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May 1, 2021:

She came late in my shift on Monday. A tiny, wrinkled, bird-boned woman, crooked and bent, dragging a small wheeled suitcase. She showed me a paper with the note, “Medical Records.”

The journey to Medical Records in my hospital is long and tortured. I said I’d guide her.

“I KNOW where it is—it’s right HERE.” She pointed to the nearest elevator.

“I’m afraid not,” I said. “How long has it been since the procedure—the one you need records for?”

“Two weeks.”

“And you were told they’d be at Medical Records?”

“Yes. And Medical Records is right up HERE.”

“Trust me—I’ve led a lot of people to Medical Records. It’s kind of far, and very confusing.” I added, “There are people I took there last week who are still wandering around, looking for the exit.”

She was not amused. “Hrumph. Take this.” She pushed the handle of her wheeled suitcase at me.

We set off to a more distant elevator bank. I was surprised at her spry pace, considering her age.

“I KNOW Medical Records is not this way,” she insisted. We rode the elevator to the second floor, then stepped out to follow a long, meandering hallway. She mumbled, “How do they expect anybody to find this on their own?”

Eventually, we reached a cul-de-sac with several closed doors, and a little elevator hidden in a side wall. I pushed the button. “That first elevator put us on the second floor. Now we’re on the lobby floor,” I pointed to the L next to the door, “with no change in elevation, right? This elevator—” I motioned her inside—“takes us to the second floor. Again.” I bowed. “Magic.”

She was not amused.

“This is the lobby of the old hospital building,” I explained. “The new wing, where we were, was built on lower ground.”

The elevator door opened; I deposited her at a plexiglass window labeled “Medical Records,” and handed her the wheeled suitcase. “To get back, press the button for ‘Lobby.’ Then just follow the long hall back the way we came.”

“NO!” she demanded. “You stay right here—You can’t expect me to get back by myself.”

I let the elevator go and joined her.

She knocked on the plexiglass window, pulled down her mask, shouted, “I NEED MY RECORDS.”

The woman in the office pointed to a clipboard on our side of the window. “Fill out that form, please,” she said.

My companion did so, and held it up to the plexiglass.

“You need to sign it, and put your date of birth,” the woman said.

My companion frowned at her. “I’m NOT IN THE RIGHT PLACE.”

“When was your procedure?” the woman asked through the window.

“TWO WEEKS AGO.”

“You’re in the right place.”

“HRUMPH.” She signed, jotted a date, again held the paper to the window.

The woman inside did a double take. “That’s your date of birth? 1963?”

“THAT’S IT,” my companion said.

She was nearly twenty years younger than I.

I deposited the completed request form into a box that was too high for my companion to reach. “Now, WHERE ARE MY RECORDS?“ she asked.

“We’ll mail them to you. Five business days.”

“NO!! DON’T MAIL THEM. I DON’T TRUST THE MAIL.”

The woman explained that it took time to find and copy the records.

“I WANT THEM NOW.” My companion gave me a withering look. “I TOLD you this wasn’t the right place.”

I asked the clerk if my companion could pick them up in person when they were ready.

“Certainly, she can do that.”

My companion hrumphed. “CALL ME WHEN THEY’RE READY.”

“We don’t call you—you call us. Next week, call and make sure they’re completed.” The woman jotted a number on a slip of paper.

“I DON’T HAVE YOUR NUMBER.”

The woman sighed. “I just wrote it down for you.” She pushed the paper through the space below the window.

I grabbed the wheeled suitcase and we took the little elevator down to “lobby.”

She halted and pulled a flip-phone from her skirt pocket. “The car company said they’d wait for me. I bet they didn’t.” She jabbed a number, and immediately lambasted someone on the other end: “My driver SAID he’d WAIT; is he there? He BETTER be.” She snapped the phone shut—I swear it hrumphed—and walked on.

“You really do have to pull your mask up onto your face,” I reminded her.

She stopped and gave me a knowing look. “These masks are KILLING us.”

I told her Covid was killing us, not the masks.

Hrumph!

“No, really,” I said. “I had it. Bad; I thought I’d die.”

“You SAY you had Covid.” She shook her head. “You had a bad immune system.”

“My immune system is fine.”

“Oh? You checked your Vitamin C, D, Iron, Potassium—“

“My doctor keeps close tabs. My immune system is not a problem. Look, you really don’t want Covid. Do you plan to get vaccinated?”

