I forgot to take a mask with me yesterday. That's OK, I thought. I wouldn't be around people. I just had a pickup at the hospital, a drop-off at the low-income senior housing, and a quick run into the church. I had no idea.
I did the old folks first since the van was too full of food to fit the hospital donation. The manager there gets volunteers and they unload for me. I don't have to go in the building or near anybody. And they are so grateful for the food. I might have more later, I told them, because the hospital usually has several gallons of hearty soup.
It's not all that weird driving around -- there's just not traffic. Maybe a tenth of the normal number of cars, which is fine by me. A quick easy drive to the hospital, 10 minutes to downtown from there, I'd be home by lunch time.
I pulled up to the loading dock as usual and saw that the bay I usual enter through was closed. I walked up the ramp and pushed the buttons. Hmm, nothing. This door is always unlocked because it's by the compactor, in use 24/7. I walked back down the ramp (a little tough going downhill with my bad knee but no biggie) and yelled into the one bay door that was partially open. Nothing. No one in sight. The regular man-door on this side of the building was locked a couple of days ago so that's not an option. What to do?
I called the kitchen to let them know I was there. Could someone push the cart out to the loading dock? They didn't think so and got someone else to talk to me. "No, you can't get in over there. You have to go to a main entrance. Everybody gets their temperature taken. Go to the east pavilion." I know where that is, although I'm concerned about my ability to find and walk to the kitchen from there, and how will I get the food out?
I drive around to the east pavilion and park in the passenger drop-off zone, hanging my disabled plaque just in case. I hobble in to the building, where everyone has masks on except me. I have my gloves and hair net so I feel partially prepared. The nurse at the door takes my temp without actually touching my forehead - cool! - asks me why I'm there, and doesn't know how to get to the kitchen. The volunteer at the info desk also doesn't know, except I should take the gold elevator down. This much I know. I say I'm concerned about getting the donation across the campus due to my bone and arthritis issues in my knee and feet and ask if she could call the kitchen. I wasn't thinking and had left my phone in the car. No, she's not able to call them, and she turns dismissively to answer an incoming call.
People are tense, I get it. I'll find my way. There are more people walking around than I expected, but they're trying to stay six feet apart. I can see nervousness in a lot of eyes -- more patients have died from the virus here than any other hospital in the state, and our county has by far the most cases. I wonder how many people are at home watching Outbreak and Contagion. I walk past the closed cafeteria, down the hall, and across to the gold elevators that go down to the basement.
The basement is a whole other world. More people but not so many masks. Rushing. Patients on gurneys outside X-ray and diagnostic imaging, outside testing departments I know nothing about. The billing department is closed. At least they have their priorities straight! Nobody is talking. The silence is eerie.
There are three long parallel hallways down here. I choose the north side knowing the kitchen is sort of that way. Is it by nutrition services? Nope, most of that wing is closed. After quite a long walk I see a dish cart. I follow it and find the dish room and from there, the kitchen. Good thing I have my hairnet on so I'm allowed to make my way from dish-washing to plating to hot prep then cold prep and finally the walk-ins on the receiving side. There's Umberto, who takes me to the donation cart and pulls a few things off, adds a few things on, and pushes it toward me with a nod.
Umm, Umberto? I can't push this six-foot tall cart with 300 pounds of food all the way across the hospital, up the elevator, through the east pavilion, across the lobby and out to my car, unload it, and then bring it back. I'm already struggling to walk any farther. I feel anxiety rising in my chest like I haven't felt in years. A knot in my stomach. Oh no, are my eyes tearing up? Crap.
He takes pity on me and says he'll wheel it out to the loading dock. Thank God, I think, but gosh it would have been nice if we'd started there when I was AT the loading dock. I tell him it'll take at least 10 minutes for me to get there. OK. Let's do this.
I go back the way I came. I think. All the hallways and doorways look the same, and there aren't many signs down here where visitors rarely come. I'm limping now and each step hurts, but I'll make it; I always do. Eventually I see the purple elevators. I don't remember passing them before but I want to get upstairs where there are fewer patients and more masks. It's pretty creepy down here, especially without my mask. I'm high risk. I don't belong here. This was a big mistake. People are dying in this building. Knute would kill me if I got the virus and died on him.
Up the purple elevators, realizing that I somehow passed the gold elevators, but I make my way to the haunted lobby, past the thermometer nurse, and out to my car. What a strange sensation to get outside and suddenly feel like it's safe to breathe. My previous blog post was more spot-on than I'd realized. I wan't exposed. I wasn't exposed. My new mantra, I wasn't exposed.
I sit in the driver's seat and try to pull my left leg into the car. It won't budge. I know my knee is bad. I know I should have had surgery three years ago. I know! But come on, just bend so I can go home! It takes a minute for my strong will (read stubborn hard-head) to bend and lift the knee. Back in the van I take a few deep breaths and try to calm my heart. It's under control. I don't have to limp anymore. I don't have to breathe used air anymore. It'll be OK. But I still can't quite pull myself together. Umberto is at the dock waiting for me, loads the boxes in the van, looks at me sympathetically, and asks if I'm OK. It's obvious I'm not OK, so I just tell him I doubt I'll be back until the lock-down is lifted. He understands.
Home. I need to go home. No stopping at the church, no dropping off the food. I feel like I just left the opening scene of a zombie movie. Or just escaped a life sentence. Or betrayed the promise I made to my husband to be careful, be safe. My knee and foot are throbbing, but I hardly notice over the knot in my chest. It wasn't a narrow escape. I'm fine. But man, it sure feels like a narrow escape.
I drive home reminding myself that there's a stay-home order, not just a request. I'm high risk. I'm non-essential. I'm an arrogant ass who has no business out here. I'm going home. And I'm staying there. Big dummy.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.