Sleepless in Seattle (and Montana)
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Newsflash: Awaiting results of a Covid-19 test is maddening.
As if we needed any more stress in our lives, last week there were several sleepless nights, both in Seattle and Montana. We’ve all had our share of stress this year, but when I found out that I’d been in close contact with relatives who tested positive the level of stress became exponential. I’d potentially exposed my parents and my wife Annette to Covid-19.
Since Annette’s cancer diagnosis in February our family has been in a pretty tight state of quarantine. I’ve been inside grocery stores twice, Lowes twice, and picked up takeout food a handful of times. Always wearing a mask. Always avoiding people and being as safe as possible. Our bubble consisted only of my sister’s family and my parents. We’ve followed our instincts. In some cases, we steared clear of people we knew who were flouting the proven methods of avoiding transmission.
We’ve taken this pandemic seriously from the outset. I spent countless hours in the early stages of this catastrophe attempting to educate others through media and op-ed pieces to help bring awareness of the coming disaster I have feared since researching and writing The Raven’s Gift. I knew we weren’t prepared then, but I never imagined we would lead the world in deaths and be the poster child for disastrous pandemic responses. I feared what this would do in rural Alaska, the inner city, and on reservations across America. But did I ever for a moment think we would lead the world in deaths and infections? Did I ever imagine of the 738,063 deaths in the world, our country would account for 164,137 of those lost souls? No. No I did not.
I also didn’t think I would be the one to put my wife, kids, and parents at risk.
Here is how it happened for me. The story you’re about to read is all about complacency and selfishness. Which is why America is in this situation in the first place.
We’d relocated for part of July and August to Seattle for Annette’s cancer treatments. Her treatment required twenty highly special proton radiation treatments at the Seattle Proton Therapy Center. When she hasn’t been getting a treatment or resting from the treatments, we’ve managed to check out all the scenery in and around Puget Sound. Seattle took the early brunt of the pandemic, and has made appropriate and smart adjustments. We felt safe here. People go out of their way with kindness and social distancing and masks. (Seattle’s King County with a population of 2.53 million people had 148 new cases yesterday; whereas Alaska with 731,545 people had 69 new cases.)
I decided with my free time here in Seattle, I should go visit a relative I hadn’t spent time with in many years. When I discovered he lived only a few miles from our AirBnB I thought it would be fun for Annette and I to walk over for a masked surprise. The relative wasn’t home but a kind spouse invited us inside. We politely declined the offer, as we haven’t been inside anyone’s house in months. We chatted for a while, distanced and masked. Then went on our way. That night I met up with my relative for a streetside chat, where we planned a walk the next morning.
Spoiler alert! At this point, unless you’ve been living in a cave for 2020, you already know where this is headed.
A few days later we discovered that both the relative and spouse were infected. One slightly sick, the other asymptomatic.
To get to the point, I spent several hours in close contact with someone infected with Covid-19. I’d maintained distance and wore a mask, but there are those moments that return to haunt you in vivid detail when you get news like this. I took my mask down to sip coffee. I rode in a vehicle with someone who had the virus, both of us had masks on, and the windows open – and the ride lasted only a few minutes, but still. This is exactly the situation I’ve been working so hard for so long to avoid. And I could have avoided all of this, but I made selfish choices.
In the interim, between the time I had potentially been exposed and received the news of the exposure, I’d been in close contact with Annette (who has a compromised immune system after chemotherapy and now radiation) and then drove to Montana to visit our kids at my parents’ house. Now in normal times, I would have broken up the long drive from Seattle to Great Falls with visits to all the many friends and relatives along the way, but with a pandemic upon us, I stopped only for gas and even then never entered the gas station, and I always wore a mask and rubber gloves.
I have zero doubt in my mind that if both my relative and myself hadn’t worn masks, I would have infected, at the very least, both my wife and one of parents. If you know me, and you know my parents, and how much I love them and Annette, then you’ll have some idea of the crushing stress this exposure brought when I received the news in Montana. I became enraged at myself for being stupid. Terrified for the well-being of my family. And worried for the relatives who were infected.
I immediately called to try to get a Covid-19 test in Great Falls. When I enquired, I was told they only test someone who is symptomatic or has been contact traced by Cascade County authorities. When I asked how long results would be if I went to the testing site and lied about having symptoms so I could get a test, I was told 7-10 days or up to three weeks for results. I laughed on the phone. Imagine that silly plot line for a novel. This is all a part of our failure and why we are leading the world on discovering the cure for stupid is death. (Whoops another spoiler alert there.)
The next day I made the long and anxiety laced drive back to Seattle, where I knew I could get a test, for free, and have results within a day or so. Less than 48 hours after hearing news of my exposure, I drove up to a free testing site, got my nose tickled a little bit, and received results a day later, which were thankfully positive. I mean negative, which is positive, right?
One thing I can tell you is that aside from knowing that masks and social distancing worked for my family in this instance and up to this point, there is nothing positive about thinking that you might have put loved ones at risk. So many tough guys out there talk about how they aren’t afraid of getting this virus --- and as a former tough guy, I get that --- but the reality is that our problem in America stems from this selfish behavior and attitude. When we talk about what we fear and what we are afraid of, we are thinking only about ourselves. We’re being selfish. We’re putting our friends, our family, and our future at risk.
The exponential explosion of Covid-19 has been directly linked to family gatherings and celebrations time and time again. My situation was no different. I didn’t know this at the time I met with them, but my relatives were just back from a family gathering of their own. It’s not rocket science. If you let people come from all over to join into your bubble, you’re increasing the risk of exposure to this virus. The bigger you stretch that bubble, the more the likelihood it will burst. 5.1 million Americans have had their bubble ruptured. More Americans have died from this corona virus than all major wars since WWII.
There are those who have chosen to make this pandemic political. That the idea of wearing a mask and social distancing is somehow a red or blue thing. That is idiotic and dangerous. Lady Justice, the statue with the scales and the sword wears a mask on her eyes because justice is supposed to be blind and equal for all. Okay, so the mask is covering her eyes and not her nose and mouth, but my point is that she wears that mask for others. For others. This is like the pararescue mantra that I wrote about in Never Quit and Warrior’s Creed: “So that Others May Live.”
My mask, a very cool handmade Raven mask, crafted by the talented writer and artist Vera Starbard, protected my family and myself, even when I chose to be selfish and made poor choices. I will do everything in my power to not let that happen again, and if anything, I hope that you too will learn from my mistakes. We’re in this for the long haul and we’re in this together. Mask up. Be smart. Trust your instincts.
Be safe. And be well.