She folded her arms in front of her crooked, bird-boned chest. “I pray to God every day. He protects me.”

“You’ve heard that joke?” I said. “Guy gets sick, he says to God, ‘God, I’m so sick–you said you’d protect me from this!’ And God says, ‘I tried. Why wouldn’t you take my vaccine I made for you?’”

She was not amused.

When we reached the entrance, she pulled up her mask, but not over her nose. “You took me to the wrong place. Let me go where I had the test; they’ll give me those records now and I won’t have to come back.”

“The Medical Records clerk said you were in the right place. She would know.”

She hrumphed once more, and stalked off with her wheeled suitcase to find her driver.

He BETTER be there, I thought.

April 23, 2021:

I didn’t know the number, but the caller ID said Hoagland, Indiana, where I have family, so I picked up the phone.

“Hello?” An older woman’s voice. “I’m calling from Consolidated Research—“

“No, thanks,” I said.

“Agh!! Please don’t hang up!” the voice rough, New Yawk-tinged, panicked. “It’s just a survey. I gotta get somebody to answer or they’ll close me down! Please! It’s quick, I promise. You may not even have to answer; it’ll kick you off if it doesn’t like your zip code.”

“A survey. On behalf of whom?” I demanded.

“I don’t know. I just read ‘em. You ask me, this is the stupidest survey I ever gave. Questions about Coney Island. You know Coney Island?”

I sighed. “Okay.” I sat down, phone cradled to my ear. “Ask me.”

What was my zip code? “Oh, that’s great—you qualify.” Did I work in…a long list of employment categories?

“None of the above,” I said.

Did I have kids under 18 living with me?

“God forbid.”

“Do you speak Spanish in the home?”

“If I did, nobody’d understand me. My Spanish sucks.”

“So…did you grow up speaking Spanish? Are you Hispanic? Or are you Caucasian?”

“Caucasian.”

“Ah. Okay.” Did I have a driver’s license? “Great—it would kick you off if you didn’t.” A car?? “Great! So can I ask you the survey questions?”

“Go for it.”

“‘Do you ever go to Coney Island?’”

“Sure–I live in Brooklyn; it’s close. But I don’t go to the amusement park.”

“It doesn’t ask me that—like I said, it’s really a stupid survey.” A pause. “Oh gawd. My computer—Agh, I clicked something—Please, don’t hang up. You still there?”

“Yep. I’m here.”

“You have no idea how hard this job is—nobody wants to talk to me. So…Coney Island is close to Brooklyn?”

“It’s in Brooklyn.”

“In the city? I didn’t know that. I was a kid, I grew up down in Wantagh. Never much got off Long Island till we moved away. I never been to Coney Island. Never, that whole time.” Pause. “Okay! Whew! My computer’s back. So. ‘How do you go to Coney Island? By car, by bus—‘“

“Subway. It’s faster than driving.”

“Subway. Okay. Now. You ever heard of ‘New York Surrey Service?’”

“No.”

“Have you seen ads about ‘It’s safer to drive alone’?”

“No.”

“How about…um… ‘Ride Share.’”

“Don’t know it.”

She read a long list of transportation options; the only one I recognized was MTA’s Select Bus Service.

“Okay. So…the subway. ‘Do you have fears about using the subway?’”

“I did at the beginning of Covid. But now that I’m vaccinated, I use it a lot.”

“You been vaccinated?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Have you?”

“I’m in Florida—it’s not so easy, you know? My mom just got hers—Johnson and Johnson. I’ve heard some bad things; I’m thinking maybe I might not get it.”

I explained about the rare blood condition found in the J&J case, and about how it mostly seemed to affect women between 18 and 48. “I assume your mom’s probably okay.”

“Ah. That’s good to hear. What kind did you get?”

“Pfizer.”

“That’s two shots, right? Was it bad?”

“I had some side effects,” I said. “They were worse than a lot of people’s, but that’s because I had the disease.”

“What disease?”

“Covid.”

“Wow. You had it?”

“Yeah, a year ago.”

“Oh, wow! How’d you get it?”

“We got it on a plane back from California. It was when everything was closing down, and this guy who sat behind my husband on the plane was coughing all night.”

