Let's Get One Thing Straight

Sunday, May 24, 2020 | 2 Comment(s)

I have a bunch of topics to write about. But, before I do I think it's important that my readers have some insight into my mindset during this current COVID-19 crisis. Am I scared? Do I think we are all sheeple? As a means of answering all of your questions, I present to you this very real vignette from a few weeks into the quarantine.

Matt's First Visit to CVS, and, in a Larger Sense, His First Time Out and Around Other People

The first thing you need to know is that I feel lucky. Lucky that I can work from home. Lucky I have a home and food security. Lucky that all of my levels of privilege let me worry about others during a pandemic, and not worry about my own survival. Lucky.

That said. One of my prescriptions has run out. The important one. The one I can't "just not take" without immediate and unsavory consequences. I have to go the the pharmacy, it isn't really a matter of choice. Sending my wife out for this, as opposed to grocery shopping, is essentially sacrificing her body for mine -- though if she goes, I go with her. I realize the previous sentence doesn't exactly read like marital bliss, but my anxiety is a red-eyed creature. And its teeth are real. And therefore, this is a reality, even though it isn't ideal.

I prepare. I obviously have a mask. I have read 22 different articles about wearing gloves and all the smart people say they cause more problems than they solve. I believe science and leave my food prep gloves at home. I lather my hands with soap for 20 seconds, I rinse in burning hot water (the virus doesn't like the heat), but I don't rinse well. I want a thin film of soap to still be coating my hands, like a force field, as I walk the half mile to the store. I touch my pocket to make sure my ID and credit card, already pre-removed from my wallet, are present and accounted for. I don't wear headphones because it feels like too much future touching of stuff. I depart.

This isn't my first time out of the house. I've been out fairly regularly but only to walk the dogs. Mercifully, there is an extended park/bike/running trail called the Emerald Necklace (I am NOT making that name up, nor can I say it without giggling because I am a child), which runs right by our house. This means we walk the pups down the street 20 yards, and then have miles of park and walkways in a long strip, where we can exercise them. With the exception of the bike riders, who somehow have decided that bikes carry the vaccine to COVID and therefore they need no masks, people are generally pretty good about social distancing. Not everyone, and you do get to play COVID chicken with people walking at you, but all and all there is a "concerned" vibe in this open space.

The trip to CVS is fairly direct, but I have to walk up the main street, aptly named Centre Street, to get there. Centre Street is the opposite of the Emerald necklace. It is storefronts and parking spaces and all the fun generalized city congestion you can ask for in Boston. The vibe is not one of concern. I see two men, about six feet apart, talking. One is against the building, the other is slightly askew on the far side of the sidewalk. While they are six feet apart from each other, their positioning creates a virtual barrier where anyone walking on the sidewalk would be force to go between them. I walk into the street on the other side of the parked cars, in the bike lane. I was hoping that this would only be necessary for "passing," but as I got further up the street, the number of non-mask wearers + wearing a mask under their nose + groups of people = I spent the majority of the trip in the bike lane, watching my six (both in the "my back" sense and in the "feet away from me" sense).

I was not having fun.

Before leaving the house, my wife and I had had a quick pow-wow to figure out the extended pharmacy list and prevent repeat trips. There were only three items on the list: the prescription, extra-strength Tylenol, and some hydrocortisone cream. Easy peasy.

While this is a fairly large CVS, anyone who has been in one of these buildings knows they are not designed for social distancing. Besides the double-wide candy aisle in the front middle of the store (ironic), you have aisles that are meant for maybe one person. They're so snug I feel like some marketing psychologist must have done a study and found the closer to the items you are, the more apt you are to buy something. Just a feeling I get.

If I had to describe the attitude of my fellow shoppers in CVS, I would describe them as "not giving a fuck." I, quite to the contrary, gave tons and tons and tons of fucks. Almost all the fucks. When my idea of my safety is immediately pushed up against its foil, the aforementioned red-eyed creature sinks its teeth deep into my lungs, filling them with panic and dread.

I knew where the hydrocortisone was and I grabbed that first. By the time I retrieved the boxed tube, there were people at both ends of my aisle. I tried to calm myself by taking a deep breath, only to realize that breathing was the problem. The creature twisted its head, filling my lungs with more and more liquid panic. When I saw an opening at the end of the row, I turned my head away from the nearest humans and slipped down the pain reliever aisle. So many pain relievers. Get the CVS brand it's the same thing. Gel caps. Did she want gel caps or pills? Does it matter?Aren't they all the same! My mind is racing as I grab the generic Tylenol and head to the pharmacy counter in the back of the store. There they have lines taped onto the floor for social distancing while waiting, mercifully for my ever shortening breaths, I am the only one waiting, as two customers are being helped. The transaction itself was painless. Like most medical points of contact, they have shields and N95 masks and contactless checkout. I'm rung up and I get out via the least populated aisle (the far make-up aisle).

Once back out on the street I follow a older gentlemen, 8 feet behind, for a short while before realizing that I might as well just take the bike lane home. I'll be safer, less panicked, and I'll be able to see any oncoming bikes while walking this direction. Ten minutes later I'm home. I lather my hands once again and remove my mask. I'm still trying to slow my breathing back to its normal rate.

"That was bad. I'm going to take a shower," I tell my wife as I throw my clothes down to the basement to be washed. She gives me an empathic look. She's been to the grocery store. She already knows how it is "out there."

I come downstairs clean and revitalized. I'm feeling better, particularly in the knowledge that I won't have to do that again for a month. My wife is smiling in the kitchen. As I move towards her I realize the smile is actually more of a smirk.

"What's up," I ask, beginning to suspect I've done something wrong.

"Look at the Tylenol," she replies, handing me the box.

I read, "Children's Pain & Fever, Oral Suspension"

I bought generic liquid children's Tylenol.

"I had a panic attack in the store," I said, a smirk turning up the corners of my own mouth.

"Whatcha gonna do," she replied with a mini-shrug. She gave me a kiss on the cheek as she walked past me, into the other room to watch TV.


  1. I know the point of this post is to give people insight into your mind state right now, but I also wanted to let you know I go out to the store and cvs quite often. I could always grab your stuff when I go and drop it on your porch... I’d already going anyway. Also, CVS will deliver prescriptions. Again, I know this isn’t the point of the post, but I empathize with your panic. I don’t experience it and feel very lucky, but I’ve seen it in other people when I’ve been out. Things suck enough, adding anxiety to it just sucks and I’m sorry.

  2. Ugh I feel your pain. I get super high anxiety being in public and get really pissed off at the people who don’t give a fuck. It’s just so hard to understand why so many people are not taking this seriously and that in itself endangers us and it’s unacceptable. I know it may not be ideal but I now get my prescription mailed to me and now u can add items to that delivery. Worth every penny for peace of mind.