Tempting Fate

18 Nov Tempting Fate

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 23.11.20

We can be slow to learn some of life’s simplest lessons. That whole “not tempting fate” thing is a class I have failed time and time again. 

There was that Christmas Eve several years ago, for example, when the whole family had gathered at my place. I always find the preparation for Christmas crazy stressful (who doesn’t?) coming as it does during the busiest time of my work year. So all the big things – late night gigs, shopping, food preparation, making up the spare beds, end-of-year paperwork – gallop along beside each other as the immoveable Christmas Day deadline looms.

I had expected to be still wrapping gifts and assembling trifle till midnight but somehow at 5pm everything was done. At which point I said in a much too loud voice to our houseful of guests and also the Fates that I was Ready For Christmas. Boom! The phone rang and it was my father’s doctor saying his test results had arrived and we needed to admit him immediately to hospital. At almost the same moment, my little niece ran face-first into our glass door and smashed it – just the door, thank goodness, not her face, and I don’t know how that worked but there was much relief amid the general confusion that we were only whisking one of us off to the admissions department.

So Dad spent Christmas in hospital while we tried to find a glazier, and everyone googled “concussion, signs of” while checking the size of the egg-shaped bump on my niece’s head. Note to self: do not tempt the Fates with your over-confidence.

But I keep forgetting. So much so that if I ever say definitively that I have something all sorted, my husband gives me a look. He should have been there last week with the look when I announced to no-one in particular (except the Fates, obviously) that I hadn’t been sick all year. Nothing – not a bug, not the flu, not even a cold, I remarked. Lockdown, I figured, plus a flu shot, plus careful handwashing and a lot of staying home and much less contact with large groups of people during winter, and doubtless the masks. Wonderful, I said, and maybe this is one of the upsides – we’ve adopted protocols that take better care of ourselves and each other.

Boom! I sneezed, and my eyes started streaming. Classic hay fever, and just the time of year for it when the broom and the flax pollen always drives me crazy. I knocked back the antihistamines I keep handy for just this purpose and soldiered on.

But it’s different now, right? You sneeze and feel you need to explain this is not The Plague. Your health is everyone’s health in Covid times. You can’t catch hay fever, but… is that what it is? I don’t know about you, but one of the thoughts that keeps me awake at night is the possibility of having a cluster named after me. Rationally, I know there should be no shame in it – this is, as we know, a very tricky virus and so long as you do the right things with testing and tracking and tracing and going hard and early, no one would think less of you for it, but…

Certain it was hay fever (achoo!) but also worried I’d worry other people, I diligently wore my mask in public places. Being one of the few in a mask at our supermarket takes a moment to settle into – will they think I’m paranoid? Neurotic? Plague-filled? But I swear people went out of their way to smile sympathetically as I went out of my way to say out of their way. It was as though they figured I had a reason for not wanting to breathe on them, and we all knew it wasn’t them, it was me. I am grateful we don’t have that American cultural divide that places masks on the side of stealing our freedoms. Here, covering your mouth when you’re sneezy is just good manners.

The morning I woke up hot and with a sore throat, our household drove to our local Covid testing station and let the nice lady put a stick in our noses, and then cancelled plans and stayed home to wait for the text. Negative. Just a cold, and largely gone when the message arrived less than 24 hours later. Happy, though, to be safe, not sorry.

We talked, my husband and I, about how this might be another upside to Covid times. That before, with a cold, I would have swallowed some pills and soldiered on, putting work and family commitments before my health, feeling the weight of responsibility to get the job done more keenly that the need to get well and – more significantly – protect other people from me. He is welcome, next time I’m feeling a bit off but start putting on a brave face, to give me that look again.