MONDAY 9/21/20: I’m standing outside in front of the housing unit with one of the dogs that I’m watching today. She’s a 2 year old sheepdoodle, a cross look between poodle and sheep fluff, and we’re inside the fenced in dog run in front of the unit. There’s an ambulance driving across the yard–again. The “freeze in place” order went out over the radio several minutes ago instructing everyone to stay inside their housing units or wherever they were before the call. I’m the only person on the yard.
I watch the ambulance pull up to the COVID quarantine dorm. It’s one of the regular dorms converted into housing sick prisoners. It holds 130 men and it’s full. Another person is losing his battle against COVID. I find myself wondering who it is this time for I know almost everyone in that unit. I strain to catch glimpse of the figure on the stretcher, but the distance in to great. Eventually the ambulance leaves, lights and siren blaring. That was this morning.
It’s now evening and the ambulance is here again. This time to pick up a guy from the quarantined dorm next door to mine. A dorm that is NOT the quarantine unit. They say it’s “Chop”, a black fellow of about 350 pounds. I’m not surprised to hear it could be him because he has all kinds of health issues. This time I DO see who it is, and it’s indeed chop. He looks like he is dying.
TUESDAY 9/22/20: It’s 7:30AM. The ambulance is here again, except this time it has arrived at my dorm. For the past few days I’ve noticed that the number of men coughing in my unit has picked up substantially. The coughing began sometime last week, just a couple of guys, but right now I estimate it’s 50% of the dorm. Worse, a couple of the guys are visibly ill. Why won’t they turn themselves in to medical so they can receive help? No one wants to do that because it means getting sent to the COVID unit for sure. And no one wants to tell on them as this is a no-no. Get caught telling and you’ll have problems. Still. Someone has to do something,.These men are risking all of our lives. I feel conflicted. I decide to stay quiet, and I conclude that someone will tell. There’s too many worried faces for one of these guys not to tell.
“Pope” is in the dayroom gasping for air. He has asthma, and he is definitely in trouble. I’ve seen this before. He’s trying to say that he thinks he’s having an asthma attack. I watch him hit his inhaler over and over—20? 30? 40 times?–to no effect. The EMTs rush him out and into the ambulance. A few minutes later he’s gone as if he never existed.
1:11 PM I hear the wail of sirens coming in the distance. I look around the dorm. Who is it this time? I see nothing out of the ordinary though. I and my cube mates watch out our windows as an ambulance pulls into the parking lot, makes a right turn and heads to the level 3 side. Level 3 is a high security level in Ohio. I am level 1. All of us look at each other but say nothing.
WEDNESDAY 9/23/20::6:35AM The nurses are here first think this morning to take our temperatures and check our O2 levels. This is a morning ritual, and they show up at random times. We lose 2 men to quarantine who failed temp checks. High fevers. But we all knew that before they got nabbed. Hell those guys have been deathly ill for days. I’ve been weaving wide arcs around them. Interestingly, when the nurses are present, the coughing seems to stop.
Lunch time: The coughing in the dorm and throat clearing appears to have reached at least 65% of the guys. My dorm is split into two sections. One side has 70 men, the other has 50 men. The “small” side has been the epicenter of all the EMT cases and the quarantines until this afternoon. They pull a man from my side who sleeps only 3 bunks down from me. He’s sent to medical. Word is spreading that if the guys that they quarantined today come back positive, my unit will be locked down and “quarantined” for up to 2 weeks.
THURSDAY 9/24/20: The ambulance is here first thing in the morning, and another man is whisked away to the outside hospital. Late morning word spreads that everyone who left the dorm in the past few days has tested positive. This isn’t good. It means they will quarantine my dorm, and I will be stuck in doors with COVID running rampant.
Lunch time the ambulance arrives again…except this time it is off to the level 3 side. After lunch we are told we are on quarantine until further notice. Shit.
