I have a client who has a small law firm that, until recently, consisted of herself, a part-time assistant, and me, her contract bookkeeper. With the advent of our county’s shelter-in-place orders about three weeks ago, her business slowed to a crawl. The courthouse wasn’t open for hearings or trials. Previously scheduled ones needed to be re-configured as teleconferences. Current cases were on hold. No new clients were calling, and she laid off her assistant.
When the assistant was still working, I worked there two mornings a week. After she was laid off, I continued working two mornings a week but was more flexible about which mornings. There was also less work, so my scheduled two hours for each visit became an hour.
The office is small. I work at a desk in a corner of a cramped lobby. The attorney has an office in the only other full room in the space. Behind and to the side of my desk is a hallway that contains the copier, a tiny refrigerator, and some supply shelves. At the end of that short hallway is the bathroom.
On Monday, April 6, I arrived at the office before the attorney. I retrieved the mail from an outside box, opened and reviewed it, and checked emails before she appeared in an unpleasant mood, retiring immediately to her office to work on the stimulus program’s small business loan — one of the reasons, if not the reason, for her prickly mood.
Hearing her cursing as she struggled through the loan application, I hurried to confirm I had nothing pressing to do so I could escape the disquieting environment.
Sticking my head in her office door, I said, “I really don’t have much to do. Think I’ll leave. I’m not coming back the rest of this week unless you text that you need me.”
“Okay, check with me on Friday, “ was her reply.
On Friday, I texted. Her response was that she didn’t need me but she asked that I come in on Monday to print checks that she expected to need.
Today was that Monday. I went to her office, arriving later than normal but still, she wasn’t there.
I retrieved and opened the mail, laying hers on her desk and setting aside bills I needed to pay and client costs to process. I checked emails and printed one.
Then, I texted her, “Are you coming to the office?”
Her reply: “No. I’m being sent for virus testing. For over a week, I’ve been having fevers with my fever going up to 101.5 last night. So I finally went ahead and called doctor and had a telemedicine appointment with her this morning. I have no other symptoms at all. But she’s sending me for testing at 1:30 today.”
No other symptoms??!! Isn’t a week-long fever enough?
Why didn’t she tell me — LAST WEEK? And, if not then, this morning before I went to the office and exposed myself?
She went on to say the results would be back in 48 hours. Really? That’s not what I’ve been reading or hearing. 72 hours, perhaps. A week, more likely.
“I’m out of here,” I texted, “Let me know results.”
I closed down my programs, turned off lights, locked the door and left. In my car, I slathered on sanitizer, called my husband, who is immune-compromised, told him to open the front door and get out of my way.
I did all the cleaning/sanitizing protocol — showering, clothes washing, shoe scrubbing, sanitizing every item that went in that office with me.
As we strategized about the situation, Ben expressed his intense anger that she would be so inconsiderate, especially knowing his health issues. I felt the same. She promised me before that she was very cautious about the virus and was cleaning phones, keyboards, desktops, light switches, and doorknobs when she left each night.
How could she be doing that and not tell me she ran a fever for more than a week?
For businesses that are considered essential, there has to be a social contract that we will look out for one another, will abide by all the safety protocols, and will reveal any exposures to the virus or possible symptoms. That is the only way that we can continue to work and remain healthy.
She broke that social contract.
Then, I spoke with my biggest client, the one I work for every day, the only one that still has lots of business.
After hearing my story, he said, “Stay home until she has the test results. Do as much work as you can remotely. Coordinate with those here in the office to help with anything you need on our end. Most importantly, take care of yourself. We’ll get through this.”
Thankfully, I was not scheduled to work for anyone else this week.
I texted my Corona client, told her I was banned from my other client’s office and will be wearing a mask at home and sleeping in the guest room, so please let me know the results as soon as she has them.
Her response was defensive and snarky, insinuating that I thought she “did this on purpose” to inconvenience me, Ben, and my other client. A disappointing, petulant, and adolescent response.
A simple, “I am so sorry that I didn’t think to tell you earlier” would have been nice and may have even softened my anger.
So, here I sit. Isolated. Working remotely, bothering everyone in that client’s office to do bits and pieces of my work that I can’t do from home.
So, here I sit. Worried. Is she sick? Am I sick? Will Ben get sick?
An allergy cough or sneeze gives me a pang of panic. The face mask I am wearing is hot and steams up my glasses. Ben and I avoid one another as much as possible in our cozy home. I eat on the porch. I work at a desk in the guest room where I will also sleep tonight and tomorrow night and — well, who knows for how long?
Isolation for at least “48 hours”, which is likely to be 72 or more.
If she tests positive, this is my life for 14 days. Longer if I become symptomatic. Not sure what I’ll do about Ben at that point.
During this health crisis, I was the one carefully navigating a small corner of the world while Ben remained safely at home.
Now, I am in isolation and he may no longer be safe.
Story update 24 hours later.
Turns out our local University has a Coronavirus lab. Today, my client received confirmation that she does NOT have the virus.
I am free!
It’s amazing how long that 24 hours felt.
The fact that she does not have the virus in no way lessens her troublesome and dangerous behavior. Her thoughtlessness created a frightful situation for me, my husband, and all those who work at my other client’s office. She broke a social contract that is in place to keep us healthy.
If you have a fever, take it seriously, even if you have no other symptoms. Obviously, my client’s doctor thought her fever was concerning enough to warrant testing.
We are lucky to live in a city with a large university, a College of Medicine, and a teaching hospital. Most people do not receive such quick lab results.
Because the federal government did not take control of this health emergency, states and communities are on their own to muddle through without enough resources. We have resources here that many don’t.
As Americans, our level of care in a pandemic should be equal, not dependent on the financial status of our states or counties. I cannot imagine going through the last 24 hours in, say, a small town in Mississippi or Alabama where doctors and clinics are rare and virus testing may be one, two, or more hours away.
I know how lucky I was in so many ways. Our health should not rely on luck.