Collateral Damage

Ellen stops off at the grocery store on her way in to work to pick up a few things she’ll need. She pauses by the hand sanitizer and thinks, “I just washed my hands a little while ago. I don’t need to bother.”

She peruses the aisles that have the items she’s after – among these a box of tissues. She’s about to pick up her usual brand but notices another is on sale, so she puts the one down to pick up the other, compare them. She decides to go with her first choice and puts down the “cheaper” one.

Unbeknownst to her, Lachlan was looking at those same tissues a few minutes before. Lachlan didn’t know it at the time (and won’t know it for another few days) but he’s infected with CoVID-19. He doesn’t know what all this mask fuss is about and though he wears one, it tends to slip down around his chin, he frequently scratches his nose, touches his face … and boxes of tissues he’s picking up to decide which one to get.

Ellen takes her items to the checkout, pays, and on her way out does use the hand sanitizer, since she has after all been picking up things other people have been touching. Ellen’s smart and she’s trying to do the right thing.

Mark comes into the grocery store a few minutes after Ellen. They don’t know each other, and they never will. Mark is doing the week’s shopping for himself and his wife Margot, who’s at home recovering from her latest round of chemo. In better times Margot would have gone with Mark. Grocery shopping is one of the hundreds of little things they love doing together. But, today Margo must stay home. She’s “neutropoenic” meaning her immune cells are nearly gone, having been wiped out by the latest round of chemo. They’ll come back as her stem cells reconstitute her immune system. In the mean time, she needs to avoid coming in contact with germs that could make her sick, germs that a normal healthy immune system disposes of thousands of times a day without us being the least bit aware.

Mark has “box of tissues” on his list, and he heads down the aisle and picks up a couple of their usual brand, which he’s pleased to see is on sale this week. Mark pushes his cart to the checkout, pays, dowses his hands with sanitizer, and heads to the car where he loads up the several bags of groceries and supplies. When he gets home, Margot asks, “Did you remember the tissues?”. “Of course, here.”, he says, opening and handing her the box.

A few days later, we find Mark sitting outside the ICU. Margot is inside, fighting for her life. Margot “spiked” a fever a few hours after Mark got home from the store. Mark brought her to the ED, as he had once or twice before. Trips to the ED are not uncommon for neutropoenic patients, and these all had a happy ending after a round of broad-spectrum antibiotics. This time was different. Each time before they’d tested her for CoVID-19 and both times she’d tested negative. This time she tested positive.

Margot never met or saw Lachlan, nor did Mark, nor did Ellen.

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