“So that was what, back in March? Geez. I bet the guy gave it to the whole plane. Was it bad?”

I gave her the quick sketch: three weeks fighting for breath, the ground-rocks cough, aching joints, exhaustion, rolling bouts of chills, nausea, dizziness, and one baffling day with no sense of smell.

She tsked. “Well, God bless—you managed to survive.” Survoive. “Your husband had it too?”

“Yeah. We both pretty much lost the month of April 2020.”

“Well, thank God you survoived. Friend of mine and his son, they come down from North Carolina two weeks ago? We went out on a boat together. They had the test, you know? right before they came down, and everything was fine, right? They go back, and the guy,” she lowered her voice, “He. Has. Covid. He’s sick now. His son didn’t get it, and he was sitting right next to me on the boat.” She paused. “So I think I’m okay, but I’m thinking maybe I should get the test?”

“Oh, I’d get tested. You can pass the virus around if you do have it—even if you don’t have symptoms.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’d definitely get the test, if I were you.”

“Huh. Maybe I should. What do you do—you retired up there in Brooklyn?”

“Somewhat. I’m an editor. I work part-time, mostly with freelance writers.”

“Oooh—that sounds like fun. I’d love to do that.”

“Yeah, I enjoy it. Are there any other survey questions? Anything else?”

“Naw. Except there’s… ‘How much money your household makes a year.’ You don’t have to answer, but it goes, ‘0 to $5000—’”

“I’ll pass. But before you sign off, why does the phone ID come up ‘Hoagland, Indiana’?”

“Beats me. Maybe that’s where the guy wrote the survey lives? They have all kinds of numbers depending on what the survey is. They don’t tell us why. We just read.”

She thanked me—heartily, many times—for taking the survey, for not hanging up, for qualifying to answer the questions. For not getting kicked off. “This was fun,” she said. “You’re the only one I had today who stayed for the questions.”

I laughed. “I enjoyed talking with you.”

“God bless you–you have a good day!”

I hung up, wondering if this call was recorded for quality assurance.

April 16, 2021:

I posted that I had finished my Covid vaccination on a Twitter Vaccination Facts site the other day. A fellow tweeter congratulated me: “Enjoy your microchip! Bill Gates is thrilled to have you!!”

I was confused. Why would Bill Gates want me? I’m 73, lame, cranky, and much too opinionated.

And why a microchip?

I Googled “microchip,” and found an FAQ about pet microchips. There it was in black and white: “The procedure…is similar to administering a vaccine.”

Oh, dear.

What is the purpose of my microchip?

The site told me: “They are radio-frequency identification (RFID) implants that provide permanent ID…that cannot fall off, be removed or become impossible to read.”

Microchipping a pet costs about $45, the site added.

Chips are not, the site warned, tracking devices like a GPS. Unlike my iPhone, my microchip will not tell people where I am.

This was a little disappointing. What if I go for a walk and leave my iPhone at home? If I get abducted, my microchip will not tell anybody where I am. But people will know who I am if some savvy investigator thinks to run a chip-scanner over my cold dead body.

Or…will they know? The site says they’ll only find my microchip ID number, not my owner’s name and address, unless I register for a National Pet Recovery Database.

Bill Gates, being my owner now, must run a National People Recovery Database. I found it rather touching, that he would spend $45 to identify my cold dead body, busy as he is. Should I be afraid of that?

I returned to Twitter for the answer. On #BillGatesMicrochip, one tweeter tweeted to Bill himself: “You can cut me off from buying and selling, but you can NOT ever make me go against my LORD Jesus.”

My microchip will keep me out of church? Make me disobey my husband? Make me think that old white guys in the state and national legislatures are not the bosses of me and my body? Make me curse and swear and drink wine and beer and even rum and refuse to buy my yarn at Hobby Lobby?

Oh, dear!

Bill is doing that to me with a microchip that will identify my cold dead body?

For further clarification, I switched to Instagram.

There, a man wrote: “hows does b.gates, patented the ‘VIRUS’,..look it up.” This intriguing declaration was followed by an argument about how my vaccine is not a vaccine, but “a experimental shot (syringe emoji),” and how another Instagrammer who challenged this idea “did absolutely no research on this shot. You just mad becuz you got chipped and probably believe you cant get covid now.”

