#COVID19 : A Blessing

Covid in the United States on Dec. 17, 2020:

Dead: Over 308,000

Currently Hospitalized: 113,000

Eleventh day setting new record for hospitalizations and deaths.

New record for overnight deaths: 3,400

This is long. I’ve got stuff to say, much that I’ve never said publicly before.

With over 308,000 dead of Covid19, I thought it might be useful to give those who are not yet infected a primer, from one patient’s perspective. If you don’t know someone who has #COVID19, you will soon. Or you will be someone who has it.

Hopefully, you’ll be one of those who gets a very mild case and recovers. You may be lucky. You may be asymptomatic, masking and distancing either as an act of faith – you believe the people who actually know something about it and you’re doing your part to help, or as an act of kindness – you’re not sure if it’s real, or how serious it is, but if it reassures people who are worried, it’s not hard to do and you’re willing. If you’re asymptomatic, you may never even know you have Covid. If you feel fine but you’re masking and distancing anyway, thank you. The chances are good that you’re saving lives and at the very least, you’re showing kindness.

First, where I’m coming from, so you know. I’m not a doctor. I’m a patient. Since I was first diagnosed, I’ve been reading, listening to, watching coverage of the unfolding disaster. I have skin in the game. As researchers and medical personnel learn more about this new disease, the information changes, and I try to stay up to date on what we know.

I was diagnosed in March of 2020. I could have been an “early adopter” of the new smartphones, or computers, or heck, even the latest sort of snack food, but no, I was an early adopter of Covid. Not by choice. Do I know where I got it? Not for sure. In late February and early March, people were still talking about what we’d do IF it reached the U.S. We didn’t know it was already here.

Back then, there were no tests. Then our government dropped the ball and didn’t take the pandemic seriously, failing to roll out comprehensive testing. Doctors prioritized tests for only the most critically ill cases. If you had a mild case, as I did, you didn’t qualify. At one point, my doctor was so frustrated she said, “If only you were pregnant! I could get you tested if you were pregnant!” Now, with many hospitals swamped by cases, testing is hard to get in some areas again.

When I was diagnosed, doctors were scrambling to figure out what the hell was going on. I had a fever, but when it was high, there were no tests. Later, it wasn’t high enough, consistently enough, to qualify for one of the few tests available. I had all the expected symptoms and a bunch that weren’t yet on the list (they are, now). The doctors and nurses and I read the CDC guidelines together over the phone and discussed it. It was confusing and scary for all of us.

At this point, you might be saying, “Aha! So you don’t KNOW you had Covid!” Yes, I do. At first, only a few symptoms were known, and I had all of them, plus weird symptoms that we now know are Covid. Almost everything I reported in February, March and April is now on the list of symptoms. I was diagnosed by more than one doctor. Altered sense of smell, for example. Now, we know that’s a Covid symptom, but back when EVERYTHING smelled like wood ashes to me and I was driving my husband nuts asking him to check the house, check the wiring, sure we were going to have a house fire, it wasn’t known. Fun fact – it started getting listed after an NBA player reported experiencing it.

Some of my other early symptoms: gastric distress, racing heart, difficulty breathing, pounding pulse (a lot of Covid patients can tell you the difference between a pounding heart and a racing one. I had both, usually not together). Fever, dry cough, fatigue. When I say “fatigue” I mean there were days I sat down in the shower because I couldn’t stand up long enough to rinse the shampoo out of my hair. And other days I didn’t shower, because I couldn’t stand up long enough to turn on the water.

Other symptoms would show up later. It would always be a case of “I haven’t heard of that as a symptom of Covid,” followed soon after by, “That’s now on the list of symptoms for Covid.” The thing about a new disease is at first we don’t know anything, and over time, we learn more.

On March 13, and ER doctor looked at what was known about Covid at the time and said, “You are now in isolation, and your husband is in quarantine.” In order to protect my husband and everyone I knew, I would be living in one room of our house, sealed off, alone (thank God we have two bathrooms). I wasn’t critically ill enough at that point to go to a hospital, but I was very sick. How long would I be in isolation? At that time, the CDC was saying until I was free of symptoms for 2 weeks. I was never free of symptoms. I’m still not.

