I woke up with a dry throat and itchy eyes. I immediately assumed that COVID-19 had finally descended upon my body and my life. My eyes were alternating between dry and super moist, and a tickle in my throat meant a cough was not far behind. Got to be the virus, right?
Woe was me. Would I ever meet my future grandchildren? Would I leave my job not through blessed retirement, but by the hand of pandemic fate? Yet, there was a familiarity to this illness. Hadn’t I had this same feeling before the new coronavirus? Way before? Oops, I apologize for the false disaster narrative. Turns out, I forgot to take my allergy meds. The itchy eyes and sore throat happen twice a year, every year. But you know how it is these days. So much fake news out there.
Not long after my respiratory scare, my stomach began aching. After two days, I knew I had caught COVID this time. Is my mind foggier than usual? Isn’t that a symptom of this coronavirus? Did I get that living will onto paper? How will my now-grown kids manage without me, I fretted. (“We’ll miss you but we’ll be just fine,” I imagine them reassuring me as their eyes roll slightly. Wait! Isn’t eye-rolling a sign of the virus?) When I felt better on day three, I wondered if I now had antibodies in my system. Then I remembered that extra roughage I’d been consuming in my resolve to be healthier during this extended downtime. Oops again. So sorry for scaring you, kids.
During this pandemic it’s not difficult to overreact—can you spell “hypochondriac”— especially if you’re in the dreaded 65-years-old-and-up danger zone. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who have diabetes, a significant respiratory illness or any other condition that the coronavirus hones in on. The disease also disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities.
Of course I don’t make light of people who have been ill with the virus, or whose family members have died. It’s a real thing. I’ve not been ill with COVID-19, though, and I do not have kids or siblings who have suffered through it, at least not yet.
So I’ll guiltily admit a love for the new quietness of my life, and the spiritual nature of slowing down, experienced by those of us privileged to stay home.
Now, however, I’m gearing up to return to teaching at Northern Arizona University next month. I alerted my supervisors that I will not be entering the classroom any time soon. I can only assume that they will honor my doctor’s recommendation, though I’m still awaiting a response. My good health means I do not get a pass from the Americans with Disabilities Act, my age on the other hand, means my doctors note states I should not report to the classroom. With technology and the Internet, students can still learn even if not all of us are in the building.
On Friday, Flagstaff Unified School District announced it would begin school as online-only August 17 and continue virtual instruction through at least October. Many people are still debating the physical reopening of schools, from K-12 to colleges across the country. While I make light of my paranoia regarding my false COVID symptoms, this subject is no laughing matter. Especially as Arizona’s case numbers are so high. Perhaps administrators making these decisions could do the following as they weigh student, staff and faculty health: Please report to the classroom for several hours a day, for an entire month, before your teachers do. That way, you can honestly assure us of our safety. If you escape the school building with nobody becoming ill or sharing the coronavirus with you—that’s great. We’ll stop imagining our students and ourselves getting sick, and possibly dying.