Back to Stories
Coronavirus On The Doorstep: The Pandemic Reaches America’s Isolated Flyover
Patrick is my assigned Health Department person. With us now officially confined to quarters, he says he will help our family with any needs we have—groceries, questions, organizing doctor calls if needed. Patrick — such a nice reassuring name.
April 2, 2020
Coronavirus On The Doorstep: The Pandemic Reaches America’s Isolated Flyover
In a real-life potboiler, Sarah DeOpsomer pens a personal journal about Covid-19's arrival in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and waiting for her own (positive) test results
This is not a macabre depiction of the Grim Reaper but rather "Dr. Beaky of Rome" featured in a colored engraving by Paul Furst created around 1721. It portrays a "plague doctor" in France. During the Black Plague, physicians of the time wore a special outfit with a brimmed hat, long coat and raven-like bird's beak mask with the belief it would protect them from airborne illnesses. The importance of masks continues in our own time.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The spread of novel coronavirus has been described by epidemiologists as a "fluid, constantly-evolving situation." Sarah DeOpsomer, the development and executive assistant of Mountain Journal, is literally living that reality. Her ongoing personal account offers first-person insight into how Covid-19 has reached a community in Greater Yellowstone. Each day has taken on dimensions of a cliffhanger. We are running these dispatches to provide the best available information about how it is affecting her and her home region. Keep checking back to read DeOpsomer's posts as the story unfolds.
By Sarah DeOpsomer
Personal Entry One
I woke my computer from slumber in Bozeman, Montana on March 18, 2020—the morning after St. Patrick's Day— and was greeted with the screen message, “Cancel everything and grab your passport.”
It was a word bubble set against the background of a luscious photo of an island in the Maldives. Alluring turquoise sea and a traditional dhoni boat bobbed on gentle waves that lead to a white sand beach. I snorted at the irony. Don’t you know this is backwards, I chide. It’s been “Cancel everything, stay home and put your passport away.”
Italy was in the throes of a deepening outbreak with skyrocketing numbers of positive cases and deaths.
Novel coronavirus was coming, we’ve continually been told. It started on the coasts, first the left one and then the right seeming to leapfrog over us in the interior of the West—the region long referenced dismissively as America’s flyover. But even here, we are social-distancing in the time of Covid-19 and there is chatter, an assumption that in the bubble of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem formed by the remote intersection of three states—Montana, Wyoming and Idaho—it might not be anything of concern.
My husband was out in his wood shop. He was stretched across the type of couch you had in the basement during high school. Long enough for the tallest basketball player and fabric the color and texture only the 70s could produce. He was self-isolating next to the cozy wood stove he was too weak to stoke. Our son assisted in the stoking, keeping more than an arm’s length from his father. Slight fever, coughing, crummy feeling.
We learned today, worryingly, that Covid-19 has been confirmed in our circle of friends. Several days ago my husband was gleefully meeting a pal at the local brew pub. Cozy, buzzing with catch-up conversations, comparisons of a corn-snow day on the ski hill or laments about having to work, not ski.
This place, like other bars and restaurants, was closing down that night at the order of the city, which was heeding the advice of local public health officials who were following the protocols implemented in Seattle, first beachhead for Covid-19’s arrival from across the Pacific. What did the public health officials foresee that was coming?
In Bozeman, our globally-renowned science writer David Quammen was doing round after round of remote interviews with media outlets about what he knew from writing the 2012 book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. Quammen said he was growing tired of answering the question, “How scared should we be?” Instead, to try to exude calmness and trying to encourage a response to something he knew could be frightening, he said, “The question we really should be contemplating is how can we be best prepared for what’s coming?”
At the bar downtown, it was the last call for an unknown amount of time as that morning, a directive from Gallatin County strongly suggested closing gathering places. My husband and his friend ordered pints, cozied up to a tall table, a bowl of popcorn between them and, as my grandmother from a tiny village in England would say, started “jawing across the fence”—that means chatting about your day.