Mess around with Covid, and you may get to learn the distinction between quarantine and isolation.

Thank God for my husband, who immediately accepted the doctor’s orders. He was my lifeline for two months. He still is. Every day, he’d leave food, or whatever I needed, on a little table outside my door, then knock and retreat. I would turn off the fan in my room, wait until the blades stopped rotating so they wouldn’t push my germs out into the house, open the door, retrieve my lunch, or my toilet paper or whatever, and close the door.

Mess with Covid and you will find out what real loneliness is. You will see no one, (unless you’re in the hospital and see alien beings in strange jumpsuits, their faces obscured. This will be your medical team, and the only people you see). I’m a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, but I got so lonely after the first few weeks that I can’t even describe it.

Our dogs were perplexed, and distressed. Every day, our German Shepherd, Moby, would come to my window and sing to me as we looked at each other through the glass. Our little hound, Gingeroo, would cry and scratch at my door. The doctor said no, they couldn’t visit me – at that point we weren’t sure if I could give it to them and they might carry the germs out to my husband on their fur.

You have no idea who will be there for you at a time like that. Everyone was dealing with high stress, fear of the disease, fear of losing their jobs, fear that was understandable because there was something going on that was real and threatening. Perhaps they had too much going on in their own lives to have time to contact me. Maybe they just couldn’t face how very sick I was. I’ll never know. Meanwhile, I was sick, alone, not wanting to bother people with my own fears and loneliness. I now understand why putting people in isolation in prison is considered inhumane.

Mess with Covid, and prepare to get more alone time than any person wants who isn’t an actual hermit.

Covid will change your relationships. Trust me, you’ll remember who was there for you and who wasn’t. You’ll decide if it’s worth ending relationships over. There were days I felt abandoned, as if I didn’t matter, as though I should give up fighting to live, free my husband from having to try to take care of everyone while I lay in bed day after day, and just… let go. It would have been so easy. Thank God a couple of friends made a point to check on me once in a while. I’d live on that, talking to my husband by videophone, and talking to Moby at my window.

Mess with Covid and you might survive, but some of your relationships won’t.

I continued to get sicker. Too weak to cry, I had “the talk” with the ER doctor who was trying to figure out how to get me out of the house and to the ER without exposing my husband. At that point, the advice was not to come in until you had trouble breathing, which I had, but there was little they could do for you if you did come in – that was for last-ditch efforts to save your life. Was my breathing bad enough so that it was time, essentially, to go to the hospital to die alone? I had to talk to my husband and explain that I might be going to the ER and he would not be able to go with me.

On the day you’re put in isolation, build your entire day around supporting not just your physical health, but your emotional and mental health. Thank God I had a window in my room. I watched the oak tree on the other side, leafing out. I looked forward to the visits of the squirrels who used it as a meeting place. I opened the window for at least a few minutes even on cold days for the fresh air. Using what little energy I had (and it took me a few days, even sitting), I drew a stained glass window on a big piece paper and taped it up in the window. Every day I’d color in a couple of spaces, tracking the passage of time. I could only stand up for a few minutes. By the time I was allowed to leave isolation, I’d colored in the whole thing.

Every day, I’d puff into my incentive spirometer, an inexpensive tool for measuring and building lung function. Just taking a breath was physically strenuous, exhausting, and very painful, but there was so little known about what one could do to survive that I made a daily ritual around doing everything I could. The ER doctor (we talked every few days) said, “We don’t know much about this virus, but we do know it’s a virus. So you’re going to do everything I’d tell you to do to get over any virus.” I meditated, to manage my stress (stress is hard on your immune system). I ate a very healthy diet. I used my spirometer, and hydrated (using a watered-down sports drink as I kept getting dehydrated no matter how much water I drank). I listened to upbeat music (again, stress). I slept as much as my coughing would allow. My days became as ritualized as a priest celebrating a mass.

