testing

People patiently wait to have their blood drawn in the gymnasium this week as county and health officials test thousands for COVID-19. (Photo by Bria Light/Telluride Daily Planet)

I don’t like needles. At all. The semi-regular routine of a blood draw preceding a physical is a gut-wrenching experience. My veins are elusive and stingy. If, after several stabs a vein can be found at all, my blood seems to run like tree sap in January. The last several times, the patient technicians at the Telluride Regional Medical Center have found better success with tapping a vein in my hand, talking soothingly to me while I focus on the array of cartoons on the wall. I always leave feeling clammy and unsettled.

On Saturday, I signed up to have my blood drawn on purpose. As the community joins forces in a unique opportunity to have every willing soul in San Miguel County be part of a study that will determine each donor’s antibodies (have we or have we not been exposed to COVID-19?), I willingly filled out consent forms online and showed up for my scheduled day. Senior day. It begs the question exactly when did I become a senior, but I rhetorically ask it with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Tucked in my warm Subie, I joined the queue and spoke with one friendly masked volunteer after another. They each delivered simple instructions on how the procedure would unfold and repeatedly asked after my health. Though I’d filled out my forms online a couple days earlier, they weren’t showing up, so I was handed an iPad, damp with sanitizer, and did it again in the parking lot behind the high school. Once done, I was back in line, armed with a brand new facemask (to keep for the second draw in two weeks), and a baggie containing an empty vial and stickers with my designated number. I am No. 2074.

After parking, I chatted with a volunteer guiding vehicles who was happy to have remembered to bring his tunes. The line was short, and I took my place next to an orange stanchion in a series along the sidewalk, each placed more than six feet apart. I sent a selfie of my be-masked mug to my daughter and before too long was at the front of the line. As much as I abhor the whole needle thing, I realized I hadn’t thought about it once.

At the entrance a tall man in full personal protective equipment instructed me to wash my hands at the mobile wash stations. The water was icy and the soap was frozen, but we figured it out. I’m pretty sure the man was Dan the Carpet Man. The whole facility looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. Names were scrawled in marker on everyone’s head-to-toe white onesies.

Freshly sanitized, I followed the blue arrows and another volunteer taped to the floor to where I waited briefly for one of the many blood draw stations set up in the Telluride Intermediate School gym. Lisa was open first, but deferred me to another technician when I relayed my experience with only being able to give blood from a hand vein. Megan took over and thanked me for my story but expertly probed the crook of my elbow for a giving vein.

Satisfied she’d found one, she gently pierced my flesh and pronounced her excursion successful. My blood flowed like the San Miguel in early summer. Grateful and relieved, I air-hugged her and returned to the frigid early afternoon. The line was now snaking the length of the school’s front. My timing had been fortuitous.

I left feeling oddly proud. And as much as I strive to be positive at all times, I sent up a little entreaty to anyone listening for a negative result.

—Suzanne Cheavens

A VOLUNTEER’S VIEW

On Saturday morning, I woke up, and get this, I got dressed in clothes not made out of fleece, like I actually had to be somewhere. I know, right? During these times of sheltering in place, working from home and a personal record number of days in a row without leaving Ophir, it was a momentous occasion. I am not ashamed to admit that these days I am practically living in my floor-length robe (purple and fuzzy, if you must know). But you see, now I did, in fact, have somewhere to be.

As San Miguel County undertook the gargantuan public health task of offering free, easy COVID-19 blood tests to every member of the county over the age of 8, I wanted to offer my assistance, given the sudden dearth of social events on my calendar. After contacting the volunteer coordinator, filling out some forms and signing up for a shift, I was on my way on a snowy weekend morning, to present my services.

The Telluride Middle/High School had been transformed into a well-oiled machine of sanitary efficiency. After checking into the volunteer room and receiving my gloves and mask, I proceeded to the intermediate school library, which had become the command center of checking patients in online and distributing kits to be taken to the IV stations in the gymnasium. Rigorously sanitized daily, it was likely the cleanest the schoolroom  —normally used by hundreds of children — has ever been, with nary a Cheeto-hued fingerprint to be found on any table surface. Even through my mask I could detect a whiff of cleaning product that made my nose hairs stand at attention.

The dozen or so volunteers in the room were occupying various tasks: Some, armed with a radio and a laptop, communicated with greeters on the outside of the building who radioed names over to be looked up in the online form database. Others then took the blood test kit, with a last name now attached to a number, and ran it to the window, where it was passed through the open window to a volunteer who dispatched it to the waiting vehicle. The atmosphere in the room was jovial yet business-like, with masked volunteers chatting amiably during slower moments. One volunteer confessed she enjoyed helping out not only to get some social time, but also to have a reason to get out of the house

I myself was directed to the assembly station for the blood kits. It was a repetitive yet strangely soothing task, one my Saturday morning brain quite enjoyed. Open Ziplock. Insert three numbered labels. Stick a fourth label to a blood test vial. Insert vial in Ziplock. Add a final numbered label to the outside of Ziplock. Close Ziplock. Repeat. As I repeated this task diligently over the next couple of hours, my brain slipped into a meditative state of glassy-eyed meanderings through the twisting, turning pathways of unfocused thought, like a free-range Ophir dog trotting aimlessly through town, stopping here and there to sniff an object of interest before scurrying along.

One thought in particular caught my mind, causing it to pause and sniff around a bit further. Everyone, understandably, is in a hurry to get back to “normal.” But what from these times will we bring with us to that new normal? In a society so focused on the individual, on celebrity, on success stories that glorify the power of one, we find ourselves suddenly lost in the forest of the collective, trying to chart a path through unfamiliar terrain. Now, instead of prioritizing our own desires and interests, we’re making choices for the health and safety of the greater community. We’re staying home to protect the vulnerable among us. We’re ditching our devices, however temporarily, and going for walks or runs with our families or roommates. We’re checking in with old friends, using the internet to reach out to strangers to offer help and support, offering free yoga and art classes via Zoom and Facebook Messenger.

We’re taking care of each other. As simple as it may seem, in a culture obsessed with individualistic success, this is a radical notion. In many ways, this spring, however silent, has seen the sowing of intentional seeds of kindness. It has seen humanity rise to its feet, shake off the thick dust of self-absorbed slumber and place a resolute foot in a new direction. These are the things I hope we’ll take with us into the uncharted future of a new reality as things eventually shift back towards “business as usual.” We choose how to write the story of the future.

From across the room, the volunteer coordinator approaches my workstation. I call my wandering mind back from its reverie. Help is needed to input paper copies of forms into the database before the patients can proceed to the blood draw. Today’s testing is for those over 60, and for some in this age range, filling out a sheaf of forms is much preferable with a pen and paper. Technologically challenged as I am, I can understand.

Though I could be sitting at home, sipping coffee in my purple robe, I’m happy to be here. I remember my friend, the late Glider Bob, who always encouraged community involvement. He’d be proud of our little town right now.

—Bria Light