The itching persisted and my nose ran. Oh crap. One of the strains came with a horrible, mucousy cough that settles in the chest for a solid two weeks. When Todd, Les, Jerry and Squirrel had it at the same time their coughing fits in the middle of the night echoed through the cell block, awakening everyone. It’s not like we have access to cold remedies or can go to the doctor. The canteen sells hay fever tablets that slow down a runny nose long enough for it to stop up, cough drops that make your nose run and Ibuprofen. Anything more than that requires filling out a sick call, waiting several days to a week before a nurse sees you, and then you might get some cough syrup and more Ibuprofen. That’s it. Oh, and the five dollar co-pay fee for the sick call is immediately charged to your trust fund account, whether you have the money or not.
Declaring a medical emergency is useless unless you’re deathly ill and even then the nurse and shift sergeant on the unit will resist. Bleeding, broken and unconscious or dead are usually the only emergencies they recognize. Plus, the co-pay fee for declared medical emergencies “Help! I’m coughing, sneezing and nauseous!” is seven dollars. When you rarely get money, or have none at all seven dollars is enough to deter most people. I declared an emergency only once for a really bad cold. A sinus infection had caused mucus to leak from my eyes – pretty scary, very gross. When the nurse saw my symptoms she gave me some salve eye drops, Ibuprofen, hay fever tablets, and told me not to declare an emergency.
Things have changed a bit with this year’s flu, the one that has killed normally health people of all ages.
On the bottom floor of Unit 3, there are four death row cell blocks, but one of them, Pod 4, is empty. About a month ago, it was designated a quarantine block for flu patients. This happened once before when the hospital overflowed with flu cases. At the time, we were not really surprised because of the mindset we believed lurked behind such an idea: put the contagious on a death row cell block because if it spreads on death row . . . well, who cares? The irony of Pod 4 being the quarantine block for flu sufferers is that no one on death row would be quarantined there. No. No. Catch the flu on death row and they put you on Unit One, the long term solitary confinement unit.
No TLC here folks. No chicken noodle soup or an extra blanket. Just punishment.
I get it, quarantine is meant to be isolating to prevent the spread of the disease, but on Unit One you cannot be moved outside of a cell without being handcuffed. Unless, that is, policy has changed, which it seems to do as frequently as the seasons. Normally policy dictates restraints must be used for any prisoner being removed from a cell in isolation. No exceptions. Three showers a week. No property. Canteen once a week. God help you if the flu symptoms linger. When guards transport you down the hallway one stands three yards behind you and another stands three yards in front of you. You are required to wear a mask.
After hanging up the phone I went to my cell hoping it wasn’t the flu. They took Big Ray to Unit One on Thursday. Ten minutes after I drank some water with a couple of hay fever tablets a friend stopped by and laughed. “You’re coughing and sneezing and wheezing cause Young Money knocked out a sergeant at the chow hall. They maced the hell out of him and left the doors to the unit open. When everyone came back from the chow hall the draft brought the mace with them.”
“Jesus, how much did they use?”
“It looked like a small fire extinguisher.”
Well maybe not the flu after all. I washed my hands for good measure and wondered if Big Ray and Young Money would be on the same block. I’m sure Young Money would have the worst of it.