The discussion frayed into mask issues. One man said: “haven’t worn a mask since this started in New York and this was the worst hit city supposedly in the world besides wuhan. I’m fine I only got sick for a week and it wasn’t crazy. My immune system did that for me. If it did that what do I need the vaccine for.”

I’m pretty sure I met this guy on the subway. I was suffering from Covid brainfog at the time, so I probably forgot to thank him for enriching my immune system.

Somebody else wrote, “You know when Bill involved it’s all about population control.”

Which brought me back to Gates’ microchip. It’s…free birth control?

No, someone else wrote. Mind control.

Aha. That explains why, after I shopped for plant pots on line, I was flooded with un-asked-for ads about plant pots. And how, just now, right after I paid my ATT bill, I got a call on my phone from an electronic voice saying ATT had cancelled my phone (Press “1” to reply).

Bill. You bastard.

I paged farther down the discussion. A “Mystic and Yogi” referred me to a site—the Hal Turner Radio Show—where a man informed me, with a omniscient nod of his bald head, that he’s a scientist who studied thousands of positive samples of Covid and determined they were all “influenza A or B.” There is no Covid. He was very sure of himself.

I Googled his name and found another, hairier, scientist on YouTube who said the bald man’s scientific methods were faulty. The hairy scientist said the bald scientist was very likely lying.

My head hurt from all the deep thinking I was forced to do.

Or…maybe it was the microchip.

I went back to Instagram, to the “Mystic and Yogi” who referred me to the Hal Turner Radio show and the bald man. They had written: “This pandemic is a fraud and fake. Materialism rules over spirituality.”

Then they added something that astonished me because it so perfectly illuminated the whole argument:

“Anyone who takes this vaccine will die. Some quickly, others in time.”

Oh. Dear…

April 9, 2021:

My driver’s license had to be renewed in October, so I did it from home because the DMV was closed for Covid. It was on-line, except for my eye test; I paid a pharmacist ten dollars to watch me read a chart on his wall.

The next month, our DMV announced limited openings. I wanted to upgrade to an “enhanced” license—which you must do in person—so I could travel in the US without a passport. I took the next available appointment, two months away.

I read the DMV checklist. Proof of residence: I gathered bills and statements–check. My present license; my passport: check. Proof of my social security number—

I couldn’t find my SSN card in my paper files. But the checklist said a tax form 1040 would work, so I blocked out the financial information and copied the top, with my name, address, and SSN.

I downloaded and completed my DMV forms. Check!

Two months later, I stood before a DMV clerk with my folder of forms, IDs, and proofs. All went swimmingly until she saw the copy of my 1040. “What’s this?”

“Proof of my social security number.”

“It’s blocked out.”

“The number is there,” I pointed. “With my address and full name.”

 “It has to be the original,” she said.

“Seriously? I should give the DMV my full financial information for a license?”

“That, or your social security card.”

“I couldn’t find my card. I have my passport—it lets me travel all over the world. And a license you guys gave me. All of which, at some stage, probably involved my SSN—“

“Then use your passport to travel.”

I left without my Enhanced license.

The next day, I tried to get a copy of my social security card. On line; the SS office was closed for Covid.

The site had me download my license and passport photos, then take a current picture with my computer for an electronic match. My passport is six years old; my license photo, older still. The facial recognition software didn’t feel I’d aged gracefully, so I flunked.

A further complication: my SSN was issued in my birth name, Kramer. O’Neill is my married name. I sometimes regret taking Paul’s name because so many computers hate the apostrophe. And now…this.

I returned to my files to search for my ancient SSN card. Et voilà—it was stuck to the bottom of the drawer. I made a new DMV appointment—two months away—and assembled IDs and proofs. I added my original Wedding Certificate to show that the name on my SSN, though now different, was still mine.

My Wedding Certificate folds out from a white padded satin cover, and contains my wedding date, signatures of two witnesses and a priest, my birth name, Paul’s name, a declaration that its information comes from my city clerk’s records, and the impressive gold seal of the Catholic Church.

Two months later, I stood before another DMV clerk. All went swimmingly until she questioned my residence. I showed her an insurance letter, a VA medical bill, and a statement from Verizon about my WiFi service.

“You need a utility bill.”

“I pay utility bills on line.”

She frowned, and handed me a form to swear I live in Brooklyn.