We had all been alerted to be careful about this virus and it’s easy transmission. Montana had four cases, only one in Gallatin Valley. Even before going out, my husband had gone over his strategy for scooping the popcorn and wondered aloud: “Would it be best if I dipped the clean bowl directly in the popcorn? Or should I pull my sleeve down and cover the scoop handle? What do you think would be best?”
I thought to myself: “Skip the popcorn! You probably shouldn’t be going anyway.” But I remained silent; pints and popcorn was a ritual; who am I to disrupt a last chance at ritual after all? My silence... it would prove to be a big mistake.
My phone buzzed, a dull groan against the large scrubbed pine dining room table. A message from my husband, out in seclusion in the wood shop. The test for Stephanie (a pseudonym) came back and she’s positive.
Me: What….seriously, for Covid-19?
Me: OMG….now what….?
"Home for 10 days," my husband says. "We cannot leave, not you, not our son." He had received these quarantine instructions from his last-rites-pints-partner. His wife was now quite ill.
My husband has called his doctor. Explained he was in close proximity to someone whose family member is now a confirmed case and he has a raised temperature and a cough. His doctor said he has a test, but he [the doctor] does not have the adequate equipment or clothing to protect himself while administering the test. We decide it is more important that our health care providers not do the test, that they stay protected and well.
We stayed home in self-quarantine.
I sat down at my computer to do some work. A happy window from McAfee pops up: “You have no viruses on your computer.” Good, I chuckled, some of us are OK.
Two hours later, I’m on the couch in the living room, under blankets. Small cough has started. Likely dust, I reckon; we live down a dirt road. Hmm, I could swear that sensation was a chill? Or was it just the interaction between the cooler living room air and the under blanket warmth?
I don’t know. Do I have a temperature? I think I do.
I pull out the thermometer. I do! Googling “Is it possible to raise one's temperature mentally—out of fear or suggestion?” Yes, it is—Tibetan nuns practice "g-tummo" meditation, a spiritual practice they believe harnesses "inner energy" and it raises their body temperatures.
But I haven’t g-tummo meditated.
I had dinner. I type in another question: "Does your body temp rise after you eat?" Google says yes. “Thermogenesis occurs when your body breaks down the food that you consume to produce brown fat.” Ah, that’s it then. I’m fine. Stop analyzing the situation ad nauseum I tell myself. Mental health is equally important and connected to all other parts of the body.
It's now the next day. Doctor calls husband back. They have testing stations now. "You can go to one of those—your orders await; give them your name." He went alone encapsulated in his vehicle and gave them what they needed via a swab. He is being tested, now we wait. He sleeps fitfully alone in his wood shop that night. I check on him through the window. Temperature 102. I do a food drop. He has an appetite: that's good.
The next day, husband is confirmed Covid-19 positive and the Gallatin County Health Department calls him, me and our son, separately. We are all interviewed by phone and questioned. About symptoms, about whereabouts, about our concerns, about our isolation from each other and our quarantine. They want to trace with whom we've had contact.
They were fantastic reassuring professional voices of reason on the other end of time and space. That’s how unreal it felt. Soothing words spanning a spiral galaxy of worry. It was us, you know, that regular Bozeman family, do-gooders in the community, wash your hands a lot people, support your local bar before it closes for months people. Oh, wait…Gallatin County accounts for half of the novel coronavirus cases in Montana and the number is growing.
The Public Health Department asked me if I would consider being tested since my husband was positive and now I have symptoms.
I would be quarantined anyway; testing, they suggested, was optional. I responded that I was fine not testing if there was a shortage of tests as was being reported in the media; I suggested they could save it for someone else in greater need.
The health official explained, however, that it would really help them to know for their tracking of how this is affecting Gallatin Valley, and, of course, the information they glean would eventually dovetail into documenting the entire pandemic. I decided to do my part for “science and community.”