Mess with Covid and you’re going to need some rituals to help keep you sane.

Some people get through Covid just fine, but as we’ve seen, a significant number don’t survive. That whole “It’s no worse than the seasonal flu!” tripe has been ultimately, definitely disproved. It’s crap. Spout it at me and I’ll laugh, bitterly, at you. I heard from people who lost family, friends, coworkers. I’ve said “I’m sorry for your loss” so many times it’s almost my automatic greeting. “Hi, I’m sorry for your loss!” Each time I say it, it breaks my heart a bit.

A large number of people have become what we call “long-haulers.” Weeks, or months later, we still have symptoms. Fatigue is a common problem. Whatever you used to do, you don’t do that much any more. Some days I get some stuff done and other days I lie on the sofa all day because that’s all I can do. I used to hear, “I don’t know how you do it all! I’m tired just hearing what you did today!” No longer.

Another lasting common effect is “Covid brain fog.” My mental cursor gets stuck. I hunt for words. And thinking hurts. It physically hurts. I never got headaches before. Now I do.

Sometimes my heart races for no reason, or pounds. It’s definitely working harder than it used to. Will it fully recover? New illness. Nobody knows. My blood oxygen, which I now check at least daily, still isn’t back to normal nine months later. It’s better – but sometimes I still gasp for air.

I belong to an online support group for long-haulers. It’s very common for people to come there when they’ve just been diagnosed, or a loved one has, and they’re scared. Or when Covid just won’t go away, or a doctor who doesn’t really know anything about Covid tells them they’re crazy, or when a loved one loses the fight. They need to talk to someone who understands, and boy, doesn’t a long-hauler get how tragic and frightening this can be.

Some reach out to me privately to talk, the lady who has pre-existing conditions whose family refuses to mask, distance, or put off family gatherings, or admit they’re putting her in danger – but she knows. The doctor who now has facial scars from wearing PPE too long, who sees people not taking this seriously after getting off a double shift where he exhausted himself trying to save patients knowing he’d lose most of them. The woman who has Covid and is trying to decide whether or not to go to the hospital. It used to be my personal project to get the medical people I talked to on the phone to laugh.

One nurse was almost in tears. She’d been on duty too long, lost too many patients. When I got her to laugh, she exploded, laughing so hard she got the hiccups. “Oh, I needed that!” I wore that moment as my badge of honor. And it gave me something useful to do.

But I’ll go days between checking in to the support group, because I don’t always have it to spare. It’s hard not to get compassion fatigue when you’re battling plain old fatigue. I’ve learned to be really present for people when I can and absent in between so I don’t burn out.

There are long-haulers who had no known pre-existing conditions, who used to run every day and now have trouble walking across the house. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor – Covid wants you.

You’ll lie there, gasping, and on the news you’ll see herds of what I can only think of as the meanest human beings this species has ever produced, protesting mask wearing. If the ONLY thing wearing a mask accomplished was to make some of the people around you feel a bit safer, it would still be worth doing. It would still be the kind thing to do. As it happens, it’s been proven again and again that it saves lives. It makes it possible for us to go about some of our normal lives with more safety during a global pandemic. That anyone would protest doing it is selfish, uncaring, thoughtless and an amazing display of failure to understand his own self-interest.

Had we all masked and distanced as soon as this started, we’d be able to have some semblance of normal life, and many more people would still be healthy, and alive.

Want to argue with me about that? Don’t bother. I did listen at first, trying to understand that point of view, but the time has passed for listening to people who don’t listen to people who actually know something about the subject. You’re tired of Covid? Well, I’m tired of you refusing to do a simple thing that could have prevented much of this, for no good reason.

Even through my anger and disappointment in those anti-maskers, I hope they don’t get Covid. I wouldn’t wish this on my very worst enemy.

