Notes from My COVID Cell
Michael K. Shaub, September 6th, 2021
I look out through the blinds at the twelve-foot-strip of grass that is my prison yard this morning. As I write, I am on day 3 of my banishment for testing positive for COVID, despite being fully vaccinated. The “privacy” fence out my window would feel more appropriate with a stretch of barbed wire across the top.
I managed to get through one week of classes, suitably confident because I tested negative for the umpteenth time the week before, this time as mandated by the University. Unlike virtually all those in my building, I wear my mask consistently around other people. I taught without it, but I put it on if anyone approached me. My wife, the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, encouraged me to get tested again after my first week’s teaching, and it is a good thing she did.
I am asymptomatic, which in technical terms means I was able to yell at my computer screen for each of the Aggies’ turnovers Saturday night. I certainly feel better than the Kent State kicker who missed two short field goals in the last minutes, with all the gambling world waiting to see if the Golden Flashes could cover the spread. Now that is pressure.
My wife, who is vulnerable because of underlying conditions, has had one negative test since I was incarcerated. We pray for a second. Having each lost a parent in the last year, we are both reeling a bit, even though we know we have so much to be thankful for. It is one of those times in a marriage when you see hopelessness in the eyes of the one you love, and you feel powerless to change things.
I am scheduled to receive the monoclonal antibody treatment, Regeneron, because of my age. I await the results of a second test to confirm my positive status before undergoing the regimen. It is humbling to feel like a carrier and to feel like I need special attention because of my condition in life. I am used to being the one bearing up others through their challenges, particularly students much younger than me.
I have had several friends go to prison, and I have one long-time friend who will be sentenced soon. I am feeling new empathy for them this morning. But I pace this room like a caged cat when I am not feeling reflective or yelling at the Aggies. And I know in my mind that most prisoners do not have what I have; many have cells squeezing two people into half the space I have, with an open toilet. I struggle to understand what that does to a mind. How would you turn it into a positive and not go crazy?
Someone encouraged me to remember that the apostle Paul was in prison. But, to be honest, I am no Paul. And I know that Paul called himself the “chief of sinners,” but I am pretty confident he would not have yelled at Ainias Smith trying to field a punt over his shoulder inside the 10. And if I had not received the Curative curse word, “Positive,” I would have been doing so along with 97,000 of my closest friends in person, including my wife and brother-in-law. I wore my blue shirt for the 9/11 remembrance game anyway.
This week, assuming I am feeling well enough and not receiving an infusion, I will conduct my classes from the confines of this room. The past year and a half have provided me a lot of Zoom experience, and it is not an intimidating prospect. But oh, I miss being face to face, and not just with students—with anybody. It has become clearer to me in the last year than it has ever been that we are all designed to need others, even those of us who are introverts.
It is incredibly unnatural to make myself stay away, to pace the floor of this 12 by 15 room, and I am not alone in feeling this. I recognize that it is “selfless service,” and that it is my duty to wait. But I want so much to burst out that door and go to the office, or get a snow cone, or mow the lawn, or kiss my wife. (Well, maybe not mow the lawn.) Honestly, we are in a time like no other that I have experienced.
Perhaps, if I remain asymptomatic, a week from now I will be free. Or, if I get a mild case, two weeks. Of course, it could go badly, and it could be longer. My challenge today is to quiet my soul enough to reflect on what is going on inside me. I hoped to have built up the emotional and spiritual resources to deal with the hard things God allows to happen late in life. Our parents’ deaths and missing walking my daughter down the aisle during COVID made it clear I am not who I thought I was. Now I wonder when I might see my grandson, who is due in the next two weeks.
But my challenges are small, and I am very conscious of those who have lost loved ones to this scourge. Sitting still and being quiet is the least that could be asked of me. I am also sympathetic to those who are having to make difficult decisions about who meets for classes, and who goes to football games. Their challenge is so much greater than mine.
If I could wish for anything, it would be for fewer accusations of being stupid and foolish, or Luddites, or ignoring the science, or of government conspiracies. Even if I knew the source of this, or the volume of mistakes that have been made in trying to manage it, I would not be more informed about human nature. People do evil things, and people do stupid things. In fact, I study that for a living.
But what I am missing most is people, the same broken people who make mistakes of judgment and of arrogance. Long after I am done teaching, I will need people in my life. And I have no desire at this stage to burn the bridges that connect me to them, however much those bridges may swing and wobble in the wind. I would give anything right now to be with them. And this is true even though what I want more than anything is to protect my wife.
So, I will wait quietly on the Lord, and on the results of the second test, and on the infusion. I will step forward into this unknown week and do the best I can. My hope is that I will be a different and better person for having this experience.
But if we turn it over five times next week, all bets are off.
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