I let my guard down.
Early last month, my family and I took a nice, long coastal vacation. Ten days, two beach towns. One in Northern California and the other about two-thirds of the way into Oregon. We had everything we needed. Comfortable accommodations, delicious seafood and the sound of lapping waves to lull us to sleep at night.
Some people are drawn to the desert, others to the mountains. But for me, the ocean calls. It’s always been that way, almost primally so. Everything there feels lighter, easier, calmer. The way the air fills my lungs is like inhaling a gentle breeze.
I love combing beaches and discovering magical creatures in tide pools, but I’m just as content sitting outside and doing nothing but appreciate my surroundings.
This may sound weird to anyone who isn’t a Gen-Xer or a redneck, but I also love wearing flannel in the summer. There isn’t much more thrilling to me than piling on layers of clothing while on the drive out of the oppressive valley heat. It’s like the prelude to happiness.
Sixty-two degrees in July. Heaven.
We generally make at least one coastal sojourn every summer to refresh and revitalize our bodies and spirits. It really is the best kind of medicine, and I look forward to it all year.
On the second leg of this trip, we were joined by a couple of family members at an epic rented beach house. We were healthy, they were healthy. I felt drunk with the feeling of the way things used to be, the “before COVID” times. You know, back when you didn’t have to think about masks or variants or surges.
For the first time in more than two years, I also felt safe. Everyone in my small household is vaccinated and boostered, most importantly my immunocompromised child. We began our trip wearing masks when occasionally indoors in public, but toward the end of it, we started taking chances. A few unmasked trips to the grocery store, a couple of gift shops, and then, finally, two restaurants, where we dined indoors for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Thing is, I know nobody else can be trusted with safeguarding my health. And considering how many people flouted the initial state shutdown, when the virus was even deadlier, I can only imagine how those same folks are going about their business today.
During our final two days of vacation, I had a slight headache and what felt like allergies, but by the time we arrived home, I had a sinking suspicion. Unfortunately, my instincts were confirmed with a positive COVID test. After years of being hyper-vigilant about taking precautions, we’d taken too many risks, and they caught up with me. Indeed, it was my own damn fault.
I spent the next 10 days isolated in my bedroom. I mostly slept, only waking to eat, drink or use the bathroom. I lost my sense of taste and smell for a few days, but the worst part of the illness was my aching body, including excruciating back pain. It was miserable. Even after I tested negative, I was so, so exhausted.
Right around the time I started recovering, Butte County re-entered the classification for “high” community spread (see “Surge protectors”), as outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Along with that spike in infections has been a sharp increase in local hospitalizations.
I’m glad I wasn’t one of those statistics. But I’m most thankful that—somehow, some way—my loved ones didn’t get sick. It was a reminder that the benefits of simple precautions are worth the effort. Lesson learned.
Melissa Daugherty is editor-at-large for the Chico News & Review