But they won’t change, so a number of them will get it. Some will become long-haulers and we just don’t know if the long-haulers, like me, will ever completely recover. Some will die.

Too many will die.

Too many who didn’t have to will die.

Every day, I pray for my allies, including the ones I’ll never meet, the researchers, the medical people, the people who continue masking and distancing, staying home as much as they can, waiting to get vaccinated.

My people.

May you be as happy as you can figure out how to be in the zombie apocalypse that is 2020. May you be healthy and find the commitment to keep masking and distancing, or start. If you fought all the restrictions every day until today, but today you find that you are worried you will get Covid, or give it to someone, and today, for the first time, you’re masking and distancing, unsure it will even help, welcome, you’re one of my people, too, and in my prayers.

You may not make the news, but you are the ones who matter, those of you willing to do what you can, worried that it’s inadequate, but doing it anyway. May your efforts be fruitful and successful. Masks aren’t perfect, but they’re the best thing we have, a sign of caring and respect for yourself and others, and in the years to come, when you’re asked what you did during this crisis, you can say, “All I could. I did all I could.” Hold your head up with pride. And slap a mask on it.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a joyous and healthy new year to you and yours.

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A Halloween Story

Horror is a matter of perspective.

Rough hands grab my skin, tearing it from my body. I groan as it is ripped away. As calluses abrade each new strip, I shudder, trying to hold myself together. There is life inside me. I must not give in to the pain, the pain, the pain. All is pain.

One nail is slowly pried off and I cry, loud, noisy, no pride left, please, no! Inside me, my heart flinches as I vibrate from the grasping hands flaying me, yanking my nails away, and all I can think of is the life I keep safe within despite the pain. All is pain. Everything, everywhere, is pain.

The night is cold, so cold. Skinned as I am, the cold penetrates me. I am weakened, vulnerable. Within me, the life I strain to protect shivers and dreams of peace, of a time without the cold and the pain, but all that is not cold is pain. There is nothing anywhere but cold, and pain.
Pounding shakes me as pieces of new skin are forced onto me, nailed into place. With each blow, I tremble. My skeleton shakes as each nail is forced into me, but I stand.

At last, new hands spread cool, soothing salve over my bruised body. My new skin is not yet so comfortable as it will be, but the pain gives way and I settle, wearily. From within, the life I guard creeps out to examine every inch of my new, wet skin.

The four-legged lives sniff me. One lifts his leg but I understand he is telling the world that I am his own.

“They did a good job,” one of the two-legged ones says.

“For that amount of money, they should,” says another.

“Still,” muses the first, “should last for years.” He pats me, gently, as if he were the one who was big and I the one who was small. “The house is good and solid again. I’m glad we got the new siding on and painted before it rains.”

That is the moment I understand. I have not been tortured. I have been reborn.

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The Biggest Little Thing I’ve Done So Far

I think 2020 is called that because by September, this year has seemed 2,020 months long. It’s so easy to lose hope. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, especially since I’m still recuperating after Covid19 and there’s only so much energy, but it seems every time I do go on Facebook or Twitter, there’s someone fighting sadness, anxiety and/or depression who asks for some sign that things can get better.

When I feel that way, I think about 2016-2017. It seemed like a parade of the most hateful people in the world were just partying in the streets. Meanwhile friends who are gay, or non-binary, or non-white, or otherwise in some way didn’t fit what those jerks thought was “acceptable” were being trolled by morons saying that they should die. People were being harassed, injured, killed.

I’d heard about Safe Harbor Pins, safety pins worn to signal that the wearer was safe to approach, especially if you felt threatened and needed someone, even a stranger, to help you feel, or be, safe. There was some controversy — some thought that too many people would congratulate themselves on wearing the pin and not do anything else.

Symbols are powerful things. When you adopt one as part of your identity, you are making a statement about where you stand and what you believe. But then there were reports of white supremacists hijacking the symbol, wearing safety pins as a threat, or to fool others. Artists talked about how to take that symbol back.