I drove to the testing station alone, pulled into the make-shift carport to find straight-faced health care workers. Soon, polypropylene gowned, footed, hooded, hatted, shielded, and gloved personas surrounded the car, at least six of them.
“Crack your window Ma’am…and place your driver’s license and insurance card flat against the window.”
It was an order. I felt as though I was hearing, “Put your hands on the hood, spread your feet apart, do not resist.”
They take a harmless looking baby swab, on the end of a slender bouncy stem, and guide it to the part of your brain where your pituitary gland resides, or so it feels. It feels that way for a long, long time. Eight seconds – twice; once per nostril.
Now I know what bull riders feel like. I am experiencing the literary meaning of “...and time expanded.” Although I believe the bull riders have more fun, even at peril of being tossed to the dirt, they choose to ride and there's a promise of winning cash prizes.
After I arrive home, I wait for the results. As I ride this rank bull with so far no name attached to its identity, some feverish delirium sets in.
Patrick is my assigned Health Department person. With us now officially confined to quarters, he says he will help our family with any needs we have—groceries, questions, organizing doctor calls if needed. Patrick — such a nice reassuring name.
I think I’ll pretend he’s SpongeBob’s Patrick, the starfish, and lives under the sea. We’ll likely never meet; he’s a voice over the phone, a nice, helpful voice. It’s OK, I tell myself, as I’m entering a period of mental self-entertainment due to confinement.
Floating in the media are stories. Lots of them. Of how coronavirus “is like the normal flu.” That depiction has been corrected by epidemiologists. There are stories of how everything can be going well and take a sudden turn. There are stories of how Covid-19 is not, despite its early characterization, a virus that mostly strikes “old people.” It is affecting people of middle age and much younger.
This is where it goes folks, inward. It’s time to let the imagination fly and no one will be the wiser. I like humor, I like funny, I like a good laugh when things get intense and stressful.
The Health Dept. says I must send a body temperature reading to Patrick daily. I take a photo of my digital thermometer’s window, and imagine when I hit “send,” that this thin image of a LED reading is going on its watery, bubbly journey to Bikini Bottom.
It’s known that humor can be used as a tool to cover other emotions we may be avoiding. Laughter at inappropriate times can be a sign of covering true feelings.
Am I really scared, I ask myself?
Yes, just a little. I feel pretty good physically actually. Why so scared?
This could be Covid-19 in my body. I’m scared of “the turn.” You know, the one that can come from out of nowhere a few days in. The lungs one, where they start to burn, where you can’t breathe—that one. The one that may require intubation and a ventilator. The one that takes you aback because at first you thought with symptoms so mild this was Sunday school, and now it’s taking the MCAT [the test to get into medical school] without studying.
My cell phone rings.
“You’re positive for…. Influenza B,” I hear from a voice on the other end. I’m still tangled in bedding from my night’s restless toss and turn.
Influenza B, you say? Well now— that explains so much. It explains the milder symptoms, the no chest wheezing and the no “turn for the worst” after several days. I’m happy. Now I have an explanation; the 8-second bull ride gave me results. I share this with my husband and son.
Husband, who is ahead of me a few days with his Covid-10 positive test result, is joyous that his wood shop isolation worked and he did not infect me or our son.
I share the news with friends about the flu virus. There’s lots of “Ahhs” and “Oh, Okays!” My health worker calls me. We go over the diagnosis and she asks if I need anything. Tamiflu, other? I decline. I feel really sorta ok, I say. Relieved.
I text my temperature to Patrick through the watery, bubbly wireless connection.
"Patrick, buddy, do I still need to send you my temperature daily now they know it’s flu?” I’m wondering.
“Ah, you have flu? Oh, well, sorry but yes, I do need it still—to monitor if it goes up indicating something else," he says.
Indicating something else?
