“Holiday Travel is nuts,” the man said. “It’s just nuts,” he sighed. “I spent nine hours driving, being a one-person asshole that concluded with me eating a McDonald’s combo meal one (Big Mac Meal), waiting for a soft cast to placed on my ankle. I’ve yelled at people, flipped them off driving, zagged in and out lanes with abandon, and sped in excess of more than 90 miles an hour. Finally, I pissed off my sister, got mad at her, stumbled off the rear deck of her home, and sprained my ankle. Now, I’m eating a Big Mac. Alone! And you want a COVID test? Merry f***ing Christmas.”

Sitting next to him in the emergency room, “I still need to shove this Q-tip up your nose for a COVID test sample.”

“Ugh,” he sighed.

A genuine part of me wanted to say, “Sorry, dude. The patient in the room behind you is having CPR. Yeah, sure, we could have stopped life-saving measures to feed you, keep you warm, and make you feel comfortable, but the Hippocratic Oath says nothing about making assholes feel comfortable. So, just say’n.” 

But, of course, it’s a full moon. The man’s response reminded me of a time early in my career, working a night shift, a nurse peered through the window at the full moon, turned and looked me up and down, and said, “Welcome to planet ‘Bullshit.’ If you make it through the night, you’re meant to be here.” I made it through (not without some rough moments, of course), but the number of ‘assholes’ pouring through the door during Christmas seems limitless.

The asshole peered over his wire-rimmed glasses, “COVID is bullshit. It’s all bullshit.”

Having heard enough, a senior nurse approached with a stool. Plopped down directly in front of him. “Don’t make me sedate you,” she exclaimed. “Cause if you think I won’t, I will. Now you can either take the COVID test, or you can get your sorry ass up and get out of here. And from the look of it, your track record for decision-making appears to suck tonight. So, what will be hon’?” 

Looking intently for a moment, “Ok.”

The city is nuts at Christmas. Chicagoans decorate the  downtwon with hundreds of lights and decorations as they prepare for Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s. It’s neither the best of times nor worst of times; the city is bright, blue-skied, and crispy cold. Yet, the newspapers are full of foreboding about the new potential Omicron COVID wave. For a moment, I reflected upon the darker days just four months ago. They seem like ancient history now, but some of the worst days were etched onto my brain. In one 12 hour-period in August, between 7 p.m. 7 a.m., the hospital received twelve COVID patients, ten shooting victims, four people injured in automobile accidents, and two stabbing victims. Additionally, most overloaded hospitals went on bypass, meaning they asked ambulances to take patients to other hospitals.

God knows the nurses, and I will likely repeat the darker days of COVID. If history serves us well, more than a quarter of the unvaccinated population will get whacked by the Omicron variant. Households should be isolated, banned from meeting in one another’s homes, but like the asshole that started this blog post, most of us are just as ignorant. Clinicians who hear of a poorly thought out ‘curfew’ plan to get people to leave restaurants early and get vaccinated are sure to fail. So instead, we live in frustration – at conflicting advice, poorly conveyed interpretations of ‘science’, and imagining what a no-vaccine world will mean to our ambitions for all of our tomorrows. 

All of us thought COVID would kill us. (I even wrote about it., ‘COVID: It’s Personal‘) And while the virus has not killed me, it sadistically knocked closer to home. COVID killed my father, ex-wife, and mother-in-law. As a result, I longer receive complaints from relatives for not visiting. Twenty months ago, COVID seemed like a long way away. Now, all of us walk hallways dealing with assholes. 

We don’t believe lockdowns will work. Unlike previous attempts, city streets are not deserted. People go to work, shop, and met with friends. At noon, workers zigzag past each other, grabbing takeaway from hotdog stands and street vendors. And in the evening, it’s still as an unusual calmness engulfs the street like an early evening Sa Francisco fog. Bars and restaurants close early, as there is little reason to venture outside. 

I no longer wonder why people behave differently this time. Was it because the government’s message lost its sway, or are people reluctant to abide by stricter measures? Anti-COVID vaccination demonstrations appear to run rampant, and it seems we’ve become the worst aspect of ourselves. Hell, there have been protesters outside this hospital as well. I don’t know anybody who thinks the virus is fake, yet we seem unable to protect ourselves or anyone else. We’ve become the assholes we believe the other person is.

I have never been very observant when it comes to the Catholic faith. And maybe Christmas remains largely unaffected for those celebrating a virgin birth than about shopping and presents. BFor the clinicians with whom I work, we know patient care strategies will change daily. And many patients will be left to die alone over the Christmas holiday. Why?

Because we’re assholes.