So I started making them, and beading them. Adding charms, buttons, all sorts of things. I didn’t think people would really want them, but I went to a local women’s march with a few pins, thinking it would take me hours to give them away, if I even could.

I’m an introvert, and shy, so talking to strangers is not my thing in a big way, but I did approach some people. I’d put single pins on little cards explaining what they were. Withing 15 minutes, I’d given them all away, and people were asking how to make them.

I felt the need to stand and make a statement, and others did, too. One young woman gave me the idea to put two pins on a card, one to keep, one to give away. I took time off from everything else I was doing and, with the help of my husband, made over 2,000 pins in total by the end of the project. I got hand cramps, calluses, and more pin pricks that I can count.

We visited San Francisco during the anniversary of the Summer of Love. We visited Los Angeles. We talked to people from around the world and around the U.S., including people from every political party. We talked to people from many economic backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. This was designed not to be a political project. Over 1,000 people were stopped by a stranger and asked if they would like a pin. The meaning of the pin was explained, and that wearing it was a symbol that you believed all people — including those you don’t understand, those you disagree with, even those you dislike — deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

And they did. In overwhelming numbers. Parents talked to their children about respect and how they treat people. Teens talked about why they give respect to some people but not others. Adults talked about their fears for friends, family.

We were hugged fairly often. Kissed once by a tourist from Paris. Offered money (which we declined. A gift is a gift). Some people cried. Too often, we heard from people who had been going through rough experiences, being bullied, hurt and otherwise abused. People told us who their second pin was going to. We were privileged to be included in conversations people had with their kids, friends, significant others about how they choose who to be kind to and why – and that it is a choice.

Now, with so much violence and anger, the threat of a global pandemic and a future that looks even more uncertain than usual, I think about more than 1,000 people, stopped by a stranger, standing up in front of other strangers, talking about freedom, kindness, and the worth of human life, and making a conscious choice to state their belief in the value of every human being.

They walked away taller, beacons of light in the darkness. And they are still out there. THAT is what I reflect on when the world is chaotic and frightening. Over 1,000 people, and the even larger number who contributed to them being who they are.

If you see this and you happen to be one of them. Thank you. You light my way in my dark hours.

Should you want to read short stories from the project, just search for #lovebeads to find stories from our adventures.

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Restarting Your Year Without Waiting For New Year’s Eve

Is it time to bring a bit of balance into your life?

There are a lot of traditions for starting your new year right, from eating black eyed peas and mustard greens, or round foods (symbolizing money) to burning sage. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait until December 31 for 2020 to get a makeover. Had I known what this year would be like, I’d have had the calendar printed on toilet paper and made a fortune.

I’m not normally superstitious, but I do believe that intention and attention can produce change. For one thing, focus can guide our choices and actions. Plus, there’s “the phenomenon of the observer,” where the presence of a person engaged and aware can produce minute changes in an experiment — nothing enormous, but it shows that even putting your attention on something is an action.

Rituals exist in part because they arise out of, and enhance, focus, and they’re reassuring. I’m a POF (Person Of Faith), but even if you don’t consider yourself religious, you can have your own rituals to bring about the conditions you want in your life by aiming yourself in that direction.

So on Sept. 22, I’m going to practice some rituals designed to bring health, peace and prosperity. I’ll meditate and take a “peace break.” I’ll also:

  • Eat black eyed peas and mustard greens, and round foods (like carrot slices and a cookie). These are all eaten to attract prosperity. The peas, carrots, and cookie represent coins, and the mustard greens (or other leafy greens) represent “folding money.” The black eyed peas and greens is a tradition from the American south, the “round food” from several countries. Maybe this is my chance to have a donut.
  • Sweep doorways and around windows, and the path to our door. This is so that good luck can find us.
  • Eat a marzipan pig (Austria). We’re going to get really full — but I love marzipan, so this isn’t a harship. Maybe the carrots, peas and mustard greens will offset the marzipan and the rest?
  • Eat 12 grapes at midnight (Spain), one for each hour on the clock, as well as rice (India & Pakistan) and apples dipped in honey (a Jewish tradition).
  • Make noise (multiple countries). I plan to ring bells and blow horns, but favored new start noisemakers include the drums. This is to frighten off evil.
  • Give a gift (Mark, you’re getting some shortbread — that’s a Scottish tradition).
  • I don’t have any borrowed farm equipment to return (a Babylonian tradition) or earthenware flasks to give (ancient Egypt), but I can wear colored underwear (parts of South America). I’m opting for green (wealth) and white (peace).
  • At least part of the day, I’ll open a window (Phillipines).
  • Sprinkling sugar (Puerto Rico) outside the house is to invite good in. I’d better do that far from the house, or I’ll also be inviting in the ants!
  • As I eat those 12 grapes at midnight, I’ll also sprinkle salt in doorways (Turkey) — thanks to author Marci Bolden for telling me about the salt tradition.
  • After writing down my good wishes for everyone I care about, I’ll burn them (many traditions burn things to send them upward and out into the universe). You, reading this now, know that on September 22, I will be actively wishing you well.
  • Finally, I’m going to bake bread with good wishes in it (Armenia). While the bread is kneaded, I’ll be thinking of those I love and wishing them well (and praying for them, ’cause, y’know, POF).

That should do it! The traditions I don’t get to (and there are more, for sure) I can try on New Year’s Eve. But this year can’t wait for a new start, so I’m throwing whatever I can at 2020. I mean, zombie bugs, a global pandemic, quakes, fire tornadoes and murder hornets? Come on! As far as I’m concerned, 2020 ends on September 22, and the rest of the year is just 2020, the Epilogue.

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Likes (The Idea Of) Walking In The Rain

Dear Strange Dude:
Thanks, but…

Dear Guy From The Computer Dating Service Who Keeps Messaging Me:

You seem like a nice guy. It even says in your profile that you’re “mature,” which is not a claim many people can honestly make, so mad props to you. Yes, I’m sure we like a lot of the same things, although I have to tell you I don’t really like walking in the rain. I like rain, and the idea of walking in it, but as with many things, the reality differs from the fantasy in important ways.

Fantasy: walking in a light, steady rain, more of a heavy mist, that turns my skin dewy and glowing. Reality: squelching along, my hair plastered to my scalp by drops that splat on me like water balloons, in shoes that will, as soon as they get warm, smell funky.

What I really like is sitting at a table under an awning or on a covered porch, sipping hot tea and reading, alone or with someone who doesn’t interrupt, because he’s reading his own book. I’ve left “splashing in puddles” territory and “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” isn’t far enough away to leave room for romance on slippery surfaces.

Which reminds me, no to the making love on satin sheets.

No to all of it, really. I never did sign up for that online dating service. I took what was advertised as a fun personality test about romance. I’ve been married since before the invention of dirt, and was wondering if there were any romantic notions left in my aging and more than somewhat befuddled brain.

Turns out the answer is “no,” at least as defined by an online dating service. Fancy dinners mean taking more trouble than I care to in order to get dressed, and sitting on uncomfortable furniture. I’d rather slide into a comfy booth at a diner where the waitress calls me “hon” and serves me a good burger, well done. Candlelight means squinting or rooting around in my purse for my glasses.

I suspect that people who serve food in the dark are hiding something. Not that the lighting has to be “interrogation scene in a film noir,” but I do like enough lighting to read the menu and see the person I’m eating with. You only have to have the lights come up and find yourself murmuring fondly into the ear of a total stranger once to learn your lesson.

Fortunately for you, I’m already married, so you don’t have to deal with me. Fortunately for me, I’m married to someone who dislikes dark restaurants and walking in the rain, and does like me.

So you have to stop messaging me. I hope you find someone who likes walking in the rain, candlelit restaurants, and satin sheets as much as you do, although it seems likely you’ll see more of the staff of the hospital ER than each other. Which might work out, come to think of it. You need someone who knows her way around bandages.

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