I’d do anything for you, I hope you know that.
If you ever need me, just call me, day or night.
If anyone ever messes with you, they better not, but if they do they’ll have to go through me.
Nothing gets me more worked up than picturing you in harm’s way, and all the things I would do to anyone who ever tried to hurt you.
I just really want you to know that.
I’m here for you, I’ll always be here for you.
If you were ever wrongfully accused, I’d get you lawyers, I’d call the press, I’d call our state rep, I’d write letters, I’d be in court every day. I would get you out if it took twenty years.
If you were ever in the hospital, I’d be by your side day and night. I’d sleep in a chair. I know you know that.
If you needed a blood donor, if you needed an organ, take mine. But if we weren’t a match I would drive around with posters all over the car. I’d set up a GoFundMe. I’d do whatever it takes and I’d find you a match.
I’d do anything for you.
If you were ever stranded, you could call in the middle of the night and I’d put on my coat and snow boots and I’d go get you.
Would I fight a bear for you? Are you kidding me? I am that bear!
I told you I’d do anything for you and I know you know how much I mean that.
So why do you keep asking me about this vaccine.
You know that is something I will never do.
But that has nothing to do with how much I love you.
I’m not getting the shot. I’m not reading articles about it. I’m not watching interviews about it. I’m not looking at posters or brochures.
I made up my mind, so stop it and leave me alone!
Just, please can’t you quit thinking this has anything to do with you or how much I love you?
I’ll do any of those other things, but not this.
Because I’m afraid of the vaccine in a way that I am not afraid of the courts, or the press, or wild animals, or any human on earth.
I will face literally anything on Earth for you - except this one thing.
This is where I draw the line.
Sure, I had the tetanus shot, so not all needles. Just this one.
Maybe there are two things I won’t do for you after all.
I won’t get the shot and I won’t listen to you on this subject.
I have the biggest, wildest heart in the world, just bursting with love and loyalty - but this is where it stops.
This is the fence around my love.
And I’m not even sorry.
Please let’s go back to pretending this isn’t happening so I can go back to loving you with my whole heart once again.
People be out here listening to their craziest friend. I am very curious as to why.
This is genuinely what seems to be happening. If the rule is, Anything mainstream is automatically suspicious, then the most paranoid person suddenly seems like the wisest and best strategic thinker.
I like this sort of thing for comedy value. In practice, though, I have questions.
It used to be that you could go to people and ask them about their experience with something, and they would tell you a story about what happened to them, and you would be smart to follow their example.
For instance, I was at a meeting the other day where people were trading tips on which DMV was the fastest, how to get an appointment, and what to bring with you. If someone shared information that turned out not to be true, the next person to go there would quickly find out. Then they would tell everyone. The first guy would lose a bit of credibility and would probably be expected to give a sort of apology. Whoops, my bad.
That is how social proof works.
People are constantly asking each other for social proof. What restaurant is good. Did you try that flavor yet. Is that breed of dog good with kids.
That is the entire premise of everything having star ratings or likes or product reviews. We want to learn from each other what things work as promised.
What we’ve all learned from a couple of decades of rating everything, from movies to salad dressing, is that some reviews are not worth reading because the reviewer obviously has a screw loose. Giving something a one-star review because you had problems with the shipping is not helping anybody.
We’ve all quickly learned to skim through the page-long rants because it seems pretty clear that that person’s deranged opinion is not going to affect our experience of the local dry cleaner or veterinarian.
The trouble is, we don’t seem to be quite as savvy about topics that don’t involve consumer products or local businesses.
I wonder why that is?
I was talking to a friend the other day and she said her parents aren’t planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of the “long-term effects.” It turns out my friend’s mom’s friend’s... son? Neighbor? works in a hospital. In the mom’s mind, this makes him a nurse. Supposedly he said something about Bell’s palsy, which she heard as Ball’s palsy, which then somehow morphed into the story, “Nurses are saying that the COVID vaccine causes cerebral palsy.”
