August 30, 2022

Vintage engraving of a scene from the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield. It is much better as it is! llustration by Fred Barnard

Covid Chronicles – Tales from the sickbed day #3. I wish I could tell you I was dying like the heroine of a Victorian novel, all pallor and white linen and the soon to be bereaved weeping in the hall, but no such luck. I’m feeling relatively normal, just tired and a bit under the weather. I never had a fever this time around, just a horribly stuffy/runny nose and a bit of a cough and that general feeling of unwellness that tends to accompany viral infections. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the fatigue clears itself up in the next few days and doesn’t settle into any sort of long Covid pattern. That’s the only thing that scares me at this point – some sort of prolonged post-infection syndrome that keeps me from living my life on all eight cylinders the way I usually do. To try and prevent that, I am adhering to a five day quarantine here at the condo and puttering through various projects. I can’t completely duck work. We’re so short staffed in geriatrics that I had to drag myself out of bed yesterday by 8 am and do my UAB clinic work from my laptop at the dining room table through various telehealth means. Supposedly we have new hires with clinical responsibility coming in but in the meantime, it’s all hands on deck as the demands for clinical service grow in an environment with shrinking resources and collapsing systems. I think I know how an 18th century midshipman felt as the sailing vessel headed into a gale.

Besides my usual work, I’ve managed to get a number of chapters read in two different books I’m working my way through, binge watched the first half of The Sandman on Netflix, completed a project for one of the non-profit boards on which I serve, and started working on the lines for my next stage appearance. I had nothing on my theatrical calendar for the fall and then the part of Bobby Dwayne Dillahunt in a play called The Hallelujah Girls fell into my lap. It’s one of those ensemble comedies calling for a number of women of a certain age which are popular at the moment. I call them descendants of Steel Magnolias, Crimes of the Heart and Sordid Lives. They usually involve a bunch of Southern women with interlacing friendships getting caught up together in a project or event – hijinks ensue. In this one, one of the women has bought an abandoned church building and is turning it into a day spa ‘Spa-dee-da’ with the help of her eccentric friends. I play her old high school boy friend, now a contractor who ends up doing the repair work around the place. Others include the head injured music teacher who loves all the holidays, the befuddled town clerk with the deadbeat son and a thing for bad romance novels, the acerbic manicurist, and a priggish mama’s boy. It should be fun, especially as we’re performing in an actual church auditorium.

The process of having to rearrange life for quarantine has been cumbersome. I have to deal with two different employee health departments at UAB and the VA who have very different rules regarding when clinical folks may be on premises again for patient care. While my formal quarantine is up on Thursday afternoon, it doesn’t look like I’ll be allowed back at work until the Tuesday or Wednesday after Labor Day at the earliest. In a normal year, with Labor Day weekend free, I would head down to Southern Decadence, an annual gathering of the LGBTQ folk in New Orleans, but I don’t want to push my luck or overdo it with just recovering from Covid so I think it will be wise not to do any such thing. Tommy and I would go to Southern Decadence fairly routinely if we didn’t have anything else on the calendar for Labor Day weekend. We’d do all of our usual antiquing and gallery hopping and then add in dancing at the street party on the gay end of Bourbon Street, cheering on the parade, and drinking entirely too much. I seem to remember an afternoon of one too many hurricanes at Pat O’Briens. Fortunately nobody got sick although we were both a little wobbly as we made our way back to the hotel.

I’m trying to think of a good Tommy in New Orleans story. We would go two or three times a year for a long weekend and we had this idea that when we retired, we would get a little studio condo down there so we could come and go as we liked. One of many dreams that will never be. It was very much our city together because of the food and the art and the music and we never grew tired of it. We made friends with a number of the artists and gallery owners in the French Quarter. We had our favorite restaurants from casual (The Gumbo Shop) to fine dining (Bayona). We liked to explore interesting little shops out past the Garden District and in the Marigny. One trip, we went to mass in the cathedral at Jackson Square and Tommy was inspired musically by the Latin and decided that he wanted to write a musical setting for the mass. This led to a trip to the Catholic bookstore for a missal and various mass translations, and to a couple of music stores for some scores of a couple of the lesser known Requiems and other sacred music. I was pretty sure he would put about five weeks of intense thought into the project and then move on. He was like that. He would become enthusiastic about something and throw himself into it and if it didn’t hold his attention, move quickly on to the next idea. The ones that held him, like wigs, became part of his daily life. The ones that didn’t created piles of paper and notes to be filed away, to be pulled out someday. I have some of these in my various bins of ephemera that I am way behind at sorting. Roughly six months before he died, Tommy was making diligent plans to return to school again. He was interested in M Div programs with an emphasis in sacred music and hymnody. If he had lived, would he have entered one of those? Completed it? Would that mass have actually begun to take musical form? Unanswered questions due to a life cut short.

Since announcing my current infection to the world, I have heard from any number of friends who are also currently battling Covid. And a number of my VA colleagues all came down with it at the same time I did making me wonder if that’s where I caught it. The Joint Commission was at the VA this past week doing their triennial survey. It would be ultimate irony if they were the source of this particular cluster. Someone should call up the surveyors and see how they’re doing.

I wonder if this is where modern life is heading? Boosters and infections. Get a booster to your Covid vaccine that’s tailored to the most recent variants and get sick anyway once or twice a year with a couple of days of misery until either unknown complications, long Covid, or your own advancing age takes you out. It’s too soon to tell. We’re still less than years into this even though 2019 feels like a couple of decades ago. In the meantime, you know what to do. Don’t make me repeat myself.

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