The Mask of Covid-19

I never liked reading Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories in school because they seemed so dark and grim. One story that I remember the most, and have thought about often, is “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Although there are different interpretations of the story, the gist of it is that none of us can escape death, even if you’re wealthy like the main character so aptly named Prince Prospero.

He and his wealthy friends hold a masquerade party at Prince Prospero’s walled abbey which was well protected from the Red Death that was terrorizing the countryside. The symptoms described are very reminiscent of the Black Plague. Oozing blood out of pores and all that kind of stuff.

Everything was going great, until a mysterious figure wearing a robe splattered with blood and a mask resembling that of a corpse shows up. Prospero wants to know who this uninvited guest is and demands that he be hanged for possibly bringing in the plague. I feel the same way when I see someone not wearing a mask at Walmart.

Anyway, as Prince Prospero finally confronts the robed figure with a dagger, Prospero immediately drops dead as the figure turns to him. The other guests disrobe and unmask the uninvited guest only to discover nothing beneath the robe or mask. One by one, everyone ends up dying despite all their efforts to escape the Red Death.

Okay, maybe Covid-19 isn’t quite that lethal but with the rise of cases in Macon County this week, it’s hard not to feel like, well, shit’s getting real!

The whole “thing” so far has felt a bit like a movie to me. It’s felt surreal because, thankfully, I have yet to know anyone personally who has come down with Covid-19. It’s hit really close here and there but so far none of my immediate family, friends, or co-workers has experienced it. Knock on wood.

At the very beginning when we were locked down, I kept thinking about the movie the Ten Commandments. The scene where the final plague targets all the firstborn of Egypt as a dark mist descending from the sky came to mind. I wrote about it then.

It was just a co-worker and myself working the night when the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was announced in Decatur. Here we were in a cold, clammy, lonely basement without a lifeline to the outside world, knowing that the virus was literally down the hall.

Both of us were housewives before going to work in a hospital. Neither of us had been prepared for anything like this. We had no idea what to do other than clean everything and avoid the hallway like, well, the plague.

We hurried about for the remainder of our shift like scared rats skittering about on the lowest floor of the sinking Titanic.

Come to think of it, Covid-19 did feel very real then.

But as the months have gone by and cases remained fairly low throughout the summer, the threat didn’t feel quite so concerning. Life kinda went back on autopilot.

But now, after hundreds of new cases have been confirmed in just a week’s time and hospitalizations have also increased, I’m feeling a little like Prospero and his noble friends, hanging out in the abbey.

I wear a mask, wash my hands, use hand sanitizer and stay away from large crowds but I still can’t help feeling like there’s a robed figure about to come into the scene.

Most people recover well from Covid-19 but there’s always the chance that any of us could be the unlucky one. Having experienced pneumonia at least twice in my life, I know how rough a severe respiratory illness can be.

It was New Year’s Eve 1999 when I was ready to ring in the new year and the new millennia. I had spent the whole day cleaning the house in preparation for guests, while keeping an eye on the toaster and microwave that might kill me at the stroke of midnight from the Y2K bug. Then, suddenly I felt sick.

I remember falling back into a rocking chair and telling my husband to cancel the gathering. In three hours time I went from feeling fine to a 103 degree temperature. In a few days time, my lungs filled with fluid and breathing became difficult. There were trips to the ER and the doctor’s office and days spent in bed seeing portals into the next world.

It took well over a year for my damaged lungs to fully recover.

Now, I’m out in the lobby, stepping on stale popcorn and trying to enjoy my $15 box of Milk Duds during the intermission of this movie I’ve been watching for the past six months.

I don’t know who’s been writing the script of what we’ve been living the past few years but I have a feeling it could be Edgar Allan Poe. But then, I don’t think even he could come up with something so crazy.

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