No Matter How Bad, COVID Makes It Worse

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

I.

“A motorcycle!–wait,”—it’s making a right from First Street onto a traffic lane in the village lot–behind stores and restaurants and the abandoned five-and-ten. But ignoring my warning, my husband starts backing out of a diagonal parking space and somehow hits the accelerator. “Stop, stop!” I hear a thump as he tries to get his foot on the break.

Fortunately the motorcyclist is uninjured. Sixtyish and outfitted in black with heavy protective leg gear extending up his thighs–nevermind the August heat.

Right away I put on my mask—but nobody else does.

“Put on your mask,” I screech at my husband. Sensing he is involved in a high-stakes discussion, he savagely brushes off any interference. I am trying to get them both to step back a few feet–away from each other–perhaps they think the risk outdoors is low. Finally he takes a few seconds to reach into his bag, pull out his mask, and struggle to get it on.

Anyway, the motorcycle’s muffler may have received a slight dent. There is no trace of damage to our aging Subaru SUV.

Since the damage is so minor, my husband–terrified of any complications involving the insurance company—just wants to offer the driver a small cash settlement on the spot.

The motorcyclist has already taken our insurance information; and photographed my husband’s driver’s license.

He has every reason to be angry—however his manner is calm and businesslike.

I’m the one who’s getting hysterical—because the two of them still refuse to social distance. As they blab into each other’s faces, my 81-year-old husband’s mask is loose and practically falling off his nose and mouth. Is he trying to commit suicide? I try to pull him away from the unmasked motorcyclist but he pulls away from me and attempts to extricate his arm. I shout at them both to step back. He lurches away from me and yells at me to get out of the way. We’re both supposed to be acting friendly.

“You should get rid of her,” the motorcyclist says. “She’s not a credit to you.”

My gut feeling about him is not exactly wonderful either. I suddenly envision him accepting the handshake agreement and then going on to file a claim anyway.

But really I could care less about any of this. They really don’t have any idea why I am screaming. They can’t seem to hear or understand what I am trying to tell them. I would like them to stand at least two feet apart. Now all three of us are screaming.

“Kathy, stop it. I don’t want to involve the insurance company . . . They may cancel the policy,”

“He has your insurance on his phone. He’s going to contact them.”

“That’s your projection of my dishonesty. You hit me. You injured me. You damaged me. The suggestion that I’m a thief and I’m going to take advantage of you is outrageous. I am an honorable person. I am an ethical person.

“You’re a disgusting person,” he snarls–in what I now recognize is an educated voice. “. . . We’re done. No, now it’s too late . . .”

But my husband still has his heart set on a handshake settlement.

I ask how much he wants and throw out a tentative offer: forty dollars.

“Are you kidding? Five hundred dollars!”

Oh sure. “See you in court,” I say. He seems to take my feeble and retarded attempt at humor seriously.

“Oh, that will be fun.”

“What do you mean fun? You weren’t even injured. I’m sorry we hit you. This could have been bad but it wasn’t; no one was injured. There was no damage.”

“It was still an accident,” my husband reminds me.

“You’re going to give him $500?”

“Whatever. If that’s what it takes.”

“Of course. What do you know what it costs. . . “

“He can get himself a whole new motorcycle. Then he’ll go to a doctor, file an insurance claim.”

“You. You–you’re going to end up costing yourself more money,” the motorcyclist says.

“Why do you do this to us if you’re so honest?”

“He’s not doing anything. Kathy, stop it. You wrecked everything . . .”

“Get away from him,” I howl. “You have no mask on.”

“You should do two things: Drive more carefully and get rid of this woman cause she’s nuts.”

He leaves and a couple minutes later a police officer—wearing a mask–arrives on the scene. He asks to see my ID. “Do I have to?” “Yes.” He scans it and says I can leave and I walk home.

I am still worked up all right—and my husband can’t stop criticizing me—“It was completely crazy of you to threaten to take him to court.”

Anyway, I find the motorcyclist’s name on the police report and Google it—and it turns out the victim we would have (gratuitously) made whole is a corporate megamillionare who happened to be wandering from his gated zone.

“If you’d behaved better he might have bought one of my paintings.”

II.

