Remember that movie “The Andromeda Strain”? Released in 1971 and based on Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel of the same name, it starred Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid and David Wayne as a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin that rides into earth on a U.S. military satellite.
The satellite lands near the town of Piedmont, New Mexico, and people start dropping dead immediately. Well, except for a 6-month old baby and a 69-year-old alcoholic. The baby survived because his blood was alkaline from crying continuously, and the alcoholic survived because his blood was acidic from drinking Sterno.
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Maybe there’s a lesson for us there. Cry your eyes out while drinking everything in sight. Yeah, I could do that, no problem. Pass the wine and Kleenex. Deadly germs begone. (Note: Do not, under any circumstances, drink Sterno.)
Anyway, the scientists are sent to a top-secret underground facility in Nevada (Code Name: Wildfire), where they undergo a full day of decontamination procedures, descending through four disinfection levels to a fifth level where the labs are located. At one point, they go through a chamber where the first layer of their skin is sheared off to avoid bringing any germs into the facility.
I wish I had one of those decontamination chambers right now. Every time I leave the house and have to go into a store, the whole situation is fraught with psychological peril.
I ran the gauntlet at Costco last week – took advantage of the “senior shopping” hours – and even though I wore a mask (scrounged up one of those white paper-ish masks in the basement), stayed apart from people as best I could, and did my best to get in, get my stuff, and get out (grocery list diagrammed for various sections of the store), I still came out of there feeling like I needed an Andromeda Strain decontamination chamber.
If this thing goes on for a while, some enterprising soul could do a brisk business installing them on cars, doors, mailboxes and healthcare facilities. But since that’s not an option right now, we’re all doing the best we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe in this new sci-fi world we’re living in.
For us, that means Tim never goes into any stores because of his compromised immune system. So I get to suit up like the Andromeda scientists. Well, as best as I can with gloves and a mask. If only I had one of those sealed protective suits.
When I come out of a store, I load everything into the back of the Subie, leave the mask and gloves on the floor of the back seat, and use one of our precious Clorox wipes on my hands. Yes, even though I wear gloves. Just in case I took them off at any point in the store. You don’t realize how many things you do automatically until you have to change your routine. And yes, we’ve investigated grocery delivery, but can’t find one who delivers to the OMP from Costco (we’re about half-way out on Bluff Road).
At home, I unload the stuff from the car, wipe everything down with another precious Clorox wipe, take whatever I can directly to the basement to sit for a few days, wipe down the car, wipe down the door and fridge handles, wash my hands 53 times, and rinse off our one prized mask with soap and water (surprisingly, it holds up pretty well, despite being paper-ish).
We’ve tried to stock up as best we can to avoid unnecessary trips to, well, anywhere. We appreciate Gov. Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order to “flatten the curve,” and we’re doing our best to adhere to it, other than the occasional drive around the OMP to get out of the house. We will stay home until the proverbial cows come home if that’s what it takes to get us through this pandemic with the least amount of lives lost.
Still, even with all of my various precautions, every tiny symptom that crops up means certain death – in my head, anyway. Headache? Covid-19. Sniffly nose? Covid-19. Dry throat? Covid-19.
I try not to live in that state of mind. It’s allergy season, after all, and when trying to figure out whether it’s pollen or plague, I’m going with pollen until I’m down for the count.
The thing is, I take all of these precautions and I don’t even have to be out in the world all that much. I think about all the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, grocery store staff, emergency workers, first responders and everyone else who’ve been deemed essential and are on the front lines of this deadly virus every day.
For those of us who aren’t caring for patients with Covid-19, it’s hard to imagine the mental exhaustion that accompanies going into battle every day suited up like the Andromeda Strain scientists (and I hope most of our healthcare workers actually DO have those sealed protective suits).
And they have the added worries of being away from their families, taking the virus home to their families, being with folks whose loved ones can’t be with them, and the strict decontamination measures they must take before encountering another human outside their place of work. I have family on those front lines, and I’ve read some of those decontamination accounts online. The emotional and physical toll is staggering to think about.
To call our healthcare workers superheroes hardly seems like enough, but that’s exactly what they are. Thank you a thousand times to everyone who’s in this situation. We see you. We see your devotion to your job and to humanity. And we are praying all of you through this to the other side.