I have a discussion with my cube mates, and we agree to continue to be hyper-vigilant. My bunk and theirs are in a special “dog cube” in the corner of the dorm. We have 3 walls around us and a specially fenced-in area (literally, a chain link fence with gate). So we only have neighbors on one side. We also have two windows, and by chance due to the design of the corner, when our windows are open we receive a constant cross breeze. We agree to never close the windows, no matter how cold or rainy outside.
I call home and let my family know what is happening. They are visibly worried, and I do my best to set them at ease. I’m fine I tell them I have been practicing careful distancing, and non-social eating for months now, and it seems to have worked so far…
At least 75% of the dorm is sick in some way.
FRIDAY 9/25/20: Temp checks nab one of the dog handlers. This is particularly worrying to me because I am a dog handler, too. Me and my cubemates have instituted protocol to wash every dog and every leash, collar, haltie, leader, body harness–everything that comes in with each new dog. I firmly believe if dogs can catch COVID from humans then WE can catch it from them. Some of our dogs we care for are owned by staff who recently “recovered” from COVID. I don’t pet or hug them as a precaution. Two weeks ago, as I slept, one of the dogs came up to my bunk and licked me awake. I awoke horrified, but it was too late.
Two weeks onward and I feel fine. No symptoms. But the dog handler that left for outside hospital NEVER washed his dogs or leashes or personal property. He’d been sick for several days, and someone apparently told on him. I’m glad he’s gone, that just means 1 less COVID case around me.
Late in the evening I receive word that Chop, Pope, and the dog handler are all on ventilators at the Ohio State Medical Center.
I sit for a while and reflect upon my life.
SATURDAY 9/26/20: The ambulance has been in and out a couple of times today, but both times off to the level 3 side. It’s a bit of a relief. My neighbors are now coughing. I’ve created a 6 foot wide “air” wall between myself and their bunk. I have my fans in the window running full bore sucking fresh air from outside. Since we are on quarentine we are served all of our meals directly at our bunks. This is convenient, and ironic, because I was already eating by myself at my bunk for weeks. I have shunned the chow hall at every angle, living off of commissary and food boxes sent from home.
Our temps and O2 levels are being checked twice a day now.
SUNDAY 9/27/20: No ambulance came today. And, I have noticed that the level of coughing seems to be lessening some. Maybe it’s just because football is on and guys are extra chatty right now? I decide to watch football, write letters, and otherwise keep my mind off of what is happening at my institution right now.
Word has filtered in that a couple of guys have died that left to outside hospital within the past 2 weeks. I knew both of them.
MONDAY 9/28/20:: Maybe we are over the hump? The level of coughing has continued to recede. The ambulance didn’t come again either, and no one has been pulled from the dorm in two days. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t sick guys. There are. Very sick. But here’s the problem; every time they pull someone from the dorm our quarantine time starts over again. Guys have realized this, and no one is telling on anyone anymore. Why? Because no one wants to be stuck indoors any longer than we have to. Everyone is just hoping that the sick get better and not sicker, and those that are mildly symptomatic are hoping to stay that way.
I still feel fine. I refuse to believe I’ve dodged this. The moment you think you are safe you doom yourself, that’s how The Universe works. Tempt not one’s fate. I’ve learned that from my time incarcerated, and I’ve seen The Universe in action.
I try to call home, but the system isn’t letting me past the authentication protocols. Guys all around me are griping about this. A new change was made, and whatever the wonderful company GTL did, it made things worse. I’m told that the phones in the small phone room work. Nope, no friggin’ way. I’m not stepping foot in that incubator. A small 7′ area crammed with phones and sick guys talking. My only other option is to use the community kiosk and shoot an email to family. I decide to compose an email on my tablet, the very same one I’m using to write this post. I will then connect to the kiosk, auto send, and all I’ll have to do is wash my hands and wipe my tablet down.
Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. I don’t want my family worrying.
Some things in life are bigger than yourself.