How long does it take to change a light bulb (under COVID)?

By Douglas Bradley

When I was a kid living in Riverview in the late 1950s, the narrator on a favourite TV show concluded each episode with this line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” That naked city was, of course New York, but our naked city is Ottawa, and we all have our COVID-19 story. Some may be “one for the ages” that we will tell our grandchildren and they won’t believe it can possibly be true.

Author Douglas Bradley trying to keep warm on the last outdoor two-metre
social gathering of the season in December 2020. Photo: Cornelia Wagner

My COVID story started in one of the first pandemic firestorms, in Spain last March, a story I related in a previous issue of the Glebe Report (“Escaping the pandemic maelstrom of Spain,” April 2020). COVID seemed to be far away and we went about our daily life in a coastal town in southern Spain. Three days later, the Spanish hospitals were overwhelmed and we thought it was perhaps prudent to go home. Too late. We could not reach our airline to advance our return flight so we booked two more return flights, and all three were cancelled. We booked a fourth and sat on the edge of our seats wondering whether we would ever get out, like Aaron Jastrow in Winds of War. After hiding in our tiny, rented townhouse for five long days, police cars prowling the streets to ensure people stayed home, we made the trek to Malaga airport and ran the gauntlet over two days of travel to finally get home safely.

I thought this COVID story was exciting enough for our grandchildren, certainly interesting enough to relate to our friends, which we did two at a time in the now-famous, two-metre parties. But it turned out not to be our worst COVID story. Along with almost everyone else, we stayed home, shopped only for food and had the occasional two-couple gathering in our back yard, sitting in chairs two metres apart, serving food never touched by human hand and ensuring our guests brought their own wine and glasses. Then it got colder. How long could we see people outdoors before winter cast a cloak of ice and snow over the landscape? As it turned out, even wearing winter coats and covered in blankets, six degrees was the coldest we could handle. Our two-metre days were over.

For a year, we mostly stayed home; on outdoor ventures, we followed all the distancing and masking rules. When the province opened the economy a crack and allowed restaurants to open patios and then indoor dining under strict rules, we did our part to support local business to help keep them alive. We went to a local restaurant that followed all guidelines – tables spaced two metres apart, waitresses wearing masks and never at a table for more than 45 seconds. We wore masks to the table, took them off to dine and had a wonderful experience. A few days later, I asked my wife “Do I feel warm to you?” Feeling my forehead, she confirmed my suspicion: fever. Aches, chills and a cough followed and I was off the next morning to Brewer for a test. Twenty fours later came the bad news: “COVID-19 detected.” How could this possibly happen? The next day, my wife also tested positive; three days later, our daughter. We found out later that someone in that restaurant was positive and contagious. We realized that even though we followed all the existing rules, the variant we caught does not pay attention to those rules.

Thankfully, we all recovered at home and my wife and I have since been vaccinated.

But that is not the light bulb story teased in the headline: How long does it take to change a light bulb under COVID? In normal times, it takes perhaps five minutes to find a new bulb and replace the old one. If we have no spares, it is a quick walk down to Home Hardware to buy a bulb, so maybe 45 minutes total. Under COVID, not so much. An over-the-counter fluorescent bulb blew. Not able to enter a store, I searched the Home Hardware website, but it had no match. I searched the Home Depot site, found the replacement bulb and placed an order. Three days later, I received the “ready for pickup” notification, drove the six kilometres to Home Depot, waited 20 minutes for delivery, then went home. The bulb didn’t work. It took a day of head scratching to determine that the new bulb was ‘instant start,’ but my ballast was ‘rapid start.’ Are they the same? Apparently not. I found another bulb on the site and ordered it. Three days later, I got a new “ready for pickup” notification. So, how long does it take to replace a light bulb under COVID? Seven days and counting.

Douglas Bradley is a retired bioenergy consultant living in the Glebe for the last 31 years.

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