Bell’s palsy, by the way, can be caused by viral infections. It’s a temporary facial paralysis that resolves in six months. Yeah, I wouldn’t want it, but it is far less frightening to me than the idea of getting COVID again! And it has nothing in common whatsoever with cerebral palsy, which only happens to kids under age three.
What this sort of anecdote comes down to is, I heard something that made me nervous from someone I know, therefore I am 100% opposed to it.
Even though I can’t even remember the exact details and I’ve never even met the first guy who said it.
The “long-term effects” argument sounds perfectly reasonable. A lot of people are skittish about getting the vaccine because it was developed so quickly. They think that must mean that there can’t be enough testing information from humans, and they don’t want to be that first penguin that jumps in and gets eaten by the leopard seal.
Okay, then, you want more information about “long-term effects” before you’ll take it? What timeframe are we talking here? One year? Five years? Twenty years?
That means you would literally rather the pandemic continue to rage unchecked all around the world for whatever length of time than have a vaccination program in 2021?
What year, can you tell me? What timeframe do you think would be long enough?
Also, could you give me numbers on the number of sick, hospitalized, or dead people that you find acceptable? Like, maybe if the numbers stay low enough we could all wait even longer?
It took over two hundred and fifty years to go from variolation in North America to the elimination of smallpox. (1721 to 1974).
Is that long enough?
I go back to what I was saying to my hesitant friend. If vaccines caused some kind of long-term health effects, we would be seeing that reflected in the longevity data. Vaccines appear to have added thirty years to the average human lifespan just in the last century.
If you think that lifespan increase was due to something else other than vaccines, what do you think it was? Television? Microwaves? Air pollution? 5G?
The most surprising thing to me about vaccine hesitancy is when you hear about it from people who were previously fine with it. People who were vaccinated as kids, who then took their own kids to get their shots, people who were maybe even getting their flu shots up until recently. What changed?
Why are there so many Boomers out there who are nervous about vaccines, when they saw smallpox completely eradicated in their adult lifetime?
Oh, and polio! How many Boomers knew someone who caught polio?
The biggest question of all to me is this. Why would you think that vaccines from 40-60 years ago were somehow safer or better than the vaccines that we have today?
Think it out. How many stories have you heard in your lifetime of people who survived breaking their neck or having a stroke or heart attack? When you were a kid, wouldn’t you have expected that all those things would have killed someone?
Medical science has improved. If you stop and think of all the anecdotal evidence you have of various people surviving accidents or surgery or crazy illnesses, most likely you will be able to come up with a bunch of interesting medical miracles. For instance, we had a neighbor who survived meningitis and another who had a quadruple bypass. I know at least four people who have had brain surgery.
On the other hand, your memory is probably also full of every story you’ve ever heard under the category of Disaster.
It’s a survival trait to trade disaster stories. We don’t want the same thing happening to anyone else. “Don’t eat that, it gave me food poisoning” is probably one of the very first folktales that humanity ever told.
This is where we stand today. We’re constantly bombarded by information from literally millions of possible sources. It’s too much for us all to do due diligence on all of it. The way we cope is by relying on people we can vouch for, people within two or three degrees of separation from us.
We like the stories that come from our craziest friends because they are more memorable and because they seem more trustworthy than whatever we’re told by any kind of larger organization.
We’re at a crossroads where we have to choose what we think is true, and base our actions on that. Unfortunately, the consequences for turning in one direction or the other are more serious than usual. I hope that the path of documentable results becomes more well-trodden and that it starts to be more obvious which way to turn.
We’re the type to brag about it. Someone close to me has an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Almost everyone I know is in the 1c tier, for critical infrastructure or essential workers. That includes my husband and myself.
The group chat started to light up. There are differences of opinion between us as to whether our person is entitled to get the shot this early. This is going to happen tens of thousands of times over, so I figured it’s worth talking about.
To me, it seems obvious that we need to get as many shots into arms as fast as possible. Every single last thing about this pandemic has been botched, bungled, and befuddled from the very start. We need to speed things up.
