Why I am working from home


First of all, I don't have the virus, so let's get THAT out of the way. Now, let me explain.... 

As some of you know, I've had problems in the lungs all my life. I've had minor asthma to start with. When the running craze was going on in high school, I could go a mile or so I guess, but then would be wheezing something awful as I tried to walk it out. I had pill medication early for asthma; inhalers came years later with drainage.

The asthma has never helped with colds and allergies, and I had plenty of that. For whatever reason, as bizarre as it seems, my childhood doctor used to give out plastic syringes without the needles every time I had a shot. I had a whole bag of them. I had pneumonia by the time I was like 7 and had it again later as an adult. Bronchitis is normal to me. 

Colds and allergies have become more drainage in recent years, so the lungs have taken a beating. I had drainage for two months or so this winter, up until about time for the March 3 primary. I was fine for a week, and then I got it again. And that's when all this virus stuff arose, so that I felt I had to text my doctor to play cautious, even though I had no fever or contact with travelers.

He didn't think it was the virus, either, but asked I come the next morning. I got swabbed for the flu, of course. (I had a flu shot earlier, courtesy of the Daily Mountain Eagle and Hospital Discount Pharmacy.) We talked about my drainage problems, and he wanted a "panel," or a bunch of testing done, to look at a whole list of viruses. I think he did mention coronavirus in passing, but it didn't really hit me. We talked more about my usual problem.

I then pointed out my age and my medical history and I asked point blank, "Am I more at risk for the coronavirus?" My doctor, a cool and mellow fellow usually, was already looking like he was going to war, and was concerned enough too I was still getting drainage. He looked at me seriously and said, "Yes." And he recommended I stay secluded for two weeks. That got my attention. 

He even talked about me getting my own breathing treatment machine, although I still haven't had time to look into that. (Yes, I should this week.) I got a treatment on the spot, which I saw I needed more than I thought. He prescribed cough syrup (which oddly I haven't had to use; it was late arriving anyway) and a shot. 

After the shot, someone said, "We'll come back to swab you." Swab me again? Why?

Then the person who did the flu test came back decked out in protective gear. I gulped. "Is that THE test?" I said. She nodded yes and proceeded to stick that swab in my nose. 

Then she wondered why she was garbed because she hadn't been when she did the flu test. 

But I took great pains to assure her the doctor didn't think that was it. I could see he was being proactive, and I recalled later he mentioned it among the panel tests. My doctor, like many others, was concerned about what was coming and more needed to be done. I could see he was going extra distance looking after me. 

Still, I kept pretty much secluded at the apartment over the weekend, and I tried to make sure others at the office knew what was going on. The test came back negative, as expected (and thankfully just in time before the Walker County Commission meeting; I was about to send someone else). I was 98 percent sure, based on the conversations with the doctor. Of course, it is the 2 percent that keeps you up at night. 

(It turned out to be rhinovirus, or cold, and went away, although I have still taken an allergy pill for all the pollen.) 

I tried one morning to work from the apartment. I had email problems, and people calling, all of us trying to keep track. I finally threw up my hands and went to the office after lunch and worked the rest of the week as we all went into gradual lockdown, step by step. 

But since then I have heard more horror stories of people in their 50s and people with respiratory conditions. They have not done well with this virus, which, in some cases, latches on to the lungs and starts damaging or destroying sections of it. It acts quickly. Multiple patients in New Orleans have struggled even on ventilators, and have usually had to be strapped down as they move around in their struggle. Heard of another guy who had conditions like me and went to Florida and came back home to California with the virus. It acted quickly on him, faster than they could treat him really. He died at 37.

And then, there are the images from Italy hospitals, looking like a war zone. New York is getting to that stage, and Jefferson County next door has surged. I think UAB Hospital saw the number of patients go from 18 to 47 in one day, and many of them using up the precious number of ventilators they have. We don't even have enough ventilators in this nation to handle the problem. 

No, not everyone will get a serious case. Some get mild cases. But if you were me, turning 57 on Wednesday, with a history of asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, drainage and the like, would you chance this?  

I've always been the one to try to work though things, although I have learned getting meds and resting for a couple of days will get things done quicker, so I do adopt that. I rarely take sick days. I am the guy who works past 5 p.m. and might come back to the office (as I did for a story last week that was discovered late). 

But this time, I had to admit that if I tell people to stay home, and I'm said to be at risk by my own doctor, I am crazy to go out. The Daily Mountain Eagle has an investment in me that can last years - or I could run into the war zone, and die in a month or two. 

As a result, after consulting with Publisher James Phillips, and with support from the staff, I am working at my Jasper apartment. I am rarely going out, maybe to get something I run out of (although I got some supplies in early March). I am using ByEdHowell@aol.com; we may figure our something with my work email, but for now I am using personal email, and hopefully the staff can forward me stuff. (I also receive texts and calls at my phone, 205-570-0115.) I have a phone and computer at the house, and I'm emailing stories in. 

In addition, my father is sheltering in Winfield except for getting supplies. Even though he earlier cooked and brought some meat we divided to eat, my father - who seems well right now - also comes up from time to time to Jasper, picks up something at a restaurant and we then eat at my apartment. For my birthday Wednesday, he brought a cake from a grocery store and went by Cracker Barrel, where I had placed a pick up order. Truthfully, I was surprised how affordable the meal was and how sturdy the containers were; it was a good treat that day. I've gotten to-go meals from places ranging to McDonald's to Johnny Brusco. I still think it is still good to support our restaurants on take out as much as we can although I am sheltering a little more now with what I have in the refrigerator, if anything because I don't want it to spoil and to reduce the contact. (I even wash my hands and wipe down the table after Dad leaves.) 

At any rate, I know that sheltering at home for a while will not be fun to deal with, either for myself, my co-workers and people I might cover. I think I have good discipline so working at the apartment is not hard, and right now we do not have meetings going on, as many government offices and businesses are closed or slowed down. (I look for more meetings to use the emergency powers given by the governor to hold conference calls to conduct council or commission business if this continues.)

And we have a good staff of people working on stories already; I'm just supplementing what they are doing, really. I have a couple of club speakers that got lost in the shuffle of the elections and the virus that I can share, and I can also do feature interviews. On Tuesday, I unexpectedly handled the governor's conference call with reporters, even though my tape recorder was temporarily missing.  

At any rate, I apologize for any inconvenience, to the public and to my staff. August 2021 will mark 40 years in the business, and I've never been in a pickle like this. I've never had to admit my mortality like this, even with cancer, which was handled quickly. God has certainly reached down and proven who is in charge, and who we really depend on. 

I wish I could be as optimistic as the president and mark Easter on the calendar; I don't know if we can or not. But let's all pray we can get back to normal. I know I would rather be at risk of a whole lot of other things than this virus. And, while we're at it, be safe yourself and follow all the suggestions, so we can keep meeting like this.

Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle's news editor.