Then she saw my Wedding Certificate. “This isn’t a Marriage Certificate. This seal is from the Catholic Church, not the city clerk.”

“See this?” I pointed. “‘…authorized by a license issued by the clerk of the circuit court of Allen County and State of Indiana, dated the 11th day of August, 1970.’ It’s 50 years old, original, and it backs this up—“ I pointed to my social security card—“so you can see that my birth name ‘Kramer’ is now ‘O’Neill.’” I pointed to the name ‘Kramer’ on the Wedding Certificate, then the card—“so it belongs to me in spite of my marriage. I have no Marriage Certificate; this is all I got when I got married. Besides my husband.”

“We only accept a city clerk’s seal, not a church seal.” She asked, not unkindly, “Why do you want the enhanced driver’s license? You have a passport; you can travel anywhere.”

I left without my Enhanced license.

On line, I ordered a Marriage Certificate from the city clerk of Fort Wayne.

I also emailed the “complaints” address on the DMV website. I asked, “Is this upgrade supposed to show I am who I am and I live where I live? Or is it really an exercise to see if I can obey the exact letter of some law that could accomplish the same thing everything I brought does, BUT only with material I, at 73, can’t easily access in the modern world?”

The state DMV sent me a number. I called and explained my complaint to three semi-sympathetic voices. At last, a fourth voice—the three earlier voices’ supervisor—scolded me. “THE. STATE. OF. NEW. YORK. DOES. NOT. ACCEPT. CHURCH. CERTIFICATION!”

My Marriage Certificate came three weeks later—a smeary copy of a microfiche copy of the 50-year-old original. The print was tiny; the names unreadable. On back it bore an unimpressive impressed seal from the city clerk’s office. I secured a DMV appointment two months off, gathered new proofs of residency, including a copy of our gas bill (slightly truncated; the bill was not meant to print), paper-clipped my SSN card to the Marriage Certificate, downloaded and completed the forms.

Last week, I stood before another DMV clerk. She okayed my residency, then pulled out the Marriage Certificate. “And you brought this…why?”

“My social security card is in my birth name.”

She squinted. “It looks like one of those old-timey records.”

I laughed. “Have you ever heard of microfiche?”

“I think I heard the term in my college library.” She turned the paper over and tapped the faint raised seal. “This is really the only thing that we look at.”

“So I hear.”

I left with a paper that says “Interim License, Enhanced,” which represents the license, which will come in the mail.

On it—unlike on my present license and passport—the name “O’Neill” has no apostrophe.

I wonder if I should be concerned.

March 31, 2021:

I got three copies of my apartment key today.

When Paul and I bought this apartment 13 years ago, we were given four ordinary-looking keys and this little plastic card. It said “Medeco” on it–the name of the company that had manufactured the keys. I was told to keep the card in a safe place; our keys were “secure” Medeco keys, and we could not copy them without it. So I climbed on a stool and put it on a high shelf in the utility closet.

I gave one key to our daughter Kym, who lives nearby. Paul and I each have one. The fourth became our guest key.

For three years, we never needed to use the little plastic Medeco card. Then our younger son and his wife came to visit, and he lost the guest key.

Now I needed a new guest key. So I climbed on a stool to retrieve the little plastic Medeco card from the high shelf in our utility closet.

It wasn’t there.

Had I mis-remembered where I’d put it? Had I hidden it somewhere else? Somewhere more secure? Somewhere so secure that even I would never find it?

I tore the apartment apart, pulled out drawers full of beads. Drawers full of paper clips, staplers, and rulers. Even the dreaded kitchen junk drawer, where I pawed through loose batteries, screw drivers, twist-ties, rubber bands—so many rubber bands—and rusty padlocks.

Nothing.

I asked Paul if he’d seen it. “What’s it look like?”

“It’s a little plastic card that says ‘Medeco.’”

“I don’t even know what that is,” he said.

Perhaps we didn’t really need it.

I went to our local Ace Hardware. The man shrugged. “I can’t copy this without a Medeco card.”

I checked a hardware-and-locksmith shop two streets away. It was a tiny, dusty storefront hung with rolls of wire and tape, shelves full of wrenches and pipe fittings. A slight, stooped ghost in grizzled beard, yarmulke, and wispy grey payos, sat behind a counter covered with papers, old coffee cups, an ancient cash register, and a dented bowl where female customers could place their money and get their change, so he wouldn’t accidentally touch a woman who was not his wife.

