3.3 Fall 2021

December 25, Merry Covid

Remember when I asked that we make it through the last week of school without any more COVID high jinks?


I was getting ready to head off into town to take class and maybe watch a movie on my suddenly plan-free Christmas when I got a text from Yana.

“One of the fifth graders tested positive. You will need to get a COVID test.” That would be my third COVID test in a week, and my sixth since November.

The irony was that I didn’t actually teach that fifth grader because I had to miss the first two periods at my travel school while waiting on COVID test results from my second test of the week.

I begged Yana to double check that I actually needed a test given this is the school I only attend once a week and that I didn’t even teach the student in question.

She gracefully took my pleas to the VP who confirmed that I still needed to get a test.

I didn’t have any room left in me to be surprised or disappointed. If I got to spend my Christmas day without some threat of COVID, would it really have been a Christmas day in 2021?

Yana did inform me that there was a hospital across town that returned test results within 6 hours, instead of the usual 16. As we all have to quarantine between testing time and test results, this seemed ideal. At the very least maybe I could go to the gym that night for an hour or two before it, and everywhere else, closed at 9 according to new strict guidelines.

I filled my car with gas in one last bid for freedom and then drove twenty minutes to the hospital next to the mountains.

Yana had gone earlier, and had offered to pick me up. I declined because she was already in the tunnel which would have required her driving for a few miles before turning around to drive back through.

But I probably should have gone with her because when I rolled up, after being told by one attendant in the main parking lot that I needed to go somewhere else, there was a swath of people.

I parked, somewhat illegally in the first basement level, and then followed two women who may have just been ghosts through a series of blank corridors under the hospital. We pushed out through a set of doors and up an outside stone staircase. There I was faced with the true consequences of the new omicron strain.

The line was easily 200 people long.

I left my padded jacket in the car and elected not to go back for it. The fire of irritation kept me warm in the below freezing weather.

There was a scramble of people running which I didn’t learn later was to get a document.

I didn’t want to lose my place in line, among families and lots of children, so I waited until we rounded one of the many corners where I ducked out of line to elbow through a small crowd gathered around a folding table, People were scribbling on papers so I reached over the melee and nabbed what I could, handing the extras to a woman next to me.

“Oh, thank you.” She said in surprise.

I quickly ducked back into line, squatting down to use my knee as a desk, but the line moved so quickly that I had to play leap frog.

I handed my chicken scratch paper to one of the young men in paper gowns only to realize at the front of the line that those papers were going directly to one hut which immediately printed and labelled our COVID test vials.

Korean efficiency at work!

The line moved much more quickly than I expected but the rising tide of anger hadn’t been quelled. The testing order was not determined by our place in line but rather the bucket of labeled vials that one man was holding and calling out names for.

Many of us had not immediately filled out the paper, not realizing what it was for, and thus people twenty or thirty back were being called ahead of people at the front.

One father was not happy about this.

He started raising his voice, complaining loudly, yelling, jostling people around him. It was what one may call, a Karen moment. His daughter was looking on to what was not exactly a model of good behavior.

But I had some empathy for him; perhaps he was tortured by worry that his young daughter may be COVID positive. He also felt that the paper collection system was confusing and unfair. And most understandably, we are all so sick and tired of this. This scene is exactly what we saw last year, and almost a year before that, too. Is it really a different Christmas? Did COVID waste two years of our lives already?

The older man with a booming, but likely diminishing, voice tried to calm the father and find his family’s vials which he did in short order. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

A few moments later another Karen arrived. I was off to the side at the front of the line waiting for my vial, and wondering if they typed my name in Korean or English.

This Karen rolled up with her family. I couldn’t tell if her pants were falling down or if she had oddly wrapped a blanket around her lower section.

She started screaming and shoving. In lieu of being made uncomfortable, I elected to neutrally observe the dynamics at hand. She also had a daughter and husband in tow. The vial announcer didn’t seem angry but rather worked quickly to give her a paper; she hadn’t filled one out at all, which I think she yelled at her husband for.

The vial announcer then turned to the young men running around in paper gowns, directing traffic and collecting papers, to berate them about the mismatch of people in line versus paper order. One young man lifted his plastic visor to wipe at his forehead, even though it was around 30°F.

The vial man finally called my name. The name on the label was written in the same way that I choose to write it* and that all health facilities do in order to fit my name in the standard three syllable block. Korean names are traditionally three syllables so you can imagine the headache for foreigners with longer names trying to navigate registration on official websites. As such, places like hospitals don’t write my last name for appointments. Like Madonna, I am “Abigail” only.

That made me wonder why everyone else insists on spelling my name how they choose, often with an added syllable. It doesn’t matter that I have my name spelled in Korean in emails and group chats; that’s usually discarded in favor of attempting to match the sounds of my name exactly in Korean, which is impossible, when I myself just prefer the easy three syllable version. Come on, friends, I honor the strange Romanization of Korean names!

I rushed over to the last booth where a surprisingly calm woman swabbed my throat and left nostril.

It’s always the left nostril. Is Saturday just the left nostril day? If I came on a Sunday would my right nostril be swabbed?

I told her that she seemed to really busy and that she was working hard. After watching the Karens, it was a breath of fresh air (I actually don’t know that that is anymore) to interact with a health care worker that did not look close to crying.

So, uh, Merry Christmas?

The test itself took thirty seconds and then I was free to find the magical staircase down to the hospital bowels, but my path was cut off by another young, gowned man.

He said something in Korean. I didn’t understand, so he followed with “Do you speak English?” which was frankly a little unexpected. Was it courtesy? Or do they have a lot of Russian workers come to this hospital?

He told me this entry was off limits. I looked between him and the double doors in confusion. Had I imagined the stone stairs?

He advised me to use another set of emergency stairs, so I wandered back around past the continuously forming line and saw no such emergency stairs.

I felt more irritated and decided, screw this! I strode past a few gowned parking attendants and went straight down the car ramp. I’m a car now. I dare you to try and stop me!

No one did, and if they had, I’d have just ignored them.

So I dodged cars up and down the ramp to finally see my sweet little coffee bean offering escape.

I sat in my car for awhile, complaining to everyone about my predicament and then trudged home. If a car could trudge.

I ordered Vietnamese and then at 6 PM my test result came back negative, of course. But I was too tired to do anything but eat the rest of my spring rolls in bed and binge watch the Witcher, to which I then had to go scream incomprehensibly about to my internet friends. I really can’t decide which is more of an ask: for the audience to believe that Geralt and Yennefer are in love (yack) or that Jaskier is a ladies man.

So that’s how I spent Christmas 2021. I just hope that Christmas 2022 looks different, or I may have to start a life of crime.

*아비갤 (my chosen spelling, standard hospital spelling)
아비가일 (correct according to Hangeulization rules, but not close to proper pronunciation; sounds exactly like Spanish ‘Abigail’)
아비게일 (correct according to pronunciation rules but I hate 에일 as a stand in for ‘ail’ with a hot fiery passion; in Korean ‘ail’ is not a diphthong so the pronunciation sounds like “Eh. Eeel.”)
에비게일 (by far the worst and luckily the least used)

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