The reason my person has an appointment so early is along the same lines as why it’s easier to get appointments at some DMV locations rather than others. When I went to get my REAL ID it took me two separate trips over two days and a cumulative 5.5 hours. Coworkers are reporting that they’re able to get an appointment within days and be in and out in ten minutes. That’s because they share information about which is the best location and how to work the system.
Engineers are particularly great about learning system requirements. Low side compliance for the win.
So my person has been working in what I would refer to as “the hinterlands.” As far as I’m concerned, if someone is able to book a legitimate slot using legitimate credentials, then please go in there, roll up your sleeve, get the shot, and then tell everyone you know. There are a lot of fence-sitters out there who can be convinced after they hear enough uneventful stories and the case load continues to drop.
Getting a vaccine is less painful or time-consuming than going to the dentist, and everyone accepts that we need to do that twice a year. I would say, based on personal experience, that the consequences of getting the coronavirus are worse than the consequences of not going to the dentist!
Obviously not everyone would agree that my person should be getting the shot. We’re still working on the seniors. I understand this, and of course I believe the most vulnerable people should be protected.
However, we’ve done an staggeringly shoddy job of protecting our seniors so far.
This is an instructive example of real-world ethics.
What we’re seeing is the crossroads between divergent ethical frameworks, where various arguments could be made depending on our values.
In this case, one position is the categorical imperative. We must wait our turn so that those who are more vulnerable are protected first. Subverting this system is cheating and it’s selfish.
(This is generally where I stand, on the end that if something is wrong, it is always wrong, and that we should make a commitment to live these values even at great personal sacrifice).
Another position is the utilitarian one, that says we need to do what is best for the greatest number. There can be a dark side to this, which can be demonstrated in the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery.” Just because the majority agree on something does not mean it is okay!
Right now, during the pandemic, we are racing against time. There is this little phenomenon known as “vaccine escape,” in which the virus mutates into a strain that is resistant to the vaccine. This is why we currently have to get a flu shot every year, because influenza is a tricky bugger that shape-shifts too quickly for a universal vaccine.
This may be changing, though. Due to isolation and masking, flu cases dropped by a whopping 95% this season. It would be extremely weird and cool if influenza (figuratively) died of COVID.
The other thing that would be bonkers would be if the COVID-19 vaccine also wound up eliminating the coronavirus form of the common cold. Crazy, right? Then we would still be stuck with the rhinovirus family, but it would be a good start.
It seems obvious to me that vaccines are one of the greatest innovations of all human history, that they have saved hundreds of millions of lives, and that getting vaccinated is not just an ethical issue but a moral one. At this point, I wouldn’t care if the vaccine was guaranteed to make my leg fall off, because if mass vaccination can stop the pandemic, it will be worth it.
But of course that won’t happen. I’ve been vaccinated for a dozen different things and the only thing that ever happened was that my arm hurt for a couple days.
This is a factor in the decision of whether to “jump the line” and take the opportunity to get your shot early.
Part of why there are spots available is due to mass vaccine hesitancy. People are freaking out, even people who obediently vaccinated their own children, even people who used to regularly get the flu shot. The same generation that saw the extinction of smallpox is now turning its back on vaccination, for what ultimate reasons I cannot say, because I don’t understand them.
It works and you know it from personal experience. So what’s the problem?
Others may disagree, but this is my position. I believe that it is a tragic and appalling waste to have to throw out a single spoiled dose. Every last dose needs to go toward protecting a person.
Waiting because you feel guilty and someone “worse off than you” should get their shot first is precisely like waiting to jump out of the emergency exit on a plane. There are only 90 seconds to evacuate a plane. If a single person stands there dithering and dilly-dallying, it’s possible that every person on the plane could die in a massive fireball.
Don’t wait, GO!
People like my example may be getting their opportunity a little early because they have access to a location with less population pressure. Maybe the people in that community have been frightened into inaction by derpy friends and irresponsible fake journalists? Or maybe they’re out there getting it done and they just have more doses to go around.
