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Tough Week at the Orifice

by on July 22, 2020 5:00 AM

Don’t worry, you won’t need to mask up or bust out the wipes before reading this column. 

I say that because a masked stranger shoved a wooden stick up my left nostril before I wrote it and 24 hours later I received word that I had boogers in my nose.

No, sorry, that was something the great Dave Barry would write, not me. A person in a white lab coat ran my nasal secretions through a process called reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (known to its intimates as RT-PCR) and found that whatever was on the end of that swab did not include the coronavirus. 

Now I can stop worrying about having accepted a box of sparklers from my host during a backyard party on the Fourth of July; about forgetting to wash my hands after greedily flipping  through the cartoons in the most recent issue of the New Yorker as soon as it came in the mail; about whether I got too close to the fly fishermen while walking in Spring Creek Canyon on July 10; about having been downwind during a Natascha and the Spy Boys driveway concert on July 11; about all the runners and cyclists who blew past me on the Bellefonte Central Rail Trail on July 13; about whether I contaminated my right pants pocket when I put my car key in it without rubbing antibacterial gel on it after loading groceries into the back of my car at the end of a shopping trip…

Tell me I’m not the only one having such sleep-troubling thoughts.

Then, as if we weren’t worried enough already, we saw students come back to town for Arts-Festival-weekend-without-the-Arts-Fest, and behave like they’re from one of those southern or southwestern states whose governors think the news media cooked up a health scare for the sole purpose of destroying their own advertising base, unless it was the Democrats who cooked up a health scare for the sole purpose of destroying America. 

There they were, doing all the cute things that students do, like play games designed to maximize the emptying of red plastic cups, or wait in long, tight lines to get into crowded bars. And just think, this was only a fraction of the number who will show up here a month from now unless their parents have the good sense to say, oh, no, we’re not sending you to that hot spot and have you infect us and Grannie and Uncle Mortimer at Thanksgiving.

I try to understand these young people, just like, guilt-ridden elitist that I am, I try to understand supporters of that scoundrel in the White House. I get that temptation is everywhere. Even I, whose social calendar has been as clean as a blackboard on the first day of school, found it hard to resist when friends invited us to share a house on a pond in the Berkshires for a few days next week. 

When my daughters and son-in-law proposed visits in early August, with special guest star  Penelope the Adorable, my almost-2 granddaughter, I was powerless to resist. Yes, we have to figure out about hugs and masks and meals and tests, but I haven’t seen any family since last summer, so figure it out we will.

Meanwhile, you may as well know the reason I was tested for coronavirus. I hadn’t slipped down to Florida for a weekend of clubbing on Miami Beach or crashed that pathetic Trump rally in Tulsa. No, it was colonoscopy time and they wouldn’t do the procedure until I was found to be COVID-free. 

So, hey, what’s allowing a foreign object to be shoved up your nose when you’re facing the introduction of foreign objects into a more private bodily portal? 

Whenever colon inspection time rolls around and the nurses start telling me the drill, I tell them to save their breath because I am the Colonoscopy King. My first one, in 2006, revealed the presence of mutinous cells. So then I had to return three months later to make sure the mutineers hadn’t regrouped. And six months after that. And then a year later. 

Now I’m on an every-three-years schedule which means that my latest go-round with fasting, insides-scouring, zonking out on anesthetics and playing host to a tiny camera was probably my eighth. If I were limber enough I could perform the procedure on myself. 

The good news is, like the COVID-19 test, the colonoscopy, too, was negative. Why, I’m on such a good roll with the insertion of objects into orifices that I’m trying to think of a reason to have someone poke around in my ears just to see if I can keep the streak going.

But at least we know I’m not an asymptomatic coronavirus carrier, or at least I wasn’t when the swab was tested, which is why I think you’re not at risk from reading this column – though I suppose it could adversely affect some of your brain cells.



A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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