“Yeah, Covid-19," he adds. "You were exposed to it. Didn’t they didn’t test for it?”
I learn that no, they tested me for Flu A, Flu B, some kind of chest panel and then Covid-19. They stop testing at the first positive and go no further.
We order the test for novel coronavirus to be carried forward.
It's now half a day later. My doctor calls me herself. No nurse, no PA, no office assistant—the busy doctor.
“Your results are in,” she says with a serious tone. “You are positive for Covid-19.”
My jaw slackens, eyes roll around the room. You mean I have both Flu B and Covid-19?
I have a vision in black and white, like that of an I Love Lucy era comedy, where the doctor bursts into the waiting room and announces, “Congratulations, it’s twins!”
But my humoring myself gives way to the blunt reality. I have two viruses at the same time. What does it mean?
A few years back, my husband, son and I visited the southeast English village of Hastings, and the field where the famous Battle of Hastings took place. There in 1066, the Norman-French army and Anglo-Saxon English army fought, beginning the Norman Conquest of England.
This battle is taught to every child in history class in England, where I grew up, much like learning about the battles of Lexington and Concord or Gettysburg here in the States. We strided around the lumpy, sod-tufted field that slopes to meet the sea. The grass is clumpy, ankle twisting and you get a sense this was difficult terrain to fight on.
It’s what comes to mind when I think of my body fighting this battle against the viruses. And I'm really not feeling so well.
On learning I now possess two within my being, I imagine my immune system doing battle like the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. The terrain is rough; it’s going to be violent.
Does the one who wins get to come forward and present its symptoms the most? Is Flu B preventing the lung-thing from happening? If yes, then I want Flu B to win.
The federal Centers for Disease Control estimated that, by mid-March, when the spectre of novel coronavirus appeared in Bozeman and our own home, between 29,000 and 59,000 people had died from influenzas for this flu season in the US. Influenza B struck the hardest first and then Influenza A came on strong.
Can I choose if Flu B can prevail over Covid-19? I don’t even know how this works and it’s happening to me. I have no control. I know you can’t treat a virus like you can treat bacterial infections.
Where before I had enjoyed a few hours of relief, that has gone away. As the hours pass since the doctor called, I’m feeling feverish and my body is achy.
Since I started writing this, the number of cases of Covid-19 in New York City has doubled. On the coasts, far away from here, for now, where it is said they are two weeks ahead of other places, reality is different. There’s always been this notion that the trends begin there first and land here last. In those other distant US cities, as in Italy and Spain, field hospitals have been set up and mobile morgues.
Is it possible to deflect from reality by just keeping it—and the media— out of sight and mind? Gallatin County has more cases than any county in Montana and all of the 20 counties of the Greater Yellowstone region.
Okay, I know in the back of your mind you’re thinking about the popcorn. Friends getting together in a pub, sitting over a couple of micro-brews with a bowl of fluffy bar snack between them, before social distancing and the lockdown began.
Then someone coughs. You’re wondering, looking back, if that’s what set off a chain reaction?
I’ll say this: it was likely the pints-partner who had the virus; he tested positive, but short of sitting on that virus’ back and riding herd while it travels from one host into another, we’ll never know for certain.
While testing is vitally important to establish a line of contact points, there is no one to blame, I’ve learned, at the onset of a disease outbreak.
There are, after all, asymptomatic carriers.
My husband and I discussed all the possible scenarios for transmission a few days before the symptoms arrived. I had an in-person meeting with someone who had recently traveled back from Germany where the virus was already exploding.
Our son, 19, also had been in the suburbs of Seattle a day or so earlier, a hotbed of coronavirus. We ordered him to halt his spring break plans and come home. He came home and hugged us in greeting. Was he harboring a hitchhiker? And then there’s the four days both my husband and I toodled around Bozeman—which was fairly shut down at this point—feeling absolutely fine and being utterly contagious.
