Not All Superheroes Wear Capes 4

Penn’s first day back to work after he had a few days off was nothing like he expected. He had hoped that COVID testing might be a respite from the mayhem of the ER. He could not have been more wrong. When he arrived before his 6AM shift, an endless line of cars snaked through and outside the parking lot. Penn put on a full hazmat suit, given instructions, and sent to one of several makeshift booths in which he and another nurse could swab the nasal cavities of pandemic-weary people waiting to be tested. He was glad to be assigned with his nursing school classmate Beth, thinking they could catch up when the pace eased. That was not to be. Dozens of carloads turned into hundreds. People who were already anxious about COVID became more irritated and agitated while waiting to be tested. Some yelled at Penn and Beth, some complained that the nasal swab testing was uncomfortable, and some blatantly lied that they had met the medical criteria to get tested. 

Three hours into their shift, Penn and Beth were scheduled to take a break. However, they were supposed to remove their hazmat suits before going into the ER staff lounge, and it seemed too much of a hassle for fifteen minutes of downtime. The two nurses chugged some energy drinks, scarfed some chocolate, and trudged back to their claustrophobia-inducing booth.

Three more hours went by. It was time for lunch, which was delayed because other nurses needed their meal breaks as well. When they finally got a few minutes off, Penn noticed a text from Amber. She asked, “How goes your day?”

He answered, “Much better now that I’ve heard from you.”

Amber replied immediately, “You are making me blush! Everyone is fine. I heard from Ellowyne and she said Rufus was handling his grief better. He is so lucky to have her support. Pru is all over the place. She’s doing a lot of online yoga and meditation, but she’s also been spending a lot of time on YouTube.”

“Clearly, you’d expect her to be on TikTok, Penn quipped. Don’t her parents use YouTube?” Doesn’t everyone’s parents?”

Amber went on. “LOL! There is a little news. Lizette met a guy named Lawrence while she’s been volunteering at the bird sanctuary. He sounds perfect. He’s also going to UC Davis for vet school in the fall. Of course none of us has actually met him, although Pru got a picture from Liz. He’s really cute. I thought Ellowyne was the only person who would fall in love during the pandemic, but there goes Lizette!” 

Penn looked at the time and realized he needed to end their conversation. “I have to let you go for now. Go ahead and text if you’d like, but I won’t be able to answer right away. Thanks for the conversation. I really appreciate it.”

Amber responded, “Thank you! Let’s touch base again when we can.”

Penn’s spirits were buoyed from his talk with Amber, enough so that the next few hours were bearable. Beth noticed his upbeat mood and asked, “Is that your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend? We’re close but not dating.” Then Penn confessed, “We have an arrangement. Friends with benefits.”

Underneath her hazmat gear, Beth smiled ruefully. “In nursing school, who has time for a real relationship?”

And the deluge of cars continued. Six o’clock in the evening could not come sooner for all of the testers. Security cut off cars that weren’t already in the lot, and the nurses could hear horns blowing and angry shouted threats of violence. 

Then the supply of test kits was drained, and people inside the lot, people who had waited for hours were unable to be tested. The resulting squalor reminded Penn of being in combat. His pulse quickened, his stomach rocked, and he felt woozy. He remembered the breathing exercises Pru once taught him, and told himself he would be alright. Eventually he was.

To be continued…

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