Probably what will happen is that the virus is eliminated more easily in certain less-dense communities, and six months from now, entire swaths of countryside are COVID-free. The hot zones will remain in places like my neighborhood, where the neighbors have one immunity, which is to science. That will be my problem to deal with, but I certainly wish godspeed to those locales that can be clean and clear more quickly.
When I get my chance, I’m going to book my slot as fast as I can. If I find out I can get it sooner in the parking lot at work, or at Kaiser, or through the same drive-thru where we got our tests last year, then by Jove, I’m going.
We all need to work together to beat the spread of coronavirus and replace it with concepts of civic virtue, collective effort, community pride, and rational thought.
I’ve been thinking a lot about vaccine hesitancy lately. The conversation I had with my hesitant friend last week is still on my mind quite a bit, especially the part where she said she was worried about the long-term effects. There’s a part of the conversation that I didn’t report.
When she told me she was concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccine, I blurted out:
“You drink Coke and you’re worried about the vaccine?!?”
She laughed in spite of herself, realizing that it was actually pretty funny.
I went on in that vein, that if you eat junk food then this is not a valid criticism. What about all the people who eat Chipotle??
Or drink blue beverages?
Or wear Axe Body Spray?
It’s true, though. My type is the much-reviled health nut, the scold, the “preachy” person who is out to ruin everyone’s fun. Sure, I’ll go with that.
Why, then, am I so eager to get this radically new, weird, and suspicious substance injected directly into my bloodstream, when I’m not willing to eat, say, Hot Cheetos?
Contrariwise, why are these people who are so laid-back, natural, normal, fun, whimsical, and popular about food and drink - why are these socially correct people so nervous and reluctant about one tiny little squirt of fluid?
The very same people who follow the 14-second rule?
If there is a single individual out there who will drink a Mountain Dew but will reject the vaccine, I would like that person’s number, so I can call them and laugh hysterically in their ear.
Oh ho ho ho, NOW you care about what goes into your body??
Of course I realize that there are tons of alternative-health people who are vaccine deniers. This makes even less sense to me. You spend all your spare time reading articles and going to conferences and watching videos to educate yourself about your health as much as possible - yet you’re willing to write off one of the single greatest boons to health of all human history?
This is such a mystery to me. Epidemic disease, the greatest scourge of human health of all time, dating back to the proto-hominids. Not even including the fatalities, epidemic diseases can cause permanent brain damage, skeletal deformations, hearing loss, blindness, skin lesions, heart and lung damage, infertility, and entire volumes of other health problems.
Sure, it’s natural, but then so are death and old age and wrinkles and gray hair.
There is a woo-woo belief out there that if you’re only just perfect enough, if you eat right and do your affirmations, then you can somehow be spiritually immune to disease.
As fascinating a hypothesis as that is, there is a rather large spiritual component that is missing from that formulation.
That is our moral duty to care for others, to be considerate of other sentient beings.
Maybe you don’t care at all whether you spread COVID-19 to other humans - maybe you have your reasons for believing that people do not rate - but what about gorillas and tigers?
There are dozens of mammals that are susceptible to this coronavirus, just like humans are, and some of them are highly vulnerable to species loss.
There are a lot of long-term effects of letting COVID-19 spread as far as it has. Animals are dying. Medical waste and packaging are proliferating like crazy and hurting and killing birds and sea life. We could put a stop to these things if we put a stop to the pandemic, and a massive global vaccination plan appears to be the only way to do that.
I’m assuming that anyone who is as interested in health food as I am would also be interested in spirituality, ethics, animal welfare, and the natural environment?
But maybe not. Maybe it’s all just anxiety in the form of an obsession with body purity.
Which, again, really makes me wonder. Why aren’t people more concerned with the aftereffects of COVID itself?
When my friend told me she was concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccine, I reminded her that I’ve been dealing with serious symptoms of COVID for ten months and counting. Did she really think that the vaccine would do anything worse than that??
All she could do was shrug.
