyallup, watching him struggle out to the van with his portable oxygen.
Then they could have come out with me to the former Holiday Inn in Issaquah, now a quarantine facility for low-income and homeless cases. Note the taped-over sign; it’s next to the freeway, they don’t want to deal with people thinking they can get a room.
Trust me, you don’t want one. Place is all fenced off, you have to go through a security checkpoint to get inside. It’s frankly really creepy. You can see the checkpoint if you squint, it’s at the far end of the lot in this photo.
The Red Lion in Renton is locked down even tighter; security doesn’t let us in there at all, they bring the patients out to us.
The hotel’s closed, of course, but weirdly, the lobby restaurant is still open. I can’t imagine they do a lot of business–a quarantine checkpoint strikes me as a singularly unappetizing location to dine–but, y’know, go capitalism, I guess.
Then they could have come along with me to get the terrified Somali man and his teenage son (who had to act as translator) to take him to get tested at one of the free county locations.
The staffers at all these places are working the same brutal hours I am, at much higher risk. They’re tired and scared too. But by God, they never show it. They know how desperate my patients are and they are absolutely lovely to them, without exception. You damn well bet they wear masks. All day long. At least I get to take mine off when I’m on my way to a pickup and the van’s empty.
That’s what it’s like out here. All day, every day. Everyone doing their best to hold the line even while it feels like we’re living through Act One of The Stand.
I think about that, about all the people I see working so hard and the terrified patients we’re trying to serve, and I wonder if seeing that would penetrate the smirking smugness of the privileged protest ladies. Probably not. A friend of mine once said, “Intelligent people are riddled with doubt, they re-examine their reasoning all the time; but stupidity and ignorance march forward with invincible self-confidence.”
I also remember the guy who was convicted of attempted murder for deliberately not wearing a condom during sex, after being diagnosed with AIDS. Seems to me that an organized anti-mask protest is playing in that same ballpark. Just thinking about the consequences I see every damn day of the risks they’re encouraging gets me all angry again. How it dishonors the genuinely heroic medical personnel I work with, the ones who see this virus up close and personal. I’m just driving patients, it’s mostly at a distance, and it’s not like they climb in and lick the fixtures in the van. Mostly they’re huddled and scared, and a few spritzes of Lysol are enough to clear my vehicle after each trip. But the nurses and so on are right up close.
I do honestly think we’re going to get through this. I can’t bring myself to believe those morons are in the majority. But, dear God, there are way too damn many of them.
There’s nothing for it but to push on and take hope where I can find it. Yesterday I had my Filipino kid again and he was actually doing better, made it all the way to the van without having to stop and didn’t even ask me to carry his oxygen tank for him, he wheeled it out on his own. So there’s that.
And at then end of my shift I went down to Kaiser and got vaccinated.
Front line worker, baby. We get to cut the line. I was even told I could stay on the clock for it but I declined. I like to think of it as my personal fuck-you to that crowd of entitled assholes from Thursday.
And that? That one’s on me.
Hang in there, everyone. Stay home if you can. Mask and gloves if you MUST go out. And for the love of God, remember the mask goes over the nose and mouth.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I hope to be back next week with something cool, and, I promise, a little lighter.