The Inside Rail

Five days into Self Isolation. 

Day 1. Sunday

Temperature. 98.6. 98.2. 98.1.

First day home since coming home from Cheltenham. Feel fine. Tired, from traveling. I think it’s from traveling. My suitcase is on the porch, my shoes are on the porch, four Cheltenham programs are on the porch. My Cheltenham clothes are crumpled in a garbage bag to go to the cleaners, the house has been disinfected, I’ve been disinfected. Annie is on it. There is no one I’d rather have in my fox hole during a pandemic. She is thorough, deliberate, calm under pressure, when there is pressure. She is mildly miffed, overly concerned, I can understand her dismay. Have I once again run full-steam ahead without considering the bigger consequences? Is this how it all ends?

Day 2. Monday.

Temperature: 98.5. 98.2. 98.7. Hovering there all day.

I’m able to hold my nose for 10 seconds and not cough or gasp for air. I try it again, hold it for 20 seconds. Then 30 seconds. I flex my muscles. Of course, this full-proof test to know if you have the coronavirus could be a myth, like the one about washing the germs down your throat and into your stomach where the acid kills them. It sounded good on Facebook. I drank gallons of water daily during my week abroad, then learned that this strategy has been debunked. I’ve never learned so much medical advice in a short amount of time. Or, perhaps, learned so many myths and misinformation.

No fatigue. No cough. No chills. No pressure in my chest.

Muck two stalls, wearing rubber gloves with my own quarantined tools (I always wanted my own pitchfork, broom and shovel), read Tortilla Flats, a couple of Red Smith columns, scour the Internet, watching the world implode. The Derby is postponed. Keeneland is cancelled. The Grand National is cancelled. The spring steeplechase season gone. Our life savings have been slashed, on paper, at least. A pandemic. We are living a bad movie. I grab an Alexander Keiths (thanks, Brent Harris) from the tack-room refrigerator, opening the door with a knee and an elbow, and walk out the back door (again knee, elbow) of the barn, sit down and think about how life has changed, so fast, so far.

Day 3. Tuesday.

Temperature: 99.1. Then 99.2. Then…I have taken to taking it every few minutes.

Could I be sick? Could I carry it. Could I have made the worst decision of my life? Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. Hours later, it’s down to 98.4…98.6. I feel better. The French door is open, letting fresh air and a few early flies stream through the room. O’Malley, the barn cat, climbs up the door, hovers on the half, looks in, decides it looks ominous (does she sense the plague?) and bounds off for better adventures.

Miles wakes up, it’s past 11, he’s finally catching up on his sleep. Grits, bacon and two runny eggs get delivered to my room. Annie walks out the door, going to ride Apse and Perfect. She can keep her routine. I’m fine, worried, distracted, but fine.

Play baseball with Miles. I throw, he hits. I pick up all the balls, he doesn’t touch them. He tries his new cleats, tests his new bat, bought for a season that most likely won’t happen, I was going to be assistant coach with Coach Rich and Chase, Oliver and Mattie B and a squad of my favorite kids. It was going to be epic. First-world problems, I know, I know. Miles hits the ball well, flaring flies down the left-field line, one clangs into the shed, another goes in the horse's field, another into the woods, gone forever. It’s fun, a distraction, a mental diversion. Almost normal. Other than, wearing surgical gloves and Miles not being allowed to touch the baseballs. Strange time.

We play until it wanes, wander into the house, a boy and his dad, from 10 feet away. 

I shower and plop down on the bed, computer open. Miles grabs a book. 

Temperature has leveled off. I’ve taken it a dozen times. Maybe 20 times.

Annie walks in, “Are you scrolling or typing.”

A little, well, a lot, of both, to be honest.

Day 4. Wednesday.

Let’s get this straight, this is not isolation, like, I’m locked in a closet, under a bubble, and can’t get out. I’m not in prison, just keeping my distance from Annie and Miles, not going in any other part of the house and not going near anyone else. I’ve talked to my friends who were at Cheltenham, it sounds like Clancy Isolation is a bit more stringent than theirs, not surprising. We do extremes well here. I won’t feel a human touch for 14 days. I can walk around, I can run, I can tend the garden, I can work in the barn. I can smile and air hug Annie and Miles. We can have dinner together, three rooms apart but together.

Temperature is normal. 98.1. 98.6.