The old man would not look at me. “Pfft. Medeco. You got a card?”

And so it went, intermittently, for ten long years. If I passed a hardware store, I checked. Always no; always the card. I handed the key to locksmiths in Manhattan, without comment. “Medeco?” they inevitably asked. I checked on line, but I needed the little plastic Medeco card’s number for an order. I even tried to copy it at a “Copy Any Key!” kiosk in a Walgreens. It spat my “secure” Medeco key on the floor.

***

Last week, my husband’s wallet slipped out onto our sofa cushion. Some of its contents dropped into that side crease that is the sofa-equivalent of a dryer’s sock Purgatory.

He dug into the crease. Two expired museum cards and— “What’s this for?” He handed me our little plastic Medeco card. He had no idea how, when, or why he had acquired it.

I took it immediately it to Ace Hardware.

The man said they copied Medeco keys, but–he was sorry–not “secure” Medeco keys. No, not even with my little plastic Medeco card. He recommended that I go to that hardware-and-locksmith shop two streets away.

So today, that’s where I went. It had been ten years; the old man was gone, but the place was still tiny and dusty. The shelves sagged under gallon jugs of roach killer, bedbug spray, rat poison, and ant bait.

A skeletal middle-aged man blinked at me from behind a plastic sheet hung over a plank frame. He was gray–his shirt, his pants, and his face. He wore no yarmulke, nor a mask. The counter before him held the ancient cash register, papers, a coffee cup, plus a credit card machine, and an unopened bag of cheery yellow candy peeps.

I gave him my little plastic Medeco card and my key. He ignored the card and ground three keys for me.

I tapped the card. “Don’t you need this?”

“Pfft.” His voice was as thin as he was. “Four percent charge for credit.” I sighed and gave him my Visa card; he slotted it into his machine.

He dropped the keys on my little plastic Medeco card and whispered that I should sign the receipt. As I did, he ripped open the bag of peeps and stuffed one into his mouth.

At home, I told Paul I’d copied our key.

“What, maybe ten bucks?” he asked.

“Sixty-seven dollars for three.”

“You mean the electronic key for downstairs.”

“No, our apartment door.”

“What?? They’re just keys.”

“They’re ‘secure’ Medeco keys.”

“WHAT??? That’s ridiculous. Why didn’t you just go someplace reasonable, like Ace Hardware?”

Pfft.

March 23, 2021:

Today I received an email from Microsoft telling me that I had to update my mailbox. It instructed me to click Update Mailbox.

I clicked Update Mailbox, and opened a page where I had to give my email address and my password.

I quickly closed the page and went back to re-examine the email. It told me I had exactly one day to act: “Notice: Ignoring this message would lead to the termination of your Mailbox without permission.” The email looked quite official, from its Sent address ending in msn.com to its microscopic signoff: “Thank you for using Microsoft 2021.”

So I googled “Microsoft mailbox closing” and I found a site that said its purpose was to Answer all Microsoft-related questions. It looked quite official, from the genuine Microsoft logo to the chat feature at the bottom.

I clicked open the chat feature and told it my problem: was this email I had received from Microsoft real, or was it a quite official-looking phishing scam?

If I ignore it, will I indeed have no email box tomorrow?

I need my email box. Time is short. Please, help me.

The Chat bot listened carefully, then instructed me to click Continue, where I could fill out a form with my name and email address, and for a one-dollar (fully refundable) fee, I would gain access to the Answer service. There, a real support person would analyze what I asked and tell me if the Microsoft email was authentic.

I clicked Continue, and opened a page where I had to give my name and email, and add my Visa number, expiration date, code, and address to launch my (fully refundable) one-dollar Answer service.

I stared at the page and I felt myself sweat.

I closed down my computer and curled up on my couch and, for the first time in more than 70 years, I found myself sucking my thumb.

March 16, 2021:

Every Monday I work a shift as a volunteer screener at a local hospital.

I put on a uniform, an N95 mask, and a pair of safety goggles. I take my place behind a movable barrier and zap visitors with an instant thermometer that, when held near-but-not-touching one’s forehead, reads one’s body temperature.

