Life in the Time of Corona
Prayer to Theotokos
Bob Ave’s short story “Sprinkler” was published in The Hurricane Review in 2013. He was born in Miami in 1969. Currently, he is a nursing home social worker. He has his own private investigations firm. Previously, he spent nearly 20 years as a protective investigator for Department of Children and Family Services. Before that he was a social studies teacher at Pine Forest High School.
Southern Oaks was a new nursing home in which I started working back in November of 2019. Before that I had been at the Life Care Center of Pensacola. I am a social worker. I had left the erratic and corrosive lifestyle of a state investigator for a more mundane, routine, sedentary job two years before. Or, so I thought.
Early April of 2020, COVID-19 was rapidly spreading across the planet. Despite our best efforts, the virus entered the building unannounced. Two of our residents had shown minor symptoms. Following CDC guidelines, we tested and they were positive. We began isolation protocols. We had already stopped visitors and outside providers from entering the building. Only staff and essential deliveries were allowed. We monitored for more symptoms. Get your masks on. Get your personal protection equipment (PPE). N95 masks were reserved for staff that were doing hands-on care with patients. As a social worker I would continue to have face-to-face contact with residents. I traded my paper mask for the last N95 left—all the way at the bottom of the box. There would be no more for a while. There was a worldwide shortage. Keep it safe. I heard people were selling used ones on eBay for hundreds of dollars. I took a yellow highlighter and made a smiley face in the front of mine.
Tuesday of the third week of April I arrived at work at 7:45AM. I entered through the front door into the lobby. Staff had to “temp in” and do a questionnaire about symptoms. I hastily completed my questionnaire and had my temp taken. 97.5. . .good.
I put my N95 on and went to the Director of Nursing’s Office, the command center of the building.
The nurse practitioner saw me first. She was in complete PPE: face shield; N95; gown; shoe covers and gloves. She waived me over to the corner. “It’s bad,” she said.
“Define ‘bad,’” I asked.
“They tested all the residents yesterday with rapid testing. We’re still getting more results back. We’re up to 87 already.”
“87? Meaning residents? We have 87 positives?!”
“Almost all asymptomatic. Some had a light spike in temp. That’s it.”
Holy shitburgers! I thought. This day now officially sucks!
“87 now. We’re not done yet. That means positive numbers will go up?”
“They will,” she said.
And up the number went: 94 total, out of a building of 180+ residents. The highest of any building in Florida. It froze at 94. The best we could do was isolate, monitor and treat symptoms (if any) until the infection resolved itself. . .before the virus had a chance to take out the staff.
“Okay,” I said adjusting my N95, “I am headed up to my office.” Passing other staff on the way, no one made eye contact. I locked the door behind me—as if that would keep the virus out. Positive patients were a few feet from my office. I looked over and noticed the empty chair of a coworker. She had abruptly left a week before without explanation. I guess watching the invisible haboob of a virus making its way toward us was too much.
I am going to die. I am going to infect my family. I will kill someone. Leave now. Don’t come back.
No. I could not leave. If administration left, staff would quit in droves. There would be no one left. Residents would die. We’re gonna hold the line! Just above my phone was my rosary hanging from a thumbtack on the wall. In Eastern (Byzantine) Catholicism, Mary is known to us (and the Orthodox) as the Theotokos. I am a former atheist-turned revert back to the Catholic Church. I did my best.
Blessed Theotokos, I pray for your intercession, for everyone in this building, protect us from this disease; pray for our vulnerable, our workers, our families. Pray that you may protect us from this horrible scourge that has descended upon us. . .
I picked up the receiver and dialed my wife. To date, that was the most difficult phone call I have ever had to make.
Okay, I just want to rewind this apocalyptic horror movie and take it back to Blockbuster. I have had enough for today, and it’s not even nine yet.
My wife, Andrea, answered, “What’s up?” she said.
“Umm. . .not good,” I answered.