Not long ago, Montana Governor Steve Bullock issued an order that all travelers coming to Montana—I’m assuming it is second home owners and others retreating to a remote state—self-quarantine for two weeks until the middle of April.
Fortunately, any errands I ran I did so with social-distance. In the grocery, while getting supplies, I used the wipes at the door both entering and exiting. You see, I was protecting myself from the unseen virus “out there.” I had no idea whatsoever the virus was already a stow away in my body.
I had a hair appointment the day before my husband had his first symptom. I rang and asked my stylist if she was still working. “Oh yes,” she said, “if I don’t work, I don't get paid, I’ve got bills to pay.”
I felt I was doing good by keeping my appointment. As I entered her one-person salon, she wiped down the chair and the counter in front of it. She spent an hour and 30 minutes with me. After I left, she wiped down again, in front of the next client. Then a valued friend asked if I would join her for a walk.
I felt so good this day I even had a spring in my step; a walk would be excellent. We thought long and hard about where we could walk together, yet six feet apart. We chose MSU campus, broad sidewalks and nearly empty. We arrived separately, walked for about 45 minutes, side by side, six-feet apart. These are the only two people I came in contact with those four days. (My stylist and my walking-friend are both well. I’m so grateful.)
My husband remains in his woodshop. Do not feel sorry. This is where empty eye sockets of an elk skull, long separated from its hide laying over the couch, stare down into the center of the room.
There are toys in the man cave—power tools, electric guitars, fast computers and servers, a turntable from high school (matches the couch), clamps for gluing wood, old saddles, fishing poles, books. There is also the unswept, wood splintery, ash-spilled floor of a wife who never tells her husband to tidy up in his woodshop.
Here my husband remains slightly less feverish, headachy, the occasional splutter of a cough. He's an ectomorph— wiry and strong, an avid hiker. He can still take on Electric Peak rising above the northern tier of Yellowstone with little to no warm up, although each year it takes a touch more forethought, taking age into mind.
One morning, after it had snowed a few inches, I peer out to the woodshop from within our house. I see footprints in the spring snow leading away from his door toward the hay barn. My husband feels well enough to get up and feed our horses.
I had been doing this and now, it was the last thing I felt I could manage. An enormous sigh of relief comes over me; he’s OK, likely no lung-turn for him. We are both weak, however—shaky, achy, coughing periodically.
Quarantine is one thing, but when you are a family with two Covid-19 positives, there’s isolation too. We must remain apart. This goes on for 15 days.
We occasionally intersect in the kitchen, standing six to 10 feet apart, but in the kitchen is plentiful with soap and hot water. I’m constantly hand washing, soapy sponging down the counters, the faucet and the refrigerator door.
I heard soap dissolves the outer layer of the virus. Skins it alive, I like that. We are saving our son; he has, as of yet, no symptoms. He could be asymptomatic. He thinks he wants to take the bull ride, I tell him he doesn’t. I soapy sponge the stair bannister and do loads of kitchen towel, sleeves that have been coughed on, and regular towel laundry. I boil the sponge.
Lots of forumulas are out there pertaining to how, depending on steps taken to minimize person to person interaction, the virus can spread. A worst-case scenario, based on doing nothing, is that every infected person passes it to 2.5 others and so on and so on, which leads to doubling of cases and exponential spread.
My goal is to keep coronavirus contained within me.
When I was a child, I relished hearing my grandmother’s stories of her childhood. One that sticks in my mind now is about boiling bed sheets and hanging them out of the upstairs window of their tiny cottage in East Bergholt in Suffolk, England, in the sun to dry. Those were the days of TB and Polio and, of course, the wars.
Her sister had had Scarlet Fever. She resented the hard manual labor, but boil they must. And she really meant boil, in a pot, fire underneath, with hot soapy water. A stick was used for prodding the boiling sheets under, dunking them again and again in the scalding soapy water. Then came the mangle.
