These 20 words were assigned to Pam Houston by her friend, the writer and photographer Kyle Wolff, as part of Project 2020 (Quarantine Edition). She gave Pam and others a word most mornings, and the assignment to write to that world and either take or find a photo to go with it. These 20 words and photographs by Pam Houston are appearing daily in Terrain.org through June 20, the summer solstice.
April 8, 2020
I passed out in the shower in a hotel room in Oxford, Mississippi. That was how I knew this was no ordinary flu. It was the start of the third week of February, no reason to think I had the coronavirus, but there I was, face wedged into the corner of the low bath tub, coming to, getting up to my hands and knees and over the lip and onto the tile floor of the bathroom, shower still running, water everywhere, but here came the blackness from both sides of my eyes again. I put my face against the mercifully cold tile, saw with the last of my vision that my pajamas, tossed onto the bathroom floor, were getting soaked from the still cascading water.
What must have been about ten minutes later I came to again. I knew if I were not in the lobby within 45 minutes Cindy would come looking for me. I closed my eyes. Forty-five minutes was long enough to die, and if I died in Oxford, Mississippi, naked on the tile of the Graduate Hotel, who would care? They already had William Faulkner.
I opened my eyes and tried to make them stay that way. After thinking about it for a very long time, I was able to get myself off the floor of the bathroom, get dressed, stuff my soaked pajamas in the outside pocket of my suitcase, roll myself down to the lobby, and order four herbal teas to go.
According to my watch, my heart rate had gone to 150 beats per minute several times in the hours when I was ostensibly sleeping. This, we now know from all the accounts, is the part where the blood doesn’t have enough oxygen and the patients are texting their loved ones right before they die. A week and a half after I passed out in the shower, the first U.S. Covid death would be announced in Washington state and in another week I would be able to climb one flight of stairs without nearly fainting.
This is me yesterday, nearly two months later, with a little bit of color finally returned to my face.
Pam Houston is the author of the memoir Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, which won the 2019 Reading the West Advocacy Award, as well as five other books of fiction and nonfiction, all published by W.W. Norton. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level on a 120-acre homestead near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. A book co-written with activist Amy Irvine, Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics, and Place, is forthcoming from Torrey House Press in October 2020.