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V is for Virus

Two weeks ago, I stopped at a store on the way to the hospital for routine bloodwork, I needed a few things, including a can of Lysol spray. I like the way it makes the house smell ,and the fact that it is a germicide is a bonus.

“If you are looking for face masks, we are out of them,” the cashier said, with a bit of urgency in his voice.

I shrugged. “I have enough of those. Don’t seem to make my wrinkles go away, anyway.”

He looked at me as though I had suddenly grown a third eye. “No, I mean surgical masks,” he said. “No hand sanitizer in stock either.”

I smiled and laughed it off, trying not to feel foolish. “Of course,” I mumbled. “Hope we all stay healthy.”

At the hospital, my chemo nurse gave me “the talk” about hand washing and staying away from public places. “You are part of that high risk group,” she said. “Be careful.”

I nodded and thanked her as she slipped me a few masks “just in case.”

Suddenly, the reality of my current situation was made clear:

My name is Paula Millet, and I have a compromised immune system.

At that time, the Coronavirus was something that “other people” had to worry about, folks who had visited China or lived on the West Coast in areas where a few cases had been reported. I shrugged at terms like “pandemic,” chalking the whole thing up to media hype. I listened to the conspiracy theories with interest, thinking some to be plausible, while others were downright absurd.

But within a few days, the number of people who had contracted COVID-19 had grown exponentially. A patient with the virus was admitted to the hospital nearest to my house, next door to where I received chemo during my first round of treatment. An employee at the Waffle House near the hospital where I just had the bloodwork done tested positive this week. I couldn't help but wonder if somehow our paths had crossed, perhaps in a store or restaurant. It's certainly possible. Yesterday, officials announced that an elementary school in the neighboring county would be closed for the next two weeks because of exposure. Today, the entire system dismissed students, advising them to stay home until further notice. How many of those children might now be at risk? This isn’t just a disease casually discussed on social media anymore; it is real. And there will be consequences.

For the past four months, my friends and I have been anxiously planning our big night out for the Ovarian Cancer Gala scheduled for this weekend in Atlanta. Like school girls prepping for the prom, we have exchanged texts and pictures of our dresses, complained about not finding cute, yet comfortable shoes, and arranged for the hotel where we had planned to stay up all night. We were positively giddy over the whole thing. But last night, we learned that it has been postponed as a precaution. I get it, but I am still disappointed.

Am I afraid? No. I have arm wrestled the cancer devil twice and taught high school for 36 years. It takes a lot to scare me. But I understand that the threat is real. Sometimes YOU are the “other people” we think things will happen to; so yes, I am in self-protective mode. So far, I still have toilet paper and water, which for some odd reason I have been told to stockpile. I didn’t do that, so I hope that the stores are able to replenish their inventory soon. I have online shopping to keep my need for retail therapy in check. I went to Costco last month, so I have enough paper towels and canned tuna to get us through the worst of it. I’m not getting on a cruise ship anytime soon, although I did see one advertised last night for $10 a person per day. It was mighty tempting. I do have a few unopened bottles of hand sanitizer. I am thinking about starting an eBay business. From what I have seen, I could make quite the profit on them. Maybe that will ease the sting from what I have lost in the stock market.

I am no Chicken Little. I am pretty sure that the sky is not falling. This too shall pass. Count on it. In a few months, the media will have other topics for discussion and the talking heads will be sensationalizing something new. But for now, this is real. Err on the side of caution. Stay out of crowded places if at all possible. If you are sick, remain at home. Eat your veggies and get enough sleep. And for goodness sake, wash your hands with soap. Often. For twenty seconds. Use a little common sense. And be well, everybody.

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