PERRY: Back to the cakewalk from Hell after failing my COVID-19 antibody test

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I’m negative. It’s so depressing.

I don’t mean the negative I’m thinking you’re thinking, if you follow my regular rantings as a Sentinel Colorado scribe.

The test was negative. A coronavirus antibody test taken last week at a STRIDE health center in Aurora reveals that I have not been exposed to the virus that has turned the planet upside down.

I had the really easy blood test taken under a canopy in a parking lot among some blowing leaves, curious squirrels and fresh, cool air. If the woman drawing my blood hadn’t looked like something out of the Andromeda Strain, it could have been a peaceful community fair. In a world filled with medical overload, it was nice contrast. The test determines if you have a unique antibody humans produce when exposed to the new coronavirus, whether they get sick or not.

I feel like for the last few months I have been enjoined in a surreal keep-cake-walking-they-shoot-horses-don’t-they marathon game show. And Monday, at 9 a.m., over the phone with a STRIDE health-care provider, I got told to keep walking.

STRIDE, if you don’t know, is a community based health care service for everybody, and especially for the thousands and thousands of hard-working metro-area residents who don’t even have the crappy health insurance we all complain about. Serving mostly people who might — and probably don’t even — have Medicaid, STRIDE provides first-rate medicine to anybody and everybody. A lot of the region’s top doctors and other health professionals volunteer or work part-time for STRIDE. It’s grown into a regional force all its own. It’s a powerful argument for what universal healthcare could be.

STRIDE bills your insurance but collects no money from anyone having the tests. The tests are purchased and fulfilled through Quest, which are considered among the most accurate and valuable at this time.

Since the pandemic, they’ve stepped up with treatment and testing for COVID-19, becoming a local leader in the push to help us get through the crisis by understanding who’s sick, who’s exposed and who’s not.

I’m not.

I was sure I’d been exposed, partly because I’m a huge hypochondriac. I’ve had every symptom of this vicious virus almost daily for weeks now. I was sure because two staffers at Sentinel Colorado did get sick with the virus, one of them very sick. I was certain because it’s nearly certain that my wife was flattened by the virus in February, before we even knew what the symptoms were.

My wife, Melody, is tough, seriously tough. She was so sick with “the flu” in late February that she made me take her to urgent care, twice, which is so not her thing. She had racking chills that came and went. She had lost her sense of smell and taste, and she was pretty sure she was dying. She tested negative for both types A and B flu strains. Twice.

It wasn’t until weeks later we found out she had checked off nearly every symptom of COVID-19. Her own test is pending. If she’s negative, well, then hell.

Then we’ll both be forced to join the ranks of the healthy and the scared-to-death in what’s shaping up to be a cruel, endless game of Russian roulette played several times a day with deadly, micron-sized bullets.

It’s become crystal clear that’s what we’re doing here in Colorado. I realize that keeping the state locked down will literally destroy the economy that keeps us all in elusive toilet paper, $1.18 per gallon gas, Japanese cars and Impossible Burgers. So we either get back out there and see what that COVID-19 death rate is really all about, or we make the Grapes of Wrath look like a Disney comedy.

I had such dreams for hearing the word “positive” for past exposure to the novel coronavirus. I understand that harboring the coveted antibodies is hardly the key to the Magic Kingdom. There’s so much we don’t know about the virus. But I do know that a virus that behaves a lot like the infamous SARS virus does apparently leave behind some degree of immunity to those who survive it.

I was going to get a haircut. I was going to ride an elevator.

I would fearlessly hold my ground the next time a huffing, puffing jogger played chicken with me on the sidewalk as I took my hourly constitutional.

And those walks would end, too. No more Mr. Health Guy if I’ve already survived the virus. I’ve had it with losing weight, avoiding salt and eating endless things green to keep myself in the best physical position possible to avoid seeing a ventilator with my name on it.

I dreamed, day-dreamed, of sleeping several consecutive hours without wondering if I’ve spread the coronavirus all over my car, my house, my keyboard and my endlessly itchy eyeballs by stopping by the bank night deposit or scoring real toilet paper for a pal recovering from cancer and can’t leave her house.

I had plans to linger in front of the pile of avocados at King Soopers, choosing just the right ones, instead of hurriedly throwing whatever into a bag to avoid the Family Maskless as they swarmed around me.

I even fancied myself getting on an airplane and drinking carelessly.

Not now. No inside restaurants for me when they open. Shopping in Aurora, where every fourth person has no mask and no sense of what people look like gasping for air in ICU? Nope. Denver and Wheat Ridge won’t let you in without a mask on, which even local experts admit can cut the chance of virus transmission by half if everyone is muzzled.

If this is a game of chance, I’m going out where my chances are the best.

I’m back to taking my temperature several times a day. I’m washing my hands until they bleed. I’m watching every snippet of news regarding a vaccine. I’m back to craving the sleep I was getting before the pandemic. And I’m dreading the day I don’t dodge the virus bullet and wait to see just how sick I get. I’ll just keep worrying whether I’m one of the unlucky few who can tell you first hand just how awful it is to be on a ventilator in ICU. Or someone even unluckier than that.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter or Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]