Staying at attention

When you were young, did you ever do something that you knew was wrong and you shouldn’t have gotten away with, but you did? Maybe you said your first swear word or smoked a cigarette behind the barn, and then you waited for the awful consequences from either your parents or On High, waited and waited but nothing happened.

You wondered whether you could get away with it again. Over time, you realized that some transgressions are more serious than others and that sometimes, when consequences finally arrive, it might be too late.

I was really frightened of the virus for the first couple of weeks. I ordered groceries from a delivery service. Then the delivery service became too busy to schedule, and I braved a trip to a grocery store. Wearing gloves and multiple layers of cloth around my face, I shopped as quickly as I could, staying far from everyone.

I drove home, stripped off most of my clothing in the garage and immediately took a shower, then with maximum precautions spent two hours washing my groceries. I was exhausted.

Nothing happened. The sky did not fall. I did not get sick. I wiped down the steering wheel, door handle and gearshift of my car, and everything else I could think of.

My next trip to a store was a little easier. I was still reading the news reports and the scientific explanations about how infectious and deadly this virus is. But my experience was telling me nothing was happening, so I could be a little more relaxed. I still wrapped my head in a mask plus an extra layer, but maybe I could pass someone in the aisle instead of going around, and would not have to hold my breath. Maybe I could give myself a little leeway about disinfecting the buttons on my car radio after every trip, spraying the doorknobs, or washing my sore hands.

But here’s the catch. The virus is not weaker than it was a couple of months ago. It’s still here, it still infects some people without symptoms, and if it finds its way down my throat, I’m no more immune than I was before. It hasn’t killed anyone in front of me, but that doesn’t prove anything. I haven’t witnessed any fatal car accidents recently either, but that doesn’t stop them from killing people.

So I have to keep doing the careful things. If my motivation weakens, I need to rely on logic and accurate information rather than instinct.

I have a few personal safety strategies. Years ago, I invented a technique to use when I’m driving alone with no one to remind me to keep my eyes on the road. I imagine a dog jumping into the road from behind a rock several hundred feet ahead. Because I love dogs, the thought helps me to snap to attention.

As New Mexico business cautiously reopens, and we have official permission from our state to be a little less isolated, the signals to my confused brain become even more confusing. The signals seem to be telling me there is less risk, so I can be less vigilant in my social distancing and sanitation practices.

But in reality, the risk is reduced only because of those practices and because most New Mexicans continue to follow them. The virus is still just as deadly. What’s different is that we now have some training in how to prevent it from invading our bodies.

Think of the virus as a deadly predatory insect. If we all don’t let it bite us, it will eventually starve.

I have some techniques to keep myself safe when I’m tempted to be careless. Here’s the newest one. I imagine I’m driving and several hundred feet in front of me I can see a mask-wearing hospital nurse trying to cross the road.

© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES

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