Friday, May 1, 2020

20200414 (Marzec-Young)

8:23 am—“How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day?”
The Best of Rent, a musical about another virus, and perhaps not so different from this one, spills out of my car’s speakers as I cruise the nearly-empty roads. Both my husband and I are essential workers in our respective labs, and in that one aspect, little has changed.

8:50 am—Safe in a parking spot, I check my messages. My sister pinged me on the road, with a portrait of her dog sprawled across the couch. I walk into the building past a row of blooming viburnums. I inhale the sweet scent deep into my lungs. If I can still smell, that means I’m not infected.

8:56 am—I punch the time clock, ready to begin my day. But first, a quick check in the bathroom mirror. Good, the elastic hairband is keeping my flyaway hair tucked back. I started wearing the hairbands because I noticed I touched my face more when my hair tickled it.

9:03 am—Today is my first day wearing a mask at work. They are optional, but probably soon will be mandatory. My lab received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA, so we have Covid-19 samples in a few areas. My team doesn’t work with them; we only handle purified DNA and RNA, so there’s a very low risk of infection. All of the teams are in a cavernous open space, punctuated by robots.  Any infectious particles should fall to the ground in the negative-pressure atmosphere of the lab, but today Yahoo! News says that the virus is transported on shoes.
The cabinets containing our PPE are padlocked.
“Hey, which cabinet are the masks in?”
“The one by the stairs. You gotta sign out the key from Facilities and write down how many you take.”
“Yeah, they caught someone last week taking stuff.”
“What an asshole!”

9:12 am—I send a mask selfie to my husband, a microbiologist.
“Needs to be higher up your nose.”

9:30 am—Two men from another team are standing by the gloves-off sink.
“Bro, my temperature was so low today.”
“Yeah, mine was like 96.5.”

10:45 am –One of my coworkers has displaced her mask.
“Fat lot of good that mask is doing around your neck.”
“It’s too hot and I can’t breathe.”

11:58 am—Mask selfie #2.
“Should also be flat against your nose at the top.”

12:20 pm—The late shift rolls in—late.
“My nose is running and I’m sneezing and coughing. No fever though.”
“Allergies acting up again?”
“Take your antihistamine?”

1:10 pm—Lunch. The break room tables all have signs taped to them about proper social distancing. My lunchtime companion is a dead daffodil in an Erlenmayer flask in lieu of a vase. After lunch, I notice more masks appearing in the lab.

2:14 pm—Mask selfie #3.
“Much better.”

3:15 pm—The resident hipster has a question for the team.
“I’m making a Pandemic Playlist on Spotify. What should I put on it?”
“Oh, just about anything from Rent.”
“I don’t listen to Broadway.”

3:25 pm—My mask has been upside down for most of the day.

4:32 pm—I wash my hands in the lab sink, remove my mask, and toss it into the biohazard waste bin. I wash my hands again, and punch out. The sweetly scented shrubs perfume my walk out the door.

5:09 pm—Home at last, I empty the mailbox and head upstairs. I remove my clothing and shower immediately. The clothes go into the laundry room in a separate basket. I wipe down my hairband, ponytail holder, and phone with rubbing alcohol. Nobody thinks of phones as a possible route of contagion, but if it was touching your hand, it’s contaminated.

5:45 pm—A series of pop-tops signals an incoming text message. I open the website and enter my  temperature reading. 98.1°F. I’m taking part in a study which requires daily temperature monitoring and biweekly throat swabs, saliva samples, and blood samples. After my first appointment last week, I was negative for Covid-19. My lab started this week to monitor their employees on a voluntary basis. Since I’m already in the study, I don’t need to do the lab’s monitoring.

8:35 pm—I look up from the latest coronavirus article on Facebook, toward the window, as a siren screams in the distance. It’s only on TV. My husband is asleep on the couch and doesn’t hear it.

10:30 pm—About to head to bed.
“Good night, love. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
“And I’m not pregnant this month.”
“I’m sorry, love.”

Rebecca Marzec-Young is a Senior Lab Technician at the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository, the largest university-based repository in the world. She holds an MS in Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. She is also a Distinguished Toastmaster and has been previously published in the Heart of a Toastmaster anthology.

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