It wasn’t the merry, merry month of May, but I was strolling near a park, and I certainly was taken by surprise. Out of nowhere, my nose started running, and I couldn’t refrain from rapid-fire sneezing. The spell reminded me a great deal of hay fever.
That in itself wasn’t a huge surprise. I was outside, after all. The weather has been fairly conducive to particulate matter in the air, and most of the ragweed is in raging bloom. What made it a surprise was that I hadn’t suffered from a sneezing spell like this, nor hay fever in general, in several decades.
I graduated hay fever about when I graduated junior high school.
By 11:00 AM, I had a throbbing headache, whose source was the base of my skull just above the spinal column. Honestly, it felt like someone had clubbed me. The safety of my occipital lobe is one reason I only stroll in parks during daylight hours.
One short hour later, I was in flames.
The weather outside was certainly warm, but nowhere near what my internal temperature seemed. I finished my errands, and headed straight home with all of the apprehensions that living in these times brings.
Once home, I confirmed my initial suspicions. I had a fever of 101.5°F. I was still sneezing, and in between “A-choo’s,” I began to mentally retrace my steps of the last week. Could I place myself somewhere in the last four days — the COVID incubation period –– where I may have contacted a person with the disease?
I know that pinpointing a source of my possible exposure to COVID was a futile experiment. After all, we all could pass an asymptomatic person in a grocery store somewhere, and contract the virus. Still, I needed to do something with my mind while my spleen was roasting.
Sure enough, we had two employees diagnosed with COVID in recent weeks. Each stayed away the prescribed ten days. One, Dave –– not his real name. I actually don’t know his real name, but I’ve always called him Dave for convenience –– works near me.
Dave wore a mask upon his return to work, but I couldn’t help thinking he didn’t look well. That, too, was not a surprise, because I thought Dave looked unwell most days.
I had again begun wearing a mask to work, once we all learned that Dave and our co-worker were infected. The mask, coupled with the fact that I was a two-dose Pfizer vaccine recipient, gave me the sense that I was adequately protected.
Day Two
I slept fairly well, although I was still very hot. I checked my temperature at 8:00 AM, and it was a skyrocketing 102.5°F. I still had the dribbling nose, but I didn’t have the expected scratchy throat. I thought that especially odd, since every infection I’ve ever had started with a scratchy throat brought on by sinus drainage.
I was still sneezy, and the achiness had increased to the point where even my toenails hurt.
I stayed in bed most of the day, tried to sleep when I could, and ate when I thought I should. I still had the ability to taste food, so I thought that a good sign.
Nevertheless, I decided to go get the COVID test.
I was shocked when I pulled in the drive-thru testing site to see five other cars ahead of me. A few months earlier, when I took an ailing neighbor to get tested, we were the only ones there, and went straight through.
The able technician –– Sara, who said that she appreciated my humor, but wearing the rubber clown’s nose would not make it hurt any less –– reported to me that this one location was conducting over 200 tests per day, now. That’s as many as at the height of the 2020 pandemic.
She said that it takes three to five days to get the results back from the lab, but that my symptoms were consistent with the new Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Day Three
My fever is on a roller coaster –– 102.7°F, then 99°F, then 101.5°F. I hesitate to take anymore Tylenol, because I’m well past the eight pill maximum dose. I’ve perspired through four T-shirts, and at one point I had the air conditioner simultaneously blowing on my head while the space heater was trying to overcome the chills in my legs.
I still had some taste, but oddly, I’m craving the Chow Mein Noodles I discovered at the back of the cabinet –– thus proving to me the Chinese Lab conspiracy.
Day Four
POSITIVE! The labs are back, confirming my worst and expected fears. I’ve already contacted everyone in my orbit about my suspected disease. Despite the debilitating symptoms of the illness, I find this to be the most calamitous part of my experience.
I do not want to be the cause of anyone else getting COVID-19, even if indirectly, even if I’ve done everything I could to protect myself and others.
Day Five
It’s 3:00 AM, and I’m writing this column. I’m considering making my saga an old-fashioned newspaper serial, and run the conclusion over several weeks. I know I’m faring better with COVID than many. Nevertheless, if you see a used car ad where my column normally appears, you’ll now at least know why.
Recounting my story has one purpose: Protecting yourself is not a guarantee. COVID continually brings its own surprises.

John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media