It makes no sense.
I went to get bloodwork yesterday morning for an upcoming physical. Quest Diagnostics has an excellent system in place. When you arrive at their facility, you click a link that was texted to you an hour before the appointment, letting the technicians know that you’ve arrived. You receive an immediate response that reads:
“We will text you when we are ready to draw your blood. You may wait in your car, outside the facility, or in our waiting room.”
I waited in the car.
Less than 10 minutes later, I received a text asking me to return to the facility for my appointment.
When I entered, I was astounded to find eight people standing in the waiting room. Standing because there were no chairs. Just circles on the floor indicating where patients could stand.
What were these people thinking? You have a choice to wait in your car or outside the facility, but you choose to wait inside amongst strangers in the midst of a pandemic?
I spend my school day in a room with 18 other human beings, always masked and as socially distant as possible. Still, it sometimes feels a little crazy given how few people in this world are spending significant periods of time in classroom-sized spaces with so many people, but I do this because there are excellent protocols and contact-tracing procedures in place, and I think it’s important for my students to be learning in-person as much as possible.
It’s a calculated risk that I’m willing to take.
But waiting for a blood draw in a room full of people?
What are these people thinking?
My therapist told me last spring that I am uniquely qualified to handle this pandemic:
As a result of my PTSD, I’ve spent the last 30 years waiting for some unknown, unseen force to try to kill me.
Now it’s actually happened.
But I think that’s the problem. I don’t think people understand that a virus is constantly trying to kill them. This is not some symbiotic organism looking to coexist with you. This is a virus that wants you dead. As soon as you let down your guard, you give it a chance to do its work.
And this is happening all the time.
A man travels for the holidays, thinking that visiting his parents in Atlanta is worth the risk, even though vaccines being injected into arms right now and relief is on the horizon. A week later, he’s diagnosed with COVID-19 and has infected half of this office mates.
A family gathers for Christmas, thinking that no one is sick, but one of their children is asymptomatic. By the end of the week, three families have all tested positive for COVID-19. Two family members are hospitalized.
A mother takes her kids bowling. They deserve it. They’ve been trapped at home for so long. A week later, the entire family has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The kids have also passed it onto the neighbors and two classmates.
An invisible force is trying to kill you. Infection rates are at record highs. Hospitals are exceeding capacity. Certain places in the United States are running out of oxygen to keep patients alive. More than 4,000 Americans are dying every day.
An unseen force is trying to kill you, and it’s doing better than it’s ever done before. It’s winning. Yet when given the option to wait outside on a sunny, not-so-cold morning or in their car for a scheduled appointment, people choose a crowded waiting room?
I asked the nurse if the people in the waiting room were waiting for openings in the schedule.
“No,” she said. “All visits are by appointment only.” So every one of those people went through the same system as me. They were all offered the option to wait outside and receive a text when it was time to enter.
“So why wait in the waiting rom?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” she said.
Then I wondered: Maybe they have no cell phones. Can’t receive a text message. But as I left, I took note. Every single person was standing in their green circle, staring at a phone.
This makes no sense.
There are times when you need to accept a certain level of risk. Grocery shopping. Maybe a dentist appointment. Possibly a haircut. Working if you can’t do it from home.
Some risks necessary.
But when risk is not required, DON’T TAKE THE RISK. An unseen force is trying to kill you.
Wait to see your loved ones for a few more months. Postpone that trip to the Bahamas. Cancel your birthday party. Order your food from a restaurant but eat it at home. Wait until you’ve been vaccinated to storm the Capitol and attempt a violent, murderous insurrection. An unseen force is trying to kill you.
We can’t eliminate all risk. We can’t hunker down at home for months without ever leaving. But we can certainly limit our risks to those times that make sense. Standing in a waiting room full of people doesn’t make sense. Eating your burger inside the burger joint doesn’t make sense. Gathering with friends and family without first quarantining for 10 days – especially when they are elderly or immunocompromised in some way – doesn’t make sense.
Do you know when those people in the waiting room will finally accept that an invisible force is trying to kill them?
When the virus is replicating in their cells. When it’s established a beachhead in their lungs. When they’re on a ventilator, struggling to breathe.
I held my breath when I passed through that waiting room. I did the same when I exited. For almost three decades, I’ve known that an unseen force is going to try to kill me. Even though therapists tried to convince me that my levels of concern and vigilance were not necessary, it turns out that I was right.
It took a long time, but I can finally say, “I told you so.”
Admittedly the worst “I told you so” ever, but at least it’s keeping me from the stupidity of standing in a waiting room full of strangers when systems are in place to eliminate that risk altogether.