The first weekend of March my girlfriend and I loaded up some bags, hiking gear and our dog Luna and headed to Moab, Utah for a weekend getaway. Moab is the access point to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. When people talk about the romantic idea of the American West, the scenery around Moab is the type of images they conjour up. It’s a beautiful place, and people come from all over the World to take in the scenery. When you stand at one of the area’s many overlooks to stare into a canyon or out at an arch you hear many different languages all at once.
The first night we were there we were flipping channels on the TV and came across a special report on this thing called the Coronavirus. The report talked about the havoc it was wreaking in Europe and Asia, and my girlfriend and I briefly mentioned to one another that the potential of it coming to America was scary. Then we went back to our map and continued studying the canyon we planned to hike up the next morning. We didn’t think of the virus again. It was a beautiful weekend with temperatures in the 70’s and we had a blast finding and exploring the little slot canyons with our dog.
The next Monday I got up and went to work as usual. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first, but around four o’clock in the afternoon I started feeling feverish, tired and achey. I went home, sat down on my couch and immediately fell asleep. I woke up at two o’clock the next day in our bed with Luna curled up next to me. I called my doctor and scheduled an appointment for the next morning.
I went in and I told them my symptoms- fever, body ache, cough and congestion. I was told I had the flu and that within five days I would be all better. I wasn’t happy with the idea of being stuck at home, but I figured it was a lucky break that it was happening the week of the NCAA’s conference basketball tournaments.
I live where I live not because of a strong job market, great restaurants or proximity to loved ones. Durango is short on all of those things, though I admit the restaurant scene is improving. There’s only one place in town that I can find a bowl of grits and they don’t know how to make them. You can’t buy them in the store either, and if you ask for some they hand you some inferior form of ground corn called polenta. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to eat polenta and you really don’t want to try it with shrimp. I’m a hour drive from the nearest Chik-Fil-A. There is no Waffle House. There is no fried-chicken joint. I wake up every weekend and crave Mama’s Boy on Oak Street. I yearn for a pimento cheeseburger from ADD Drug. I curse science for the fact they have yet to find a way to get me those delicacies from 2,000 miles away. I am slightly offended whenever I pass another driver on a two-lane road and they don’t return my slight wave. I miss the comforting sound of a Southern accent saying hello when I enter a store. My co-workers think it’s strange when my energy seemingly doubles out of nowhere and I start buzzing around the office out of anticipation on an October Thursday the week of a big game.
I am a Southerner in a strange far away land.
I miss lots of things about the South, but despite all of that, I truly think we live in the best place on Earth. I love nothing more in life than being high in the mountains above tree line or deep down some canyon knee deep in a murky river. I love camping in a basin and watching the Milky Way rise up over the ridges. Those places make me feel both large and small at the same time, and that feeling is important for my sanity on many levels.
During the five days I was sick I mostly stayed on my couch. My plans for being entertained were ruined when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for Coronavirus. All of a sudden the thing we had thought was only happening on the other side of the World was infecting someone in the state we had just visited.
What little energy I did have was used for walks with Luna. We’d take the two block walk to the neighborhood park, and I’d throw her the ball. Usually I tired out quicker than she did. Five days passed and I started feeling a bit better. I made plans to go back to work the next Monday, but the Saturday morning before that happened I woke up at five in the morning with a 104 degree fever and started coughing up some of the nastiest gunk you could ever imagine.
I went back to the doctor and this time he told me I had pneumonia. I was sent home with a heavy course of antibiotics and told to rest as much as possible. I slept for about 18 hours a day for the next few days, but things were getting worse. I was started to have trouble breathing, and began having to concentrate hard on expanding my diaphragm in order to feel like I was getting enough air. My fever fluctuated up and down but never broke. The antibiotics weren’t working.
In the time I had been sick not only had sports been cancelled, but states were starting to shutdown. Our little Colorado county continued as if nothing was happening, but it was clear safety measures were coming soon from the governor.
It’s important that I go on record here to say that my girlfriend was an absolute saint about taking care of me during this. She did everything she could to keep me comfortable, but she also had to go into work everyday. When she wasn’t home, Luna made it her mission to keep a watchful eye on me. When I got up to go to the kitchen she followed. When I moved from the bedroom to the couch she came and parked herself next to me. When I had coughing fits she would come and lean her 120-pound body against my legs. I mustered up just enough energy every day to walk her to the park.