The large, outdoor stand up device you hand crank the wet wadded laundry through in an attempt to squeeze out most of the water. I imagine this and hug my washing machine and dryer.
I had a difficult night. It’s day 12. My temperature spikes, not dangerously high, but the highest yet. It's one of the top-five manifestations of Covid-19 and, for some, a preamble to the dreaded "turn." I decided to sweat it out and not take a fever reducer. My friend, a Chinese medicine practitioner, reminded me a fever means your body is fighting hard—let it!
So I lie there, sweating, clammy and do a visualization. The Norman conquest battle between two enemies is going for it tonight inside my body. I hear battle cries and the clashing of heavy and ancient weapons. I fall asleep.
I wake up in the morning cool, calm and grateful. Slight headache, but that’s been there every morning for 12 days along with a cough. The Normans win historically, but the point is someone won over someone else. I now affectionately call my immune system “Norma" in their honor.
This episode in our lives, in a country where extroverts rule, has brought us individually to a place very inward, a chance for some to have a conversation with self. My husband and I watched the evening news (in our separate rooms) and we've kept in touch with family and friends— local, out of state, out of country.
When quarantined, you tend to forget the enormous picture that this is. What’s happening out there isn’t a small sketch from inside our house, it’s closer to Picasso’s enormous mural of Guernica, just a different type of devastating war.
Patrick from the Health Department texted me, “Congratulations on, so far, doing well with a pandemic.”
I stare at the note. PANdemic.
A word uncommon to the daily vocabulary where I live and now one of the most uttered in the human lexicon.
I don’t know who the first Covid-19 positive person was, who carried it to Bozeman, but I do know the first local Covid-19 hospital patient.
It was 4:30 am a few days before my own confirmation came. I wasn’t sleeping even then, feeling distraught about my husband and friend getting sick. The friend’s wife, who had not gone to the bar because she was feeling under the weather, told us that earlier on this day her “lungs had a burning sensation. ” Yes, she was coronavirus positive. And she immediately headed to the hospital.
At Bozeman Deaconess, they gave her meds to reduce the fiery sensation along with some fluids and oxygen. She was very dehydrated. (Drink water, people).
“They almost seemed excited at the hospital (to see me),” she related in a note.
She was the first patient in Bozeman, in fact, to arrive at the hospital in need of attention. They were very prepared, helpful and soothing. She felt a little panicky and they talked her through a protocol for observation in the ICU.
After the first text message from the hospital arrived, I was relieved. I pictured her stabilized and probably headed home that evening.
But at 4:30 am, after I had gone to bed for the night, a ping from her arrived.
“I’m still in ICU. My oxygen level dipped at 1:30 pm. it was quite a production. I just want to go home now. I’m scared.”
They worried about the virus doing its thing in her lungs and she and I were both aware, from news reports, of how circumstances can change quickly.
We text again and I offer, “I bet they are working so hard for you, you being their first Covid-19 patient. I trust in them; it will be fine.”
Did I believe my own words? Yes, I did. But I felt some kind of guilt for being the one sending them—not receiving them. Why her?
None of us could take her place. We all wanted to be there for her. She had to be alone except for members of the medical team. “Trust in the staff, they’ve got this,” I said.
And they did.
You want heroes? It’s our medical professionals. This is like a circum-global response to 9/11 with the Twin Towers in smoke and fire and police rescue workers rushing there out of sense of duty. But the emergency is just beginning and it could last months.
A touch less than 24 hours later, she had been stable for a full three hours in ICU and got the green light to go home. Strict isolation in her room and rest, she was told. It brought a collective sigh from friends and family.
Yes, she took the dreaded turn a little bit. I pictured it kind of like driving too fast down a country road during inclement conditions, taking a corner on gravel and there’s a slight slip to all four tires and you want to avoid becoming a tilt-a-whirl. If you’re lucky, it might mean fishtailing to get the course straight again and you hope there’s not a patch of hidden black ice. You get a rush of adrenalin that declares, “That was way too close.”
