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Making the calls was hard.
And, it had to be done, no matter how unpleasant it was.
Once I’d tested positive for Covid-19, I had to call everyone I’d seen for the past few days and let them know I’d exposed them to the virus that’s disrupting our lives one more time. These are conversations I hope I never have to have again.
It was embarrassing, telling people I had Covid and might have given it to them. It made me feel guilty.
Wait, why would someone feel guilty about being sick?
It’s partly my WASP-y background. I grew up thinking of any illness as weakness. Also, I have a pathological fear of imposing on anyone, and God knows coming down with Covid would be a huge imposition.
Apparently, I’m not alone in wishing I could keep my diagnosis to myself.
The Chicago Tribune ran a story about guilt and shame associated with having Covid and making those contact-tracing calls. And it’s not just WASPs feeling guilty.
The Trib quotes a psychologist pointing to the rampant judgement about the unvaccinated who got sick after the vaccine became an option. (See Twitter for myriad examples, many of them darkly humorous.)
Now, he says, as fully vaccinated people are getting Covid too, they naturally worry that people will think they haven’t followed the protocols, and will heap scorn upon them.
Plus, we might anticipate people being mad at us, or lashing out at us because of their own frustration. I hate it when anyone’s mad at me, don’t you?
And then there’s that sense that maybe we did something stupid somewhere along the way. Went to the wrong restaurant, spent time with people we should have avoided, breathed in the wrong place. “If only I’d …”
The experts suggest letting go of all that head-trash.
So, let’s stipulate that being swept up in a global pandemic may not be a sign of moral failing.
We still need to let people know about our situation, if there’s any chance we were contagious when we were with them. So, what’s the best way to go about that?
My own rules for delivering bad news don’t apply here. Because the first one is: Talk to them face-to-face.
Not in this case, right?
You wouldn’t think they’d have to spell this out, but there it is on a Georgia health system’s website: “When communicating that you’ve been infected with the virus, avoid In-person communication as this runs the risk of spreading the disease further.”
I admit it. I laughed out loud.
Beyond stating the obvious, health departments, hospitals, and universities offer suggestions about breaking the bad news.
Some of them are terrible.
Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services tells us about a site where you can send anonymous texts or emails telling people they’ve been exposed to the virus.
Okay, look, I understand reluctance to face someone who might be mad at you. But anonymous messages about Covid exposure? Really?
Time to face the music.
And to face anyone who’s been within a few feet of you in the past two days. Or maybe it’s five days – the guidance is all over the map at this point. To be on the safe side, I went back by a week and reached out to people I’d seen.
And I opted for phone calls.
Yes, an email or text would be easier, less embarrassing. It’s not about me though, don’t you think? It just seemed better to deliver bad news in a direct conversation than in a note someone would read whenever they next checked their email.
So, I braced myself for those conversations and picked up the phone.
Fortunately, I only had to have a handful—I’d mostly been staying at home anyway. But there was that one meeting I’d gone to. I had to call everyone who’d been there and give them the news. And our house cleaner. And my manicurist. The friends we were with on New Year’s Eve, far enough back that they were probably fine, but just in case …
How’d it go? As well as you could expect. I’d been worried about one especially health-conscious meeting-mate; they turned out to be surprisingly understanding and sympathetic.
And that was the kind of reaction I got from everyone.
Truth is, the virus is so ubiquitous at this point that careful, considerate, conscientious people are picking it up and passing it around. I didn’t run into any judgement or scolding or negativity.
It was a relief to have the calls behind me. And I was glad I’d made them when I did. By the next morning, I could hardly talk anyway.
I’m on the rebound by now of course. And looking forward to never making calls like that again.
But just in case … what suggestions do you have for being the bearer of bad news? Looking forward to your comment here.