The shivering started in the middle of the night. I zipped up a pullover, piled on the sheets, and tapped the thermostat. The chill grew more intense. My teeth chattered, my collar quivered, and my forearms broke out in goosebumps. When I stood it felt like I had a full body hangover. From my temples across my brow I was dizzy and top heavy.
I took a hot shower until my bathroom became a sauna, plugged the tub and fell asleep in the bath. This was my morning routine for two weeks.
If you take too much Tylenol in a day your ears will ring. I don’t know why, but that’s a thing.
I worked at a UPS Store. Before the COVID-19 cases were widely reported a customer told me he wasn’t worried. “It’s all about your outlook. You choose what you let in. You put negative energy out into the world then negative energy gonna come find you.”
Days later a mailbox holder challenged me for wearing a mask. She was usually a good natured, charming woman who cracked jokes as she unwrapped tubs of vitamins. On that day she was stepping over the 6 foot line on the floor to say, “Everybody’s freaking out about the Corona virus, but they should be freaking out about what they’ve being putting in the water. Do you have any idea how happy the pharmaceutical companies are right now?”
Another customer told me that the 5G Verizon installed during the NCAA final four games will make us more vulnerable, because of the microwaves it emits.
“Don’t you mean radio waves?”
After the governor shut down all the coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, the UPS Stores stayed open. We are an essential business. Our customers might need to ship medical masks, hand sanitizer, or toilet paper. They might need to overnight ventilators to New York City. I say might, because most of the people in the lines out our door were returning underwear, dresses, and socks.
The store makes about 80 cents for every Amazon drop off it takes in. It doesn’t matter if it’s an iPhone case or a 150 pound safe (like the one that I threw my back out lifting). They are worth the same to us. I started calculating the risk/reward factor once the stay-at-home order began. Everytime an item slid across the counter I thought, “This was worth risking your life and mine?”
A few weeks into the quarantine, Hennepin county became the epicenter for the outbreak in Minnesota, a customer knocked on the delivery door in back. She started to say she would like her mail walked out to her car so that she could keep a safe distance from the other customers. She started to say that, but cut herself off. “You look sick. Are you sick? Because you look sick.”
In truth, I’d been feeling weird. I wasn’t sure if it was stress from the sudden rush of customers or if it was a psychosomatic response to news of the virus. I checked my temperature every morning, and as long as I was at the same average of 98 degrees I felt I was fit to go to work.
Then my temperature went past 100 and I felt something in my bones. It’s still flu season. My boss theorized that this could be garden variety influenza, maybe adult onset allergies. But we’d been told if anyone had COVID-19-like symptoms we’d be paid to stay at home, so I took the company up on the offer.
Then I was told corporate needed some kind of proof before authorizing sick pay. I’m in my thirties. My job does not provide health insurance. My symptoms are not so severe as to warrant a trip to the ER, and there’s a finite amount of COVID-19 tests to go around. I downloaded Apple’s COVID-19 app, took the survey, and it told me to self-quarantine. I took a screenshot of the results and sent it to my boss. That’s the quality of healthcare I can afford.
This is all I’ll say about the American healthcare system: this is a country where a science teacher cooking meth to pay for his cancer treatment is a plausible plot line on TV. Breaking Bad would make no sense if it took place in Canada.
Not long after that my boss called to say she was laying me off. I wasn’t sure if this meant I was being furloughed, if I had a job waiting for me when I got better or not. She said this is the best way to make sure I got paid without crippling the business.
I was told it was important to file for unemployment on Wednesday, because the office was flooded with requests and the last digit of my social security number is assigned to that day.
Before my symptoms started to show. I spent a lot of time walking around. I live next to a chain of lakes with hiking trails. Those trails are packed so densely with people that there’s no way anyone can keep 6 feet away from one another and it seems like no one cares.
The customers at our store didn’t care. We had tape on the floor meant to keep people from getting too close to the counter. They always crossed it. We had to instruct them to step back. Some people thought it was funny to pretend they were sick and cough on the door handle on the way out.
A string of retail jobs has sullied my belief that people are essentially good. This pandemic has obliterated it. If you’ve read this far then there’s one point I want you to take away from this: be kind to the people who are risking their lives to serve you. If you ask how someone is doing you better mean it. Most clerks are past pleasantries. They just might tell you.
Might I suggest you stop asking, “How’s it going?” and start saying, “Thank you for being here.” instead.
I know it’s hard, but please be decent to each other.