I ask again. If you, too, are concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccine, do you think they would include:
Shortness of breath
I’m 45. I used to think I had a good chance of living to 111. Now I worry all the time that the virus took decades off my lifespan or that I will suddenly drop dead. A lot of coronavirus patients are sent home from the hospital, supposedly cured, only to die days, weeks, or months later.
I’m so worried about this early death problem, in fact, that I took a job largely to make sure I had life insurance.
If there are “long-term effects” of the vaccine, then when would they supposedly kick in? A year? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Forty years?
It seems funny to me that so many people, who had half a dozen or more vaccinations in childhood and were perfectly fine, are suddenly hesitant about yet another one. The same people are likely to get their tetanus boosters without question, because even the most die-hard vaccine skeptics realize that tetanus has a 10% kill rate. I’ve never once heard someone say they were concerned about the long-term effects of a tetanus shot.
Having had COVID-19, though, I don’t think I would care that much even if there were proven permanent negative effects from the vaccine. That’s because I have reason to believe that if I got COVID again, I would be dead within days.
At time of writing, over 26 million Americans have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. By the end of the week, that will probably equal the population of Texas. Isn’t it strange how so many people are getting their shots and yet they appear to be perfectly fine?
I don’t really know how to get more people to remember that they have had vaccines lots of times in the past, and that is probably why most of us don’t know anyone personally who had measles, or mumps, or rubella, or diphtheria, or whooping cough, or the others.
All I know to do is to try to help my audience work on talking points for those who are close to them who may be swaying, who may be close to the side of reason once again. All I know to do is to keep talking and refuse to pretend that it’s perfectly okay to reject the vaccine.
Because if only half of us get it, then there’s not much of a point. And what are the long-term effects of social loafing, slacking, and expecting others to do all the hard work of sustaining a human society?
By reader request (hello darlin’) I have gone back and categorized all my COVID-19 posts.
There are two categories:
COVID 19 Chronicles, covering the time from when I found out I was exposed, through my illness, to the point when I was off antibiotics.
COVID 19, for everything I’ve written about the pandemic, isolation, and my experience recovering from the virus.
This was kind of a bummer. I didn’t have a COVID category last year because I was hoping it was just a blip. Six years of keeping a blog and it should have been nothing but a blip!
I agree, though, that this material should be easier to find. The reason I wrote, even when I was so ill it would literally take me all day to write two pages, was to keep people informed. I hoped then, and hope now, that my experience will help people to understand that this thing is just as real as any other cold or flu - while significantly more dangerous.
I also hope that my experience may be of service to anyone who falls ill after me and wants to know how to cope. If this is you, there are better treatments now, and doctors know more than they did last year. I wish you well.
Hang on, everyone. The vaccines are here and we might all have our chance at our jabs by summer. Let’s all see 2022 together!
Eminem says we only get one shot, one opportunity, but apparently we’re supposed to get two. I’m talking about the COVID-19 vaccine, surely one of the most important innovations of all time after, say, the internet and indoor plumbing.
I’m excited about mine, everyone knows that. What I really want to talk about are the skeptics amongst us and what kinds of conversations we’re going to have with them.
I respect your personal decisions and your bodily autonomy. I understand that never in a million billion years will you ever get the vaccine, and I accept that. It’s fine, you’re off the hook. I would never pressure you.
I just want to know, what are your reasons exactly?
Why won’t you get your shot?
I had a brief conversation with a coworker the other day. She wanted to ask me to invite a couple of people to a meeting I had set up. Somehow or other it came up that she thought people were going to have present proof of vaccination in order to travel.
She used the emoji of the freaked-out face with the round eyes and the flushed cheeks. It’s one of the icons that pops up if you type the word ‘shocked.’
I responded, “I can’t wait. I’ve already had COVID so I’m really excited to get mine!”
Then we went on to talk about all the places we want to go When All This Is Over (TM).
That was not what I would call a proselytizing conversation. She hinted that she wasn’t super thrilled about the vaccine. I shared my feelings about taking my turn. Then we changed the subject.
Was this going to change this person’s mind? Doubtful. But I did have that opportunity to start blasting her with misinformation and paranoia, and I did not do that.
