I’m a likely narcissist, or maybe it was the 101+ degree fever, but sitting in the waiting room of the neighborhood Doc in a Box (TM), I was pretty sure that the woman across from me was checking me out. I was reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist 1 and every time I looked up to thoughtfully check my privilege, the woman was eyeballing me. Maybe that’s what does it for the ladies in Kensington, I thought to myself. 40-something ‘woke’ white guy, dad bod, three days without a shower.
A move I call “Hello, Ladies,” I pushed glasses up the bridge of my nose and smiled.2 She looked away, like someone who had been caught staring at a car wreck.
It was then I realized that although I thought I was wearing my Steve McQueen-in-LeMans sunglasses, I was actually wearing my Apollo Mission Control two-toned frames with regular lenses. She was not enchanted by my Viking beard or dashing smile. More likely, she was terrified by my swollen, puss-y eyeballs. Or the ball I had made of waiting room grade Kleenex and lemon-lime snot. I wasn’t the hero in some apocalyptic film; I was patient Zero.
When we started this Parenthood trip, all other parents were very clear: kids get sick. Kids in daycare get sick a lot. But that’s good! Builds up their immunity and antibodies. Some folks believe that exposing their children to a living example of the disease superior to a regular immunization schedule, which is slightly more sophisticated medical hoodoo than leaching away the bad humors.
The Wee Bairn has had all manner of ailments, from runny noses all the way to a cough that required an ER visit. Recently, she contracted viral conjunctivitis. For one day, and one day only, she was feverish and miserable and her eyes were bright red.
You will get sick when your kid gets sick. Parents told me so! What they didn’t say was that anything she gets will hit you twice as hard and for twice as long. The next day she was up to her old shenanigans; back to school a day later, free and clear to find a new infection.
I was out for a week.
I had a head full of raw meat and Elmer’s glue. I slept through Memorial Day weekend. Before my eyes and headache brought me to a strip mall doctor’s office I watched 7 seasons of Daniel Tiger. Dayquil made me sleepy; Nyquil made me a zombie. When I could sleep the night through, I dreamed about sprawling shopping malls with shifting floor plans and circular conversations with D-List television celebrities. I sweated through all of my bed clothes.
Thankfully, I have a wonderful partner who stayed well and took care of me and brought me liters of Diet Mountain Dew and hot Chai and saltines. Without her, I would have been a puddle of goo on the floor.
There’s a Chipotle and a 7 Eleven next to the Doc in the Box and after my appointment but before I had my prescription for medicated eye drops filled at the CVS, I stopped in for a burrito and a Super Big Gulp. I wore sunglasses. I tried not to touch anything I didn’t need to. I washed my hands. I sanitized. I used a credit card.
I took these precautions because it’s the good, human thing to do.3 If the professional Burrito Wrapper didn’t have a national holiday off, I doubt she had time for a virus that shut me down for more than a week. I worked from home and wasn’t forced to bring my disease to the office. As a “professional” I had the opportunity to keep myself sequestered and still do what I needed to do.
Service industry workers, earning minimum wage without benefits, do not have that opportunity.4 When they get sick, they have two choices: work or don’t. If that Chipotle employee goes to work, they could infect their co-workers and their customers. Everyone sick at the same time impacts productivity. Customers who get sick after visiting your store, as Chipotle knows, don’t shop there again.
If my Burrito Wrapper stays at home, she doesn’t get paid. Maybe her kids don’t eat. And who’s to say she gets to come back?
I could have waited to see my primary care physician that Tuesday, but there was no guarantee of an appointment; he’s my age, but picked up the geriatric patients of his former partner who retired a decade ago. I could shop for a new doctor, but I like the guy and there would be no difference in the cost of my yearly physical and the occasional wellness visit. Every doctor in my community packs patients into their schedule to cover operational costs and earn a salary commiserate with their responsibility, as I’ve come to learn.
I could have spent $100 to go to a hospital ER. I chose to pay $50 for the Urgent Care visit. That’s in addition to my biweekly contribution to the health plan premiums. I can submit that charge to my FSA, which brings the cost down to something like $42, plus the time to complete the submission paperwork. Sometimes we spend that on lunch, but I recall a time, before I was the successful human-based person you’re reading about now, I could feed myself for a week on $50. I’ll bet a lot of people have to feed themselves *and* their families for $50 per week.
$50 is a steep price, especially if you layout a few days worth of earnings every month for coverage. So what if you do have insurance, but not the $50 to cover the Urgent Care visit? What if you can’t get to your Primary Care physician because your minimum wage job has you scheduled for the only time the doctor’s office is open? What if you take time off, you don’t get paid, which means you chose between the copay and feeding your family for a week? What is the value, as a society, of putting this pressure on our friends and neighbors?
- Seriously, if you haven’t read this book, stop what you’re doing and go get it. Gay tells her story perfect. When I look at her words next to mine I just think “Why bother?” The only other writer who’s me feel that was Jonathan Lethem in his Motherless Brooklyn. The words in those books are what I imagine in my head, but don’t have the skill to put on paper. ↩
- Let me be clear, I love my wife and my wee bairn. I’ve literally never been happier in my life. People I knew in high school are like “Are you smiling? When did that happen?” Still, it’s always nice to be invited to the party…unless it’s a key party… the “Lifestyle” creeps me the fuck out. ↩
- Yes, going straight home would have been all around better, but I wasn’t thinking so clearly ↩
- All good conservatives will tell you that low-wage jobs are for high school kids looking to make some pocket change; they have their parents to fall back on when they get sick. That may have been true 15 years ago when I was in high school, but no longer. Job growth is increasingly seen in service industries, including food service and healthcare. “Although the economy is near full employment, wage growth has not been strong in part because many of the jobs being created are in low-wage industries. Last month, restaurants and bars added 53,100 jobs.” Strong U.S. jobs report bolsters case for further Fed tightening ↩