Testing testing testing

Letters / Opinions lockdown

Chintan finally makes it to be tested for Covid-19 after his travels in South East Asia.

The author of this piece is a veteran of the war against Covid-19, having survived exposure in Thailand (January 2020), Vietnam (February 2020), and, most significantly, South Korea on February 26, 2020, as he negotiated his way to the airport, hoping to get out of that place and fly home to the good old USA. Being a responsible sort of dude, he reported his flu-like symptoms to the proper authorities and asked to be tested! Beginning of March he described his frustration in hearing that there were no test kits in the State of Florida in: Trump’s ‘war’ against the coronavirus

Black man wearing T-shirt with slogan

Donald Trump, who acts as President of the United States, declared on February 28 that anyone who wants a test, gets a test.

The reality was that there were no tests available in the state of Florida. Following 14 days of voluntary quarantine, with symptoms gone, I began investigating the state of the Union, and compared what we were doing with situations around the world. For over two months, as the number of cases skyrocketed here at home, I checked in with South Korea, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and found it interesting that these countries seemed to be doing really well. People were being quarantined. People were being tested. Friends of mine in Maine, Alabama, Chicago, Arizona, Massachusetts reported their frustrations at not being able to get tested.

Donald Trump, who acts as President of the United States, and has declared himself a WAR PRESIDENT, continued to state that testing was available, and also touted various treatments for the virus. He managed to learn to pronounce Hydroxychloroquine, and his believers rushed to the pharmacy to stock up, leaving sufferers from Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and other diseases without access to the drug that keeps them keeping on. He then suggested drinking Clorox and sticking a light saber in their anus. Let’s just say that the man is an idiot, and his followers are poor deluded souls. Let’s leave Donald Trump and get back to my involvement in the war.

On May 4, 2020, testing was finally available in my county. It was not for Covid-19, but for the presence of antibodies. This was of particular interest to me, for I felt that I had contracted the virus while in Southeast Asia, fell ill for a couple of days, fought it off with my well-used immune system, and therefore wanted to know if I had the antibodies.

The Battlefield: Volusia County Fairgrounds

The Battlefield: Volusia County FairgroundsThe Battlefield: Volusia County FairgroundsThe Battlefield: Volusia County FairgroundsThe Battlefield: Volusia County Fairgrounds

I report for duty at 7:50 a.m., armed to the teeth with reading material, thermos, CDs, sunscreen, and the ability to meditate during long waiting times.

As I approach the Fairgrounds on a four-lane divided highway, I notice up ahead that the right lane is stalled, with about 25 cars in line. Assuming that this is the entrance, I join the line.

My guess is accurate. The line begins to inch forward, and by 8:04 I am stuck at a right turn, and spend the next 15 minutes in a bottleneck, unable to move in any direction. The horns start bleating out frustration at the 10-minute mark, but still we sit, our only hope being the movement of the approximately 50 cars lining the side road, which I assume leads to a back entrance to the Fairgrounds. After politely allowing a couple of aggressive Ferraris to unblock the intersection, I make the right turn at 8:19.

The line moves slowly but steadily to a right-hand turn which puts us on another stretch of road, lined with around 40 cars. Close to 8:30, I arrive at the right-hand turn that would bring me down a short side road, and up ahead I can see the promised land: an entrance to the testing site. At this point, several uniformed police officers come into view, and all I can think is that I am NOT going to make it into that land of promise. I had heard that 500 tests would be available, and I have no idea how many humans are ahead of me.

At 9:10 a.m. I am poised to enter the Fairgrounds.

By 9:17, with the sun beating down on my right arm, I am safely in. The large field is roped off with police tape. As best as I can determine, there appears to be one line of cars that makes two U-turns along the way to the testing site, which I assume is the red awning next to the field house. By the time I make it to the first U-turn, my right arm is hot to the touch and I am delighted that I can now treat my left arm to the same pleasure. It is now 9:45, five minutes shy of the two-hour mark.

The human story: there are many vehicles containing families, and several with couples, both old and young. There are also many solo drivers like me. I am enjoying my music and the commentators on National Public Radio. Since I have to be ready to inch forward every 2 or 3 minutes, my book is useless, and so I take in my fellow victims, and wonder how they are managing this situation. Occasionally somebody exits their vehicle, most likely in search of a toilet. That is my first guess, due to the fact that I am beginning to feel the urge to pee!

