The Irish Independent - Living with a serial killer


Many moons ago, on a J1 summer break from college, I worked as a waitress in America. On a slow day one of the quiet chefs talked about his life, he casually mentioned that he had fought with the US army in Iraq. He asked us all the question - 

If you knew someone was waiting outside to shoot at you, would you walk out this door?


Myself and the other Irish teenage waitresses glanced at each other with fear, this was America after all, was there actually someone outside waiting to shoot us? ‘No’ we said, hoping it was the correct answer and secretly planning our escapes through the backdoor. ‘Oh, I forgot to add,’ he said with a smirk, 'in this scenario, the restaurant is on fire, the only way out is the front door’.   

Thankfully a customer arrived shooing us all back to our stations but that question always stuck with me. It was perhaps something this former soldier had faced. I never imagined it would touch my sheltered world, and in a moment of teenage smug bravado I quipped to the chef ‘I wouldn’t walk out, I’d run out’. He just laughed. 

When reports of the ‘Wuhan Flu’ first made it to our shores I was being prepped for heart surgery. I complacently thought, like SARS and Bird Flu, it would be something that happened to other people, probably in other countries, and it wouldn’t really touch my life in any demonstrable way. I decided I had enough on my plate without worrying about some tickly cough that was squelching it's way out of a wet market in rural China. By the time I emerged from the hospital I imagined it would be yesterday's news. Two weeks after I was discharged we went into full lockdown, brought to our knees by a rapacious mass murderer. As of today, Covid has claimed nearly six million people’s lives, it is in almost all countries on earth and it’s crushing it’s way through the Greek alphabet like a rampaging centaur. It is the suffocating tragedy of our modern day. An impressive resumé for a tickly cough. 

Like us all I have spent the last two years ducking and diving; banging elbows with friends, standing two metres back from other shoppers, waving to my Dad through his Nursing Home window, wearing a mask that steams up my glasses and wrecks my head. I washed my hands, I stayed in, I home-schooled, I switched my exercising to online, I lectured my daughter on the joys of hand sanitising and coughing into your ‘wing’. My husband switched to working from home. We were a little more cautious than some, a little more risky than others, but most people we knew took the same precautions as us, and some still fell to the sticky strains of the syndrome - most survived, not all.

But unlike most of the healthier population, if I succumb to Covid my spluttering heart, scarred lungs and limp immune system may be no match for the virus. However, I am vaccinated, triple vaccinated at that. Although nothing is 100%, I have confidence in vaccinations, largely based on my childhood inoculations, granted I also have never had to put them to the test as I grew up surrounded by fellow inoculees (no relation to Hercules). Who can forget childhood playground conversations where we would all proudly show-off our triangle of puncture marks on our upper arms. 

Over the last two years, when I left my house, (my sanitised sanctuary where we roamed mask free, hugging each other on whims, eating our food family-style in our safe space), I would think back to the question from the ex-soldier twenty five years ago. Was ‘outside’ actually a wasteland of gunslingers out to get me? Was the runner that sneezed as I passed really an assassin? Was the friendly kid who high-fived my daughter in fact trying to take us all down? Was the little old lady who stopped me to ask where the library was just a super spreader determined to get me into ICU?

Of course not, although I have suspicions about the old lady, for someone who had been around the block a few times she had a lot of questions about where things were. 

Like it or not the virus spread was speeding up not slowing down. I was fully vaccinated and for a couple years Covid was out of bullets. As Omicron raged through our population we decided to get the hell out of town. We went to an island that had strict Covid protocols and for two weeks the only thing that bugged me were mosquitoes. My daughter’s skin bronzed as she swam every day, her white teeth shone in her face, she was the happiest and healthiest I had seen her in years. She missed just one thing, the same thing Covid has at the top of its list - connections; friends, family, schoolmates, without connections nothing thrives, not even a soulless microscopic parasite.  

We came back to drizzling cold Ireland and returned to school, settled back into the Corona-verse and discussed how catastrophic the Covid numbers seemed to be in our homeland. I thought once more about being careful and the words of the American soldier ‘If you knew someone was waiting outside to shoot at you, would you walk out this door?’ well at least the second part of his question hadn’t come true, at least the house wasn’t on fire…or was it?

A few days later my seven year old daughter tested positive for Covid. 

It has been a bad dose with a raging temperature, headaches, painful breaths, fatigue, chest pain, sore throat, shivering, tummy pain, vomiting and aches & pains, but thankfully she is over the worst of it and on the mend. Given I am medically vulnerable, the plan was to keep my distance. That fell apart because firstly I am her mother and secondly she is my sick child. Unless my husband bolts me into a shed at the end of the garden it was never going to work (my husband is now at the end of the garden building a shed). 

I am confident in my vaccines but I know with Covid in my home I am playing with fire. I feel like I am house-sharing with a serial killer. I might as well be making toast for Ted Bundy and reading the morning horoscopes to the Zodiac killer over a cup of tea. Every day when we do an antigen test I breathe a sigh of relief that it's coming up negative. But even if I outsmart Covid, as it seeps from it's little host that I put to bed every night, Covid is not going to go away. Society has opened up, people have insisted that life must go on. Perhaps through regular boosters, and maybe even some exposure to a mild strain, my immune system could equip itself to live with Covid. Maybe, maybe not, it's a game of Russian Roulette I wish I didn’t have to play. 

If your house is burning and there is a gunman outside your door, what would you do?

For original article, read here - Living with a serial killer