After another five days of no improvement I saw my doctor again. I was handed a face mask and escorted around the building and through the backdoor. The nurse came in with a full suit on, and then my doctor came in wearing the same protective attire. An x-ray of my lungs was taken and then shown to me. I could clearly see that my lungs were filled with crud. Not good.
I was then told that my oxygen levels were low. Technically, my numbers were so low that standard protocol stated I should be hospitalized. I swallowed hard. Next, my doctor told me that he was 99% sure I had Covid-19. There weren’t any tests in my rural Colorado county at the time, so there was no way to know for sure. I swallowed harder and blinked as hard as I could to keep the tears I felt forming in my eyes from rolling down my cheeks.
It was a lot of bad news, but I did manage to talk my way out of going to the hospital for the time being. I bought myself 24 hours. The next day I would have to come back, and if my oxygen levels weren’t better I would have to be hospitalized.
Like any good Mama’s Boy, I called my Mom. Like any good Mom, her instinct was to come to Colorado immediately. Obviously the virus made that impossible. The 2,000 miles between my two homes had never felt further.
Luna is a big dog. She weighs 120 pounds. She’s half big lumbering affectionate Great Dane and half intelligent hyper Poodle. It’d be a lie to say I didn’t shed a few tears that afternoon thinking about the possibility of being hospitalized or even worse, intubated. Luna stood at attention in front of me as I sat up with my elbows on my thighs and my hands holding my head. She stared me in the eyes, wagging her tail and nuzzling my forehead when I started to hold my head low. My girlfriend came home from work and we prepared for the possibility of the hospital. She asked if there was anything we could do that might make me feel better. We took Luna for a walk.
There are certain tastes, smells and sounds that feel like home. The delicious foods I wrote about above, the smell of my mother’s perfume, my father’s relentless positivity, crickets on a summer night. In times of distress I yearn for them because I am lucky enough that the idea of home registers as safety to me. In their absences my dog filled in.
The next morning I went back to the doctor’s office. My oxygen levels were up. I wasn’t going to the hospital. I came home and Luna, sensing my relief, ran around enthusiastically in circles. My girlfriend, now under quarantine and working from home, gave me a big hug. Luna squeezed in-between us, tail wagging mightily. Each day I got a little better, and each day Luna and I’s walks got longer. After another week I finally returned to work. We went back to hiking on the weekends.
I was lucky enough to keep my job during the virus, but each day came with questions and challenges about the future of our business. When I came home, I had a giant black dog to remind me it was time to reset my mind and concentrate on how fortunate I am to have her, my health and her Mom.
I have a bad habit of watching the news even when it isn’t the best thing for my outlook on life. When I start to sit down and get sucked too far in, a giant black dog with a tennis ball in her mouth walks up, drops it in my lap and reminds me it’s time for some fresh air.
In the absence of College Baseball, Spring Football, the NBA Playoffs, live recruiting periods, Major League Baseball and all the chatter that comes with them, I have lost a large chunk of my usual entertainment.
When the Georgia Bulldogs are on, I am connected with family members, friends and many of you on Twitter and open threads. I have met friends who have become family because of UGA Athletics. Shared experiences bond us to one another. The bad losses often pull us together more than the good wins, and God knows we’ve had our share of bad losses. When the Dawgs are playing I am totally in that moment with a million other Dawg fans. Those 2,000 miles feel close, and I am home for a few hours.
In the absence of my usual outlets, I have had a big black dog. When I throw a ball to her I’m in that moment, and all the other chaos slips away. When I needed the love of family who were far away, she found a way to be that support. When I was sick and needed watching after, she did it proudly.
We cheer for the Dawgs here. We cover and dissect their every move. We live and die with the men and women who wear the red and black. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be than a dog.
Is there anything more noble than a dog? Surely not a bird like an eagle or a gamecock could ever live in such an honorable way. A gator preys and scavenges upon anything it can while a dog gives nobly of its time and energy. An elephant is undoubtedly wise, but what is more wise than a creature that can read the energy of a man without him uttering a single word? A tiger is certainly fierce in its ability to hunt, and brave in the ways it protects its own kind. But what could be more brave than to love as fiercely and unconditionally as a dog? There is simply no living thing as worthy of admiration as a dog.
In a time of great need, I was lucky to find myself in the company of a damn good dog. More than ever, it has made me realize how proud I am to be called a Dawg.