Antibody Anniversary


Antibody Anniversary

This time last year Covid had a name but it wasn't a thing in the United States. Yet I magically was very ill. I had no choice but to call out of work around the 8th or 9th. I then stayed home fighting the mysterious illness through the weekend. I had a throat that tickled earlier in the week and I also a dental cleaning that Monday the 6th. I remember stopping in a local Starbucks before I showed up for the cleaning. I am not a coffee drinker so I opted for the all American Caramel Apple Cider no whip. I recall the heat an spice helping to aid with the itch in the back in my throat. However, without it during the cleaning I struggled and I kept glancing at it sitting in the corner getting cold. The following days my symptoms were worse and rather chesty. I thought I had bronchitis. Unfortunately, being in the States I didn't have medical insurance. My German coverage for travel had just lapsed. I had no choice but to self-diagnose and take care of myself. It never occurred to me that what I had could have been Covid. Weeks later when Covid officially became a public health emergency I realized I probably had it. Now a year a later I can process how I got it and why I survived without medical intervention.

First, I had a very high risk job which no one considered as such. I was a textbook handler at a local college. I was hired to work on campus but days after starting I think I didn't fit the college bookstore image. This particular university is more about appearance than education. To keep couriers, vendors  and other unsightly activity off campus most operations for the institution were conducted at an offsite in an abandoned mall. I had worked in the mall before so it was more suited than walking about the campus. While the location I was transferred to was smaller and had less activity we still handled an obscene amount of used college textbooks. Most of them turned in at such a rapid rate they included personal effects like notes, crumbs and the occasional snot rag aka used tissue. I immediately understood that my new placement was very industrial in nature - opening boxes, stacking heavy books and getting lots of paper cuts so a few days in I bought work gloves. The people I worked closely with didn't wear anything. They also pulled pages with licked fingers, wiped sweat off their brims and took lengthy breaks over the inventory. It was like a warehouse library of sorts and during downtime I was mostly alone. But when there was a large rush I was sent all sorts of outside help from the main campus that didn't understand or respect the work that we did in that space. The narrow passing through aisles to collect certain titles. The chain gangs of passing things from the bottom of the shelf to someone on a ladder at the top. Also the constant circulation and interaction with a mass body of students used book collection. It was a nasty job in a closed, dank warehouse in a ghost department store. 

Soon after Winter break began and we were working in overtime shipping those used books out to other colleges. This is when many people began to call out sick. It sort of ran through the older people on staff including a few in their 60s. Then it hit people who worked on campus in the store. Those individuals were the ones receiving the books direct from students. I was kept far from this domino effect until we at the library got larger tasks and requested more campus help. Those people would come in with ungloved hands, snorting their running noses and constantly touching themselves and the books. Our boss also had a habit of bringing in snacks and food in an environment really not conducive for eating. She was also Chinese and had family in from abroad. I remember the day I was exposed it was from someone who constantly worked with our boss in an office about the size of a coat closet. The day she came to help we both were put on an admin task letting all the other unskilled people handle receiving of the books. We each claimed our space but she was visibly sick and had been out for almost three weeks ill. She was called in as a reinforcement and unfortunately no matter how much I separated myself from her she touched everything. She was constantly wiping her nose with her hand and getting confused about what item she had or I had. So there was transfer and the next day I had symptoms but they were in combination with a toothache. I had gone to the dentist weeks before, been put on antibiotics and was awaiting a deep cleaning. It was hard to pinpoint if I had some sort of sinus infection or my tooth was just more irritated in anticipation. Then came the sore throat and probably the cleaning just exasperated it. I unfortunately returned to work and that is when the plague really rolled through our entire staff. 

Being sick in general is normally not a factor for me. I have had multiple major surgeries all in the abdomen. Since having said surgeries I am very serious about my gut health and making sure I am okay. Despite the surgeries I never got causally sick like most people. This is why I personally hate paying into health insurance because I honestly don't use it. I got the flu for the first time at age 30. I was over it with a natural regimen in a few days. I don't get headaches unless I am under a lot of stress. I am also a huge germaphobe hence getting gloves for myself when I witnessed the nasty at that particular job. However, being careful and being exposed were two different things before Covid. I was careful about myself but I was overly exposed and I had no options to cover my mouth, ventilate the space I was in or socially distance in a high volume library setting. It was inevitable to transfer illness in that job. The only way I recovered quicker than those who spent multiple weeks out was that I immediately reacted to my symptoms. I had a fever which I didn't fight. I instead stayed in bed, drank lots of fluid and took Mucinex for my congestion in the chest. I also never sleep on my back. I also isolated myself the entire time. My mother is in remission so I would never compromise her weakened immune system. I simply hid from her and stayed in my room. She placed food at my door. I ate off of paper and plastic - a very American, Black ran household thing to do. I came out of that room when my fever broke. I had been using an entire box of Kleenex twice a day. I filled like a 10 gallon trash bag of my own snot over that three to four days. I kept it all by my bedside. I then cleaned that room like a crazy person. I changed my sheets. I disinfected everything. And ultimately went back to work the next Monday. 

It wasn't until March when things were picking up in the United States that I felt I had had Covid. In speaking with my peers and friends we all felt that we went through the same cycle of illness between December 2019 and February 2020. Some of us even stopped taking precautions because we felt we had gone through it. We didn't know then about re-infection, multiple strains or exposing others. As for the job, well the campus came to a halt shortly after. Spring 2020 was a slow semester and many of us were seasonal and laid off anyways. However, by April there were deaths from Covid on that campus. The security guard I often met when walking into work passed away from it. Frankly, there isn't a physical college campus on Earth that hasn't had to change all their operations since Covid began. Also that particular college was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing that most operations and outsiders like stayed off campus away from students. It was a curse most students lived, worked and studied in physical spaces. It was very hard for the school to recover from a lack of online and virtual resources. So many universities have done away with textbook procurement and there the average student had like fifteen books every semester. That is why the college had to create an offsite library where orders for books were processed outside of bookstore like most universities do. Typically, a student just selects their own codes and gets whatever remaining books from the bookstore. That school facilitated it all and the students had no contact with inventory outside of fan gear and souvenirs. Books were seldom exchanged unless picking up or dropping back off when semesters began and ended. To this day I do not know what could have been worse for me. To work in the store front facing people or to continue working with used books once the virus was really churning. I consider myself to be extremely lucky. 

Is it confirmed that I had it? No. Do I have an antibody? Who knows. But I know it wasn't bronchitis. I know it wasn't a cold. It was something way more sinister that developed so quickly. Remember, it took out older staff for weeks at that job. Everyone recovered but we all also had a very demanding job where we felt obligated to get well and return - case in point the person who exposed me who came back while still sick.  There are so many people who get exposed and don't have symptoms and they are affecting so many people who do not have will and or resources to get well. It is important, antibodies or even vaccine aside that we still follow proven measures to stop the spread. If I could have I would have stayed home longer. If I could have I would have been protecting myself with more than gloves. If I could have I would have switched into another line of work considering the touch points and environment I was working in. There is a strong likelihood I made someone else sick and was complicit in the long term effects on campus. I wasn't doing anything remotely exposed as essential work and I got it. The consequences of that sit with me regardless of a true confirmation. Hindsight it 20/20. While it is sad so many are unemployed or worst yet under or over employed because of the fall out of Covid, I wish everyone could just sit home to ride it out. But the world turns and here we are. A year later still trying to figure out how we went wrong and what can we do to make it all end. Le Sigh.