Most every week, by mid-Saturday afternoon after the bakery closes I collapse on the couch and slip into dreamland after a marathon week of working 12 to 14 hours a day with four or five hours of sleep a night.
Last week was a bit different. Instead of working my butt off I spent most of my time on my butt or in bed, fighting off Covid. That meant that by Saturday, five days after first testing positive for Covid, I was pretty well caught up on sleep for the first time in a long time.
And I could do some of the things normal people do, like watch TV for more than 15 minutes without falling asleep, sip a drink without my throat burning, and face routine tasks with a sense of accomplishment rather than listlessness.
Thanks to rest, access to medical care, some great employees and an attentive and patient wife, I was able to overcome the infection and return to work this week. (I delayed posting this blog 24 hours just to make sure I didn’t jinx myself!)
What I went through, while not exactly hell, could have ended much worse.
It began a few days after my wife returned from a business meeting in Nashville. First a friend of hers who had made the trip with her took ill and tested positive for the virus, and then my wife followed suit a couple of days later.
My wife’s symptoms consisted mostly of fatigue and mild sneezing and coughing, like a summer cold. As soon as we found out she was positive, I knew there was a good chance I would get it since we spend most of our non-working hours in close proximity.
That weekend while my wife suffered through her symptoms, I felt fairly normal, except for anxiety wondering if I was next and whether my case would be “mild.” Sunday I tried going about business as usual while pondering how the bakery would proceed in my absence.
I’m a hands-on owner involved in every aspect of operations, from mixing dough to payroll. When someone calls in sick or goes on vacation, I make sure we are covered and if not, do the work myself.
With me out of the picture, it seemed unlikely we’d be able to open for business as normal but rather be limited to one or two days instead of our usual four-day week.
All this was contingent on my condition. Sunday I felt fine but took a rapid Covid test anyway. It came out negative, proving nothing because it had been only four days since my first exposure to the virus. But at least I knew it was too early to throw in the towel.
Monday was different. I began the morning with some chores around the house, specifically, cleaning and rehabbing some 100-year-old sash windows. The job involved a lot of climbing up and down a ladder, and by noon I was exhausted.
I got ready to take my second Covid test. Immediately after swabbing my nose I sensed something wrong. My nose was a lot drippier than it had been the previous day. Sure enough, within minutes a faint stripe appeared indicating I was infected.
I informed my two most senior employees, Naomi and and Kaytie, my daughter, that I wouldn’t be able to work in the bakery for a few days. I also told them I didn’t think we would be able to open for business unless they could manage without me.
As it turned out, they were more than capable. We did scale back production, closing two hours early during the week and opting out of farmers markets on Wednesday and Saturday. But for the most part we were able to keep shelves filled with product and fulfill most wholesale accounts in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, I was feeling worse by the hour. My head and body ached and I was unable to move very far from the couch or bed without feeling spent. On Tuesday, rather than wait it out and hope for the best, I decided to get an antiviral medication that might keep my symptoms from worsening.
It took some doing but by going to an urgent care center and pleading my case — that I was old enough to be considered “at risk” — I was able to get a prescription for Paxlovid. The new drug, while not fully approved by the FDA, is designed to prevent mild Covid infections from turning severe.
I’d have to say it worked in my case, because after five days of taking the drug I was feeling back to normal again with no discernible side effects.
The real test was on Covid Day 3 when Duke Energy cut the power to the downtown area, an outage that would have had serious consequences had I not been able to respond because of the amount of dough we keep retarded.
The outage occurred Wednesday after the bakery closed. I sprang off the couch, loaded up a portable generator I keep on hand for such occasions, and rushed down to the bakery in time to save a refrigerator full of the next day’s unbaked croissants and sourdoughs. Thankfully my daughter was on hand to help, both of us wearing masks, but the scrambling took every ounce of energy in me.
The following morning I woke before dawn with a burning sensation in my throat. I gargled warm salt water, took ibuprofen, sipped ice water and managed to get back to sleep. But that sore throat was my constant companion for the rest of the week.
Long story short, my symptoms gradually dissipated, and by Saturday afternoon I had enough energy to complete the window repairs that had exhausted me the previous Monday. Moreover the bakery’s net sales by the end of the week were not bad. The extra effort to remain open definitely paid off.
I know some customers were disappointed to find some of their favorite items in short supply or missing entirely, and I hope this doesn’t repeat itself in the near future. For now, all the breads we usually bake will be back this week.
I wish to thank all of our loyal customers and hardworking employees for responding with positive energy and kindness. Without all of your help, Smittybread Bakery would not be able to survive. See you at the bakery!