One of the strange things about this pandemic is that for something affecting so many people, leaving them to get sick in mass, it's not a group activity shared together. It leaves so many without their loved ones present at the moment of greatest need, feeling isolated and alone.
The open-air "wet" markets of Asia, where wildlife and domestic animals are kept confined, bought, killed and washed in settings where deadly viruses stew, is a huge problem—one that is explored in David Quammen's book "Spillover" Covid-19 is believed to have emanated from a live infected bat and from that single creature is wreaking havoc for billions of people around the world. This photo of caged ducks taken by Daniel Case in the Luohu District of Shenzhen, China
PANdemic means “prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world.”
I live in one of the bigger western states, Montana. And then Idaho and Wyoming together create a very large region. Wyoming is the least populated states in the country. More than four times the number of people who live in Wyoming visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in the course of a year. Some promoters of Bozeman say it's one of America's emerging "It" cities.
Were it not for our remarkable public lands, if they didn’t exist and if they weren’t protected, my part of the world might remain a flyover, kind of forgotten or ignored, and it would mean that novel coronavirus might reach us slower.
But we all are interconnected, by nature, by transportation, by products and by media. We were racing so fast only a few weeks ago. But my thinking is changing about what I think is important.
The pandemic for many can make the world seem smaller. I look west to the coastal states of California, Oregon and Washington. And then a very expansive ocean, the Pacific, is next to contend with. And on the far side of the Pacific, you will find Asia.
All of this vast open expanse is compressed by modern air travel. Literally two flights, three at the most, can connect Wuhan, China, source of the Covid-19 outbreak, to Bozeman, Montana. How many of you, honestly, had heard of Wuhan before the pandemic?
As my head was aching, I decided to look at it, to use visual aid to comprehend this connection. I pulled up Google Maps and typed in Wuhan, China. It pops up as an abstract place that previously had little relevance for me.
Then I typed "Bozeman, Montana" into the directions box and it quickly pulled up a single blue connecting line which says, “One day, 4 hours.”
There may be a little hop flight in there, a small connector jet if you can’t make it from your international flight to Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle, but most do.
I took a class at Montana State University in the early 2000s. It was called “Infectious Diseases” and in the opening lecture the professor showed us slides of the ugly symptoms of rabies and smallpox. He also projected a slide of a large airplane, the kind that fly over the Pacific or the Atlantic and said, “Our next major pandemic is only one flight away.”
I never forgot that as in my mind, looking at that photo of a single aircraft, our entire globe condensed down to one plane coming in from location X, with passenger Y on board, with virus Z snugly traveling unknowingly with him or her. It really is that simple. And it was easy to believe "Oh, that will never happen."
I have a virus believed to be connected to a bat from Wuhan in my body. I use the bat emoji in my texts to friends now. That bat has altered the lives of billions and brought the nature-based economy of my region to its knees but it's not the bat that should be blamed. The way we interact with nature resides as the root of the cause.
I just read a story saying it is possible that another novel coronavirus could emerge on the heels of or at the same time as Covid-19. The thought of that brings another kind of chill.
Soon I will bid adieu.
These past three days there seems to be a new pattern with my symptoms. My husband agrees—his are very similar, although he is a day or two ahead of me.
A headache is ever present, and there’s a gluey back of the throat feeling. The cough is always nearby, a few splutters here and there. Come evening, a small fever arises—only a degree or a degree and a half higher before I start to bake. That innocent one degree increment makes me so incredibly hot, burning like a virtual furnace.
I lie in bed and I talk to what must be “Norma,” the virus queen. I make sure she has all she needs for her battles— a little nutrition, good hydration, and rest. The rest is not quality; it’s sleep is in fits and starts. However, I want her to get her work done. I want her to sweep every last corner in search of the “twins” and I want them obliterated once and for all. This is day 14 of my intimate introduction to Covid-19.