Feel good this morning. Stock market rallied a little after a stimulus program, trillions of dollars. Small business will go under. The marginalized will continue to be marginalized. Imagine being a nurse, a janitor, a truck driver, a grocery school clerk, a cop...a groom on the backside of a racetrack.

I just took my temperature again. 99.4. I take a deep breath. This is life. I take it again, 98.5. I take it again, 98.8. I’ve become fixated on a thermometer.

I binge on ginger, vitamin c, lysine, probiotics and water. I’ve never drank so much water in my life. It’s 9:51 a.m., I’ve consumed at least three tall glasses of water already today. I’m sitting by the window, trying to have the sun heal me. Water, air and sun, my elixirs.

Annie makes breakfast, she slides it under the door…nah, not that bad, she sets it down on a TV tray, then washes her hands. She’s a great cook, miserly when it comes to portion size and afternoon snacks. I’ve lost weight, I’m down to 159 pounds, I could ride the Hunt Cup…if there were a Hunt Cup this year.

I have to fight the notion that I’m sick. I’m actually not sick, I feel fine, but quarantined, isolated, I find where I slip into actually thinking I’m sick. I might get sick, but I’m not sick presently. Just two paragraphs earlier, I wrote about the sun healing me. I’m not actually sick. Long may it last.

Miles sits on the couch playing Perplexus, a game with a metal ball inside a plastic ball, a maze. Like a round version of Mouse Trap. 

“Have you ever won Perplexus?” I ask.

“Have you ever won the Kentucky Derby?” he asks. 


“Have you ever won the Preakness?”


“Have you ever won the Belmont?”


“OK, then.”

I change my approach.

“You’ve got to come up with something else to do, Miles.”

“I think I’ll go all Daniel Boone and grow a beard and walk through the woods.”

I laugh. He laughs.

Now, I hear a basketball dribbling in the house.

Miles and I go out, I throw four bucket of balls to him, he hits left-handed, then right-handed, changing with each bucket. I pick up all the balls, social distancing, self isolation, whatever the hell version we’re following. I plunk him twice, once on the knee and once on the arm. He just looks at me, “Daaaaaad.” Sorry, buddy.

I till the garden, weed the garden, plant lettuce, carrots and parsnips (simply the seeds I had from last year). Maybe too early, I don't really care. The garden is going to be strong this year. Just have a feeling. We go back to the house, I strip off my clothes, leave them on the back wall of the back patio and jump in the shower.

I hear the TV.

I ask Miles, “Please, don’t become a TV head.”

“I won’t become a TV head. Whatever that is.”

Day 5. Thursday.

After five days, symptoms show up, correct? Well, depends where you look, depends what you read…24 hours…two days…seven days…10 days…up to 21 days…and, oh yeah, asymptomatic…

No symptoms. Temperature is 98.6, 97.7, 98.3. I take it many times. I’ve never had my own thermometer, I feel like I should write my name on it, it’s quarantined, too.

I work from home on a normal basis so that’s not a problem. Internet is adequate, although, it has a daily limit of what you can download, probably a good thing, keeps us from binge watching Dirty Harry and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I go for a run, easy, around-the-block run, about 45 minutes, give or take, I listen to my breathing, my chest feels fine, my lungs working as well as they do after two weeks off from running. I’ve never seen our neighborhood (naturally self isolated) so alive, a mother and her three kids from down the street walk along Snake Hill Road, the youngest kid whirls a stick in the air as he walks along the bridle path in front of our farm. I say hello, they say hello. “Stay safe,” I say, as I run toward Banneker Elementary. “You, too. You, too.” Route 611 is busy, trucks whiz past without slowing down, I make a left into the Middleburg Training Center, weave through and around, past Hopeful Lane, past Centennial Farm. Three cyclists pass me, they look like pros, they wave and smile. Several locked gates, haven’t seen those before. A couple, amateurs, push their bikes up the Snake Hill Road hill, you know the one, left out of the Goodstone, like Everest. I finish my 4.5 mile loop, stop in our driveway, shirt off, sweat dripping off my nose, the pushers are back on their bikes, they pass our farm and wave. “Best way to social distance," I say. “The best. The best.” They pedal away in the distance.

Annie cooks a filet, kale, rice. Dessert is probiotics and orange juice.

I have to admit, I’ve got a problem, a symptom, a concern. My right shoulder aches, four buckets of balls, three days in a row. Get the ice.