We had just picked up our sheets and towels (because our dryer broke down). A solitary laundromat worker tends to the customers, machines, phone, and everything else. Six months later our life is a still frightened blur of predawn expeditions. Grocery shopping at 7 a.m.–an hour before the supermarket gets crowded and chaotic–and stays that way for the rest of the day. Through my mask I smell the stale refrigerated air recirculating. The guy stocking shelves nearly bumps into me and blurts sarcastically, “What’s the matter, a grocery store is supposed to be crowded”; what in God’s name is he saying? Day in, day out the customer is always right—we don’t get squat to rebreathe this air. This whole thing has gotta be a hoax. The guy behind the meat counter sometimes doesn’t wear a mask because, he says, it’s just him and his wife in the room back there behind the counter. Getting on in years, he denies this thing but he’s afraid of this thing. Recently the store arranged for employees to get the COVID vaccine and he’s gotten his first jab; now he always has a friendly word for me—because we seniors are quietly quietly going crazy–a lot of us have no idea how to get the vaccine out here. But it’s a relief to know that at least some of the frontline workers who helped us survive last year—such as the people at the pharmacy–are now fully vaccinated. However, there are others–at the grocery store, the post office–who don’t vaccinate as “a matter of choice.”

Confused seniors try to find out where to go to get a shot. Old people existing on their own with no institutional connections, few computers, and little mobility—can be unaware of the social services available to them, and organizations that might steer them to opportunities to be vaccinated.

Our village—multiethnic and multiracial—is a purplish-blue enclave in the red state of Long Island; its yearround residents (unlike second home owners who pour in during the summertime) are largely working class. (Trump fan Lee Zeldin’s First Congressional District stretches from the tony Hamptons to the politically and culturally conservative center of the island.)

Because the dangerous and moronic previous administration failed to order anything approaching a sufficient amount of vaccine for the nation’s population, those who remain unvaccinated begrudge others who manage to get it. When I realize we won’t be getting vaccinated anytime soon and there’s not anything we can do I have a nervous breakdown but recover.

A few thousand doses of Covid vaccine pop up now and then in the East End of Suffolk County. Everyone finds out later and wonders how in God’s name to find out beforehand. Primary care doctors, hospital networks can only refer you to the NY state vaccination sites—and ask that you kindly not call again.

As it is up to the individual to track down an appointment—it’s best to start at 5 a.m., have a good computer, transportation, and nerves of steel–to beat out other seniors and new categories of people now eligible. During the period when seniors had prioritized access to the vaccine—little was available.

Governor Cuomo’s mismanagement of the early vaccine rollout–as reported by the NYT on February 1–led to at least nine high-level resignations at the state health department. Having extensively prepared for pandemic response—the NYC health department had hoped to “significantly expand the system used for childhood vaccinations, in which the city is able to order doses directly from the federal government.” Instead, at closed door meetings of hospital executives, lobbyists, and consultants, Cuomo placed the private hospitals in charge of a public health initiative in which they had no experience–making it hard for the NYC Health Department to create its own vaccination sites.

Our closest NY state inoculation center on Long Island is 60 miles to the west—it has been solidly booked for months. Political pressure to get a state site located on the North Fork may have facilitated the arrangement of a one-day popup center where 1000 people were vaccinated. But there are hundreds of thousands of people out here.

A few weeks back, I spoke to a proprietor of a small drug store chain on the East End, who said he already has 5000 applications for an expected shipment of 1000 doses—he’s not sure when it will arrive—and so for now he isn’t taking any more applications. The large pharmacy chains out here don’t have the capacity to handle large crowds.

My husband and I managed to get our first doses in March rather than much later because—on the advice of an acquaintance–I reached out to our town’s senior center (12 miles away) as well as other state-funded social services. They are the only lifeline we have. Unfortunately many people are not even aware these agencies exist.

At nine o’clock in the morning a few weeks back, Long Island Family Services—a social services agency that receives state funding–called me with some really good news. For a few hours, the local CVS (which is only 12 miles away) would be taking phone calls from seniors who wanted to get on a waiting list to set up an appointment by phone—without having to go online. I am advised those on the list will be called only once and must be prepared to get to the store. I call the number I’m given, stay on hold for an hour, am cut off, call back, but finally reach the friendly live voice of someone who takes my number and says I’ll be called if vaccine becomes available. Another dead end, I think.

But it’s a tipoff that this nearby CVS is finally getting ready to offer the vaccine—I go online at 5 a.m. and see a number of open appointments—they won’t be there for long. The small streamlined operation at the back of the store takes only about two patients at a time. Everyone is kind and professional and it exceeds expectations. But at this rate it will take forever for the population in the region to get vaccinated.

Eventually CVS calls—unaware we’ve already received our first doses in their store—and the two local senior agencies do, too—to say a few appointments have opened up.

It’s disquieting to see profit-incentivized entities turn into major vaccination hubs—many people now routinely go to drug stores to get their flu shots. Until such time as the American government catches up with the rest of the world–and creates the public health care system we so desperately need—it looks as if the large pharmacy chains will remain central to the patchwork, makeshift future of pandemic response.

Kathy Deacon can be reached at stradella3@msn.com.

[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]