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Testing, Testing...

by Kay Smith-Blum


My pal Marlee is cued up at a testing site in Fort Collins, Colorado, waiting for someone to Roto-Rooter her nasal passages. Her on-again-off-again hip replacement now requires a pre-surgery coronavirus test. I’m lightening things up.

“Who could have predicted a drive-thru for nose picking?”

She issues a droll response. “Find a need and fill it.” She coughs, not a good sign. “I’m almost up. I’ll call you back.”

I’m super busy Swiffering the living room for the third time today but, in a moment of Covid-solidarity, I say, “I’ll wait while they do you.”

“Not a kind face in sight.” Marlee exhales a dread-edged laugh. “The techs look like body doubles for Jody Foster in Contact.”

“We’ll never have to wear makeup again.” I ask how many cars are in line.

“Think Field of Dreams,” she snarks. “What’s more indicative of our society? Miles of cars lined up to receive a death knell or the same for a chance to see that asshole Ty Cobb play again.”

“Welcome to the new normal.” I noodle on possible side effects of oversized swab penetration in the greater population: an abundance of enlarged, unsightly nostrils, threatening nose hairs, embarrassing mucus rivers.

Marlee sighs. “Think they’ll send me to the back of the line if I roll my window down?” Her SUV’s air conditioning is on the fritz, and it’s usually warm in Colorado this month, but testing site guidelines suggest that one should keep windows up lest the droplets from the infected breeze in to kill you.

“Think how hot Jody Foster is.”

“I’d kill for a cheeseburger.” Marlee hasn’t eaten all day, again, per testing guidelines.

“You mustn’t throw up on Jody’s PPE get-up. She might not have another.” As medical personnel scramble for hazmat gear, designer Christian Soriano posts joyful piles of bold-colored masks manufactured in his Manhattan design studios. Well, almost joyful.

“OK, I’m putting you down.” I’m transported to an imaginary vet’s table and given my final rights. Her window lowers with a soft whoosh. Snot samples are taken through the open window. A brief shuffle of papers exchanging and then: “Holy flaming poop balls of fire!”

I hope for a snappy comeback but Jody disappoints. “Now, other side.” Joy is tricky lately. I wince. Those swabs are the length of a small child’s forearm. I count to ten.

Jody issues final orders. “Go straight home. Isolate until your results are back.” A soft clunk indicates Marlee has put her car back into drive.

“Marlee?”

Nothing.

“Are you OK?”

“OMG! It hit my eyeball! They keep the sucker up there for an hour.”

“Ten seconds, at least.”

“It may have burned away my short-term memory.”

“Well, at least your state has swabs.” Washington State has the ability to run more than 22,000 daily tests but only has enough swabs to do about 4,600 tests a day. It’s a pickle. “Are you OK to drive?” It’s a 25-minute drive back to Loveland.

“My first surgical procedure since childbirth and it comes with pre-nostril torture.” Her attempt to pun on “prenatal” assures me she will live.

“First gauntlet run,” I say. “A lovely warmup for the dual iodine nasal swabs the day-of.”

Two Q-tips will be up her nostrils for forty-plus seconds prior to surgery. I dust my Baccarat elephant wondering how long a swab it would take for a trunk. Scientists are rushing to learn what other species might be infected.

The animal kingdom has housed coronaviruses for years. Scientists theorize that SAR-CoV-2 hijacked a ride on Chinese horseshoe bats before landing in intermediary animals who infected humans. An imperfect toss but, you know, in horseshoes an “almost” is as good as a win.

“Are you sure you need a new hip?”

“Can’t tap dance without one.”

* * *

Three days of mega-migraines later, having been declared Covid-free, Marlee enters Poudre (pronounced Poo-der, are you sussing out a theme?) Valley Hospital. Poudre means doing the impossible, which Marlee has done, by rising to the top of her doc’s elective surgery waitlist.

Her name scrolls across my cell. I slide her open. “May the 4th be with you.”

“The Mos Eisley Cantina lives.” Marlee Facetime-scans the waiting room and inventories the Star Wars-like occupants: two dark-lid-down motorcycle-helmeted characters; a mother and daughter with “had-to-happen” matching Plexi-shields held by neon-pink trimmed visors; a sequin-embedded sari-wrapped trio of women emitting likely-deadly rays and a Stetson-topped, bandana-clad cowboy with on-theme manure on his jeans.

“A walk-on part with George Lucas directing. A lifetime ambition met.” I draw a checkmark in mid-air.

“I thought Kathleen what’s-her-name was in charge of those movies now.”

“Picky, picky.” I say.

“Please, no talk of pickers. It brings back my PTTD.”

It takes me a minute. “Test,” not “Stress.” “Do you think we should buy stock in those drive-thrus?”

“My new Jody approaches. Gotta go.”

* * *

Seven hours later, I toast her via Facetime. “To the next Ann Miller.” Check out the ‘40s dancer on YouTube. You’ve got the time.

“Doc said I can tap dance up walls.”

Referencing vintage Fred Astaire? Long-term memory, check. Short-term remains to be seen.

“You know they built four sets with the walls, ceiling and floor each on the ground for the film?”

“With Fentanyl, you don’t need special sets.”

I sense her newfound appreciation for the opioid crisis. “Best part of dislocating my shoulder last summer.”

“Stop trying to take my spotlight. My bionic hip can leap tall buildings.”

“Just don’t try to hurdle your She-Shed in a single bound.”

“Killjoy.” She drifts.

Her husband takes her cell and sneezes. It has to be allergies, right?

“Hey, Bill. Are you still praying and all that?” Marlee gave up church for Lent in 1981.

“Yeah.” Too many blessed routes for those droplets.

“Well, keep your ‘amens’ at home for a while, OK?” I hang up.

A news flash skitters across my cell. The Archbishop of Denver is announcing the resumption of limited mass, calling upon the Holy Spirit to give Catholics the gifts and grace necessary to meet the challenge.

I worry the virus has found religion.


Copyright © 2020 by Kay Smith-Blum

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