Pain-in-the-neck risk analysis
“Stop right there big boy, and take everything off!” my wife said meeting me on the front porch. She sounded more like a Marine Corps Commanding Officer than my wife of 46 years. Well, actually my CO was a bit nicer.
“You know to doff your coat and scrubs without contaminating everything I presume. Put it all right here in this bag.” She held out an oversized garbage bag with her hands rolled into the top so that nothing could possibly touch her hands.
“You’re not going to throw away my coat and scrubs are you?” I asked. “I just got those scrubs. They are the first really nice scrubs I’ve had in 20 years. And I waited months for the university to get me this coat.”
“No,” she said. “I just don’t want to touch them putting them into the washing machine.”
“Sweetheart, I’m really exhausted” I said with a tired sigh. “I really got slammed last night. And I didn’t get a chance to eat anything. I barely got to pee. Can I just put my coat in the bag and eat some breakfast. I promise I’ll put everything directly in the washer when I get upstairs.”
“No,” she almost shouted indignantly. “You could kill us all if you contaminate the house.”
I looked down at Lucy, our dog, who had just sauntered up. She looked up at me with a look that I swear was a smirk and a shrug. As if to say, ‘Just do as she tells you. And welcome to my world.’
“And put your mask back on when you are within six feet of me.”
“I don’t think I even saw any COVID patients last night,” I muttered under my breath.
“Did you test anyone for COVID?” she said with a squint of her eyes. She was now sounding like a cross-examining lawyer.
“Well, yes,” I mumbled from under my mask. Do you know how bad your own breath starts to smell after eight hours of wearing a mask? “Well, yes. Several in fact, but I don’t think any of them had the virus. It was really bad last week. But it’s starting to slow down again.”
“What kind of doctor are you?” she asked. “You say you don’t think they had the virus, but you test them anyway.”
“I tested them because they had a few of the symptoms, but not all of them. And most of the patients are only worried about COVID. They could be dying of cancer or heart disease, but last night they were only worried about COVID.”
Next, my “CO” wanted to know how long it took for results to come back.
“If they needed to be admitted, I could get results in two hours,” I said. “If I thought they had COVID, but didn’t need to be admitted, I could get the results back anywhere from six hours to two days. And if they just wanted the test, their results might not come back for a week or two.”
“If they go home, what do you tell them?”
“It’s standard quarantine instructions. Keep the mask on. No contact with anyone, even family members. And call us back if they get sicker, especially any sign of shortness of breath.”
“See?” she said with a cock of head. “Strip off those ‘purty’ scrubs and put ‘em here, buster.”
I realized I wasn’t going to win this fight.
“Well, OK marshal,” I drawled. I removed my coat and scrub top. “Do you mind if I step into the house? I don’t think the neighbors want to see this.”
“No, you CANNOT step into the house. Everything off out here!”
“Everything?” I asked incredulously. “You’re not expecting me to strip naked out here on the porch are you??” She just nodded yes with a determined evil twinkle in her eye.
“So you want me buck naked out her on the porch in front of God and the neighbors?” I repeated.
“You can leave your shoes on. And the mask. Besides it’s only 7:30. There won’t be anyone up yet…except…maybe…Evelyn…and maybe Jody. She runs every morning about this time. So don’t dawdle. I don’t think they want you see your hairy backside first thing in the morning.”
In a flash I was down to skin, tennis shoes and mask and racing up the stairs. It reminded me of running for the showers when I got de-pants in junior high.
“Who was that masked man?” I heard her giggling as I ran up the stairs.
After the jog and hot shower I was wide awake and hungry for some breakfast. I knew the carb load would put me back in the mood for sleep.
“You need to put your mask back on,” she said matter-of-factly handing me a fresh mask as I came into the room with wet hair wearing pajamas.
“How am I supposed to eat?” I questioned, starting to weary of what I perceived as a playful game.
“You can lower it to put the food in your mouth.”
“I can’t do that,” I said. I was partially begging and starting to get irritated.
“Yes, you can,” she said firmly. “I don’t want you to infect me. I’ve disinfected everything in the house. And I don’t want you to contaminate it. They are now saying that most of the new infections are members of the same household.”
“That’s true,” I responded. “But ‘they’ are also saying that asymptomatic patients are probably not responsible for, or shall I say capable of, infecting others.” I gave her a smart aleck smirk, but then I realized she couldn’t see it through my mask.
“But an ‘asymptomatic patient’, as you call them, may just be a ‘pre-symptomatic patient’ and they MIGHT be infectious.” The cock of her head said that she knew she had me.
It was no use trying to reason with her. She handed me my bowl of oatmeal and I started sneaking spoonfuls under the mask.
“It’s just not practical,” I said absent-mindedly trying to shove a spoonful of oatmeal through my mask into my mouth.
“See,” I mumbled spitting the mask fibers out of my mouth. Now as she looked at me I had a big glob of oatmeal on my mask.
“You’re hopeless,” she said shaking her head. “I didn’t say eat your oatmeal through your mask.”
“How long do we have to do this?” I mumbled. “Are you expecting me to sleep in my mask?”
“As long as it takes,” she said determinedly. “Some officials are wearing masks even when they are by themselves on a Zoom call. We need to set a good example.”
“Really? How am I going to kiss you good night? And how am I going to…you know? That would really be a buzz kill? Your actual chance of getting this disease from me is pretty slim. And your chance of dying from the disease is even less. We still have to live. It’s all just a risk to pain analysis.”
“I know,” she said. “But this whole thing really makes me scared with you working with all those sick people. It would be my luck that you would bring home the disease. I would catch it, and die all alone in the hospital. Then you would go out and marry some buxom blonde.”
“Hmm,” I said. Then after a moment of awkward contemplation, “You’re not going to die from this. I promise. And if you did, I promise I wouldn’t go out and marry some buxom blonde.”
“And honey,” I said changing the subject, “if it really worries you that much, I’d be glad to just quit or take a leave of absence and stay home til this whole situation blows over.”
“How long do you think that would be?”
“I think we might have a workable vaccine in a year, or maybe two at the outside.”
“You’d be home all that time with just me?”
“Sure, it would be great. We could go camping and fishing, sailing, you name it.”
After a long pause, “I think you should keep working,” she said with a sigh.
“Well OK,” I said. “But what made you change your mind. Was I able to reassure you?”
“Then why the change of heart?”
“It’s just like you said. It’s a risk to pain-in-the-neck analysis. Now go to bed. And change your mask. I don’t want oatmeal on the pillow case.”