Those of us who are in solitary confinement have no one to relieve us. I manage to find a way to pee, which I consider my major accomplishment of the day. I wonder how the other old solitary ones are managing. The people who manage to exit their cars to find their way to a bathroom, if one exists, are really fun to observe. They have to navigate an obstacle course consisting of lines of cars and threatening yellow tape that announces POLICE: DO NOT CROSS. A few youngsters slip underneath the tape, and happily go bounding on their way, heading for the big building, which I assume is open and available for relief.

One old man, probably 62, 14 years my junior, comes sauntering in my direction. He is well dressed, tall, striding manfully along, but I can see by his body language that he is having bladder difficulties, and is also intimidated by the ominous signs on the yellow tape. He walks past my car. He is sweating, and his face indicates fear, but he walks with brave macho posturing. I resist the urge to scream out, “Go through the tape. No one cares. I’ll help you!”

He makes it all the way down to a place where some other human has stepped on the tape. He crosses over and begins coming back my way. He doesn’t have a hat. It is approaching mid-day. There has not been a cloud in the sky. There has been no breeze. High of 90 today! He passes my car again, looking for another break in the tape. I am watching him, but much more focused on my own being: my personal reactions to him, which quickly move from derision to amusement to anger, and finally to compassion. On my CD, Dylan sings, “They are selling postcards of the hanging. They are painting the passports brown…” I think I understand this poor man. I have been just like him at various points in my life, so afraid of violating society’s norms, so afraid of Big Brother.

10:01: A young man is making the rounds on foot, carrying a counting device. Uh oh, he is checking to see how close to the 500 mark we have come. He asks me how many in the car are being tested. I resist the urge to say “All of us!” He continues walking and clicking all the way down my line and into the first line. It looks like all of us are getting in.

Back to the humans: my original guy returns ten minutes later, still looking as if he is in complete control, but I know what is really happening. He has not a clue where his car is. I know this, because I am guided through the practical world by a 76-year old brain, and have spent many minutes in parking lots, trying to not look like an old man bewildered by it all. His wife comes to the rescue, frantically waving her arm. She is too timid or polite to beep the horn. We are all polite or timid or scared. We are all sheep: obedient, placid. Just my projection. I don’t know what the others are experiencing. Dylan again: “God says to Abraham, KILL ME A SON. Abe says, Man, you must be putting me on!” A young woman with tight-fitting clothing, partially covering an outrageous body, skips along under and over the yellow tape, and returns 10 minutes later looking for her car. Waving hands emerge from a dozen cars. I make eye contact with an old man in the next lane. We smile! Connection! Nice!

big black ladybig black lady11:08: At the three-hour mark, I am able to make the final U-turn. Left and right arms are equally red. The sun has moved overhead and I am now getting equal treatment, left and right. So far, I have resisted the urge to use the AC and am quite proud of this fact. Up ahead I see an enormous black woman who seems to be leaning into each car as it stops near the red awning. She is doing something with the passengers. Hopefully she is sticking them, getting some blood, and our nightmare in the sun will be over.

11:13: The enormous black woman is now with me. She is really big, and she is sweating, and she is smiling. “Just want to take your temperature sweetie.” I offer my forehead, but she sticks the thing in my ear, which is already occupied by my state-of-the art, practically invisible hearing aid. “Sorry, Hon, that’s the third one today.” She declares me normal. For the next 40 or 50 seconds, we talk and laugh and during that incredibly short time, she tells me that she is not afraid of dying, but wants to stick around long enough to guide her 21-year-old daughter into adulthood. I look at the rolls of fat, the face of a lovely soul, and despise the inequality in this country with a passion that don’t do nobody no good.

11:17: I have driven along to the front of the red awning and am approached by another black woman, this one younger and thinner, but equally lovely! “How you doin’, Hon? What’s your first name? Give me your contact phone number! OK, now just go into the parking area, park your car, and you’ll get a call in 30 or 40 minutes.” Internally, I say, “Gosh, how curious!”