Today, on April 2, my phone rings. It’s the Department of Motor Vehicles, the driver’s license department, confirming my appointment tomorrow that I’d booked online about a month ago. It’s even a real person on the other end of the line. “Oh,” I say, “Oh no— you don’t want me in there!”
And, like trying something on for size, I decided to say “because I have Covid-19!” I swear I heard her fumble her phone, like she wanted to drop it, but instead she just said, “Oh no, no, we don’t want that—oh, let’s reschedule you!”
I possess the ultimate excuse, and it’s a real good excuse.
I woke up this morning headache free. No fever at all last night. If I can maintain this for 72 hours, according to Patrick, I’m out of quarantine.
When I compare this adventure to other sicknesses I’ve contended with, it has not been particularly painful. It was not one of those horrible congested conundrums, where you find yourself so stuffed up you have to rally to speak a few words and hope no one says “What, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you?”
Or there was no cough where you thought you would choke and that incessant tickle will never stop and your ribs hurt the next day.
Sure, there were symptoms— fever, a dry high-in-throat cough, headache, muscle aches, furry throat —but none too present to take over the others. They co-existed in some kind of unison of low intensity. But the most terrifying thing about hearing, “You are positive for Covid-19” is the loom of dealing with “the turn.”
I mentioned it a few times; it truly was incredibly frightening. On day two or three after on-set of symptoms, you simply do not know if you are a 98 percent or a 2 percent who will need to be intubated and put on a ventilator. You may have an idea as you know your personal health history, but there is still a wild card that can be played, the Joker.
The joker in a deck of cards, by definition, “...can be an extremely beneficial, or an extremely harmful, card.” And with a novel virus, you do not yet know which card game you are playing.
My husband and I can now shout from the rooftops “98 percent—yeah!!!!” But we don’t. We don’t in honor of the two percent, the not so lucky and the fallen, and the pain their loss leaves behind for families. Those who Covid-19 snatched away in a violent, horrible, show-no-mercy fashion. Covid-19 has caused others, without the virus itself, to not be able to receive adequate care as too many patients affected have drawn health care professionals and resources away from them in these dire circumstances.
Our son, remarkably and as part of the mystery, seems to have remained symptom free. He has not been tested, so he either never caught it or is asymptomatic. His quarantine will extend four days longer than ours— the number of days you could have it and not know it—to ensure he is not capable of spreading the virus.
I’ll miss Patrick, and I still have Norma with me. She is resting. I wish to thank my friends for their complete and attentive care. They have proven once again, that what people seek from a western mountain town’s way of life is true —a place where genuine concern and care resides, where treating others as you yourself would like to be treated exists. A type of rallying cry that comes from a community of outdoor enthusiasts that you are going to be OK, for they want you out and enjoying nature again.
A very special thank you goes to Mountain Journal’s editor for taking a chance on me to pen something worthy of print—even when my English teacher, Mr. Whittle, in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, taught us how to make Shakespearean puppets instead of diagramming sentences. I hope this brings my personal experience with Covid-19 to a close.
Goodbye, for now. The best of health, to all.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Both coronavirus graphics created by August O'Keefe. As of April 2, 2020, there were 232 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Montana, 93 in Gallatin County, and across the state five deaths. Beyond Gallatin, there are 35 in Yellowstone County, six each in Park and Madison, three in Broadwater, two in Jefferson and one in Carbon. There are 150 cases in Wyoming. As for the Greater Yellowstone counties, there are 29 in Teton, 26 in Fremont, and one each in Park, Sublette, Washakie and Sweetwater counties. Statewide, zero deaths to date (the only state with 0 in the US). In Idaho, as of April 2, there are 669 cases and nine deaths in the state. In Idaho's Greater Yellowstone counties, there are four cases in Madison and Bannock, three cases in Teton, two cases in Bonneville and Bingham and one in Fremont