A year ago, when I suffered three hacking, nauseating, exhausting weeks of Covid19, I never really had a fever. Still, when I began this gig, I thought temperature-screening made sense: fever could be a symptom of Covid, right? I might catch somebody with a fever, and save the lives of people who might otherwise interact with them.

I’ve been doing this for several months now. I’ve never gotten a temperature above 98.2—the norm being 98.6. Usually, if I get a reasonable human body temperature, it hovers around 97.

If I get a reasonable human body temperature. Which might happen once in five to ten attempts.

In actual fact, according to our thermometers, the average visitor to our hospital is officially Walking Dead. So I often lie about my findings.

Still, I make the effort to measure, maybe because I used to be an RN. Or maybe because I grew up Catholic.

I work with two to four paid staff members; they become annoyed with me because I take too long. Most of them just wave the thermometer in the direction of the visitor, and then they lie. Same result; less effort.  

Yesterday I worked with a new young paid staff member who was supposed to jot down the temperatures I told her on those papers we give visitors to show they’ve been screened. No matter what I told her, true or false, she wrote “96.5,” which seemed to confuse some of the visitors who heard me announce their readings. In her defense, the new young paid staff member probably didn’t hear me through the earbuds plugged to her phone.

You might say the problem is the thermometer. That’s true. But since I started this gig, I’ve become interested in the efforts of screeners in other places. When they try three or four times with a hand-held thermometer, then write something down, I tell them I do the same thing, and it’s never right.

They always smile and nod.

There is more advanced technology out there. Two nights ago, we went to a restaurant where we had to face a smartphone on a flexible arm. It couldn’t get a reasonable human body temperature on either of us.

Last month, when we went to the VA for our vaccines, we were directed to a free-standing electronic pillar where you line up your face just so, and it clicks and spits out a ticket with the reading. Both of our readouts were Walking Dead.

I suppose this temperature-taking is a way to avoid getting sued for negligence. We tried, it says.

These days, at my volunteer hospital assignment, I spend as much of my shift as possible guiding people who don’t know where they’re supposed to go. It’s good exercise for me, and actually seems helpful.

It makes the paid staff happier, too, because the screening goes much more smoothly.

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    1. Can’t say the job is exactly inspiring, but I do like the guiding factor. Hope you’re well and happy in the middle of all this craziness?

  1. This comment will address being a volunteer in a medical situation: mine. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 2005, I saw an ad for volunteers for THE Red Cross. I live in Denver, Colorado. I could not get through to them via telephone, so I just drove to the building, some 8 miles away. Upon meeting with a clerk, I told her that I was an RN and had skills that might benefit this mission. After some discussion,, I learned that there would be a Red Cross center closer to my home that would be in need. After a few days, I reported to the designated spot. I am going to preface the rest of the story with this: this is THE last time I will volunteer with any organization that thinks they know what is what and how to do IT!! Sparing the details to those who were there, let me say this. Situations like this fail to see the big picture. They are concentrating on just the “trees.” I had advanced RN skills-those of a Nurse Practitioner. No matter, a person with a clip board knew way more than I did, (or so SHE thought) and I was doubted no matter the pronouncement I had made in favor of the clipboard. When I could identify that this organization was faulty, I just said, “I quit.” I didn’t return.

    1. Oooo–I have SO many issues with Red Cross! My first encounter was helping at a blood drive in Boston, where I was made to feel I was a complete second-class citizen because I wasn’t a member of the organization–just a measly volunteer. My second encounter was during Hurricane Sandy, when I wandered up to the tent after cleaning debris from the boardwalk at Coney Island to offer my services, and was told I’d have to take a course in volunteering from them, and they didn’t have time. There’s an even better story, though, of friends who were IT folks, and got turned away from a post-Katrina tent set up to help people use a computer bank to locate family, friends, and lost pets. They went home, downloaded official-looking logos and tags and made their own Volunteer IDs. Came back, and were incredibly helpful.

  2. Congrats on the new website and blog.
    Your writer’s statements get funnier with each iteration.
    And I still proudly wear my Kirkus Reviews t-shirt.

  3. Hey Sue, Kate and I just laughed hysterically reading this entry… glad to hear your fully recovered and guiding people through the healthcare maze. Best to you and Paul – thanks for helping us wind down with your special brand of humor after a long week!

    1. Glad to be back in the proverbial saddle! The hospital gig is…something else. All the little internecine struggles–I don’t know how you guys do it.

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