The Battlefield: Volusia County FairgroundsThe Battlefield: Volusia County Fairgrounds11:27: I am becoming cranky. AND I NEED TO PEE AGAIN! I am parked between a monster truck and a young woman speaking loudly to someone in her ear pods. Is that what they are called? After cooling off my car, I exit and stride manfully in search of a place to pee. Around the side of the building, in the distance, I spot a porta-potty. It is, unfortunately, located behind a barbed wire fence. I pee in the bushes, then manage to get a very small bottle of water from another sweet black woman. I think it is at that point that I notice three middle-aged WHITE MEN sitting under an umbrella next to the building. I ask them a couple of questions, and cannot understand a word they are saying. I go back to my car, open the windows and take out my book. I have brought along The Fratricides by Nikos Kazantzakis to keep myself cheerful.

11:57: I go up to the three white men again and complain that I have been waiting for 40 minutes and am becoming despondent. They look for my name on the list. IT IS NOT THERE! They wave me in. I step into air-conditioned comfort and am shocked to see scores of people standing exactly 6 feet apart, obeying the blue marks on the floor. There is NO movement, no indication of what is to happen to us.

1:50 p.m.: The ordeal is over. It has been exactly SIX HOURS since I pulled into the right lane of Highway 4. The 2 hours inside the building were so amusing, so maddening, so completely lacking in any sort of intelligence.

BLACK AND WHITE: I must explain that I have been aware of Donald Trump for 30 or 40 years. He is a New Yorker. I lived in New York. I was aware of that racist clown, and his murderous intent. I am aware that he is a disciple of Roy Cohn, possibly the most evil American of the 20th century. I was in New York when Donald Trump took out full-page ads urging the government to reinstate the death penalty so that the famous Central Park Five could be killed. The Central Park Five were five black teenagers accused of raping a white woman. They were innocent. After effectively ruining the lives of those children, a decade later the perpetrator of the crime confessed.

Donald Trump ran on the slogan “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA for short. For Donald Trump, great equals whites in charge, blacks under the thumb. This is Florida, Trump’s new home. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw, but I found it interesting that the blacks (and women!) were toiling under the brutal sun while the whites sat in the shade. Donald would have loved the scene.

In the air-conditioned building, we sheep were processed. IDs were shown, they filled out forms. We were moved SLOWLY from station to station, until we found ourselves at our FINAL DESTINATION: six or seven nurse’s stations where we were tied up, and had our blood drawn. The final paperwork indicated that the samples would be delivered to one of two labs in a day or two, and that the results would be sent to us in approximately 7 days. Prior to handing in my paperwork, I took a photo of it, as I was unable to check it without my reading glasses. At home, I saw there were only two mistakes: my age and phone number. I have websites to visit, and will track my case, and provide the proper phone number. I doubt that it matters that they added 6 months to my age.

A Nation of SheepA Nation of SheepA Nation of SheepA Nation of SheepA Nation of SheepA Nation of SheepA Nation of SheepA Nation of SheepFor the 2 hours inside the building, I took photos and made notes for this story that I knew I had to write. I also observed my fellow human beings. It was difficult to make contact while wearing masks, but I made several attempts. I really wanted to know what people were feeling about this experience. Is this a normal experience? Is this what the future will be? Are we all to become sheep?

I was reminded of a book by William Lederer entitled A Nation of Sheep. I believe it was published in the 1950s. There were several people that caught my attention, especially a muscled white guy wearing a MAGA hat. He was a five by five sort of guy, shaped like a metal filing cabinet, but not as tall. Occasionally, he would banter with his wife, who mostly ignored him. I hated him. I hated everything about him. I wanted to attack him, belittle him, steal his hat. At one point, I noticed what he was wearing: shirt, neatly tucked into his well-pressed shorts, nice-looking socks and designer walking shoes, and I was tempted to go into my really excellent gay persona and shout out, “I just LOVE your cute little outfit!” But I behaved myself, and practiced my Osho/Atisha-inspired meditation to watch the internal dialogues, not to repress or judge, but to silence the mind, and look out at the world with no judgment, no desire. JUST BE A WATCHER, Osho said to me one fine day back in 1978. Just WATCH!

The final sight of the day, as I located my vehicle, was of the paramedics arriving to cart away a fairly young man who had fainted at the 6-hour mark. He nearly made it. Good fortune to him and to all the others, even MAGA man, and a whole bunch of love to my black brothers and sisters toiling in the brutal sun!

Chintan

Chintan (David Hill) is a writer, and author of Mastering Madness.

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