They’re injecting microchips into people!
See, we work in STEM and we know too much about microchips in my industry. Let me take a moment to explain this concept from our perspective.
You know those microchips you can have implanted in your cat or dog, so if they get lost, they can get back home to you?
They don’t track your pets. Right?
If those microchips were able to track animals so that people would know where they were at all times, there wouldn’t be these lost animals. You could just look at the map, drive right up to them, and shake a treat bag next to a bush and they’d come running out.
The only way those microchips work is if someone finds your kitty, takes it to a vet that has a scanner, and has them check for a chip. But sometimes the chips wander a bit, and it turns out it’s not on their chest anymore, it’s more like next to their leg or wherever. Ask any vet tech to confirm.
A microchip doesn’t do anything at all by itself. It might as well be... a potato chip. Ba dum dum.
It needs a battery or some kind of power source, and sure, I suppose some woo-woo person might imagine that it somehow knows to draw power from the human body. If that were possible, there would be a lot of very miniaturized pacemakers and insulin pumps and other medical implants that would be worth trillions of dollars on the open market.
Oh, and? If there were tracking chip implants available, don’t you think they would be marketed to anxious parents? Put one in your kid in case they ever get kidnapped? How much do you think people would pay for that??
The other thing a chip would need, besides a power source, is some kind of transmitter, like an antenna. Remember, this is why veterinarians can’t just find your lost dog. Or child.
There aren’t currently any microchips small enough to be invisible to the naked eye and just fit through a syringe, but if there were, they would need both a small battery and an antenna of some kind in order to do something. It just wouldn’t physically fit.
I adore, absolutely frolic in this idea that Someone is installing “tracking devices” to know where people are at all times. Uh, it’s called “your phone” and “Netflix”? Where the heck are other people going that is so interesting? Everyone I know is planted firmly on their couch most nights, pandemic or no pandemic. Most people spend almost all their time either at home or at work, with a few exceptions like the gym or the grocery store. Most of our habits are 99% completely predictable.
If we were so worried about it, we wouldn’t be posting our every word, thought, and deed on social media, practically begging people to take an interest.
I made a sandwich! Look at my dinner!
This is why there’s so much conversation about vaccine refusal. We’re trying to connect with each other, looking for validation and for someone to engage in what is certainly a fantastic, fascinating example of practical philosophy.
Do we really owe anything to anyone else?
Is society worth saving?
What absolute natural rights do I have?
Why don’t I feel more in control of my life? Why aren’t things turning out the way I always thought they would?
Where exactly is the line between liberty and license, between freedom and selfishness?
I don’t particularly want to talk to anyone about their personal reasons for not wanting to get the shot. I didn’t want to get COVID, and nobody wants to talk to me about that. It’s boring. I understand that nobody is interested in my ten-month-plus health drama. So fair trade, quid pro quo. I will leave you in peace about my long-haul COVID and you, likewise, leave me in peace about your needle anxiety.
I do, though, think it’s worth talking about in general. Maybe there are people like you, dear readers, who are looking for talking points and analogies and references to use in conversations with their reluctant family and friends.
15 million Americans have had the vaccine by now (at time of writing). Is that enough for you to feel convinced that it’s safe? If that isn’t a number, do you have a number in mind? How about 100 million?
A bunch of public figures have had it, including the Queen of England, the new US President and Vice President, Martha Stewart, the Pope, Willie Nelson, Sir Ian McKellan, Hank Aaron, and a bunch of other famous people.
If you think they’re faking it, is there a specific person you trust to tell you the truth? What if that person got it?
What if I got it? Would you believe me? What if you watched me get it right in front of you?
It’s okay that you’re not getting it, I remember that, but what do you think if I get it myself?
Would you come with me and hold my hand?
One in three people in Los Angeles County have probably had COVID-19.
That doesn’t surprise me at all, since I live here and I was one of the early cases. Everything I have seen around me since the very beginning has indicated that we would not do well in the pandemic.
This is what it’s like for me and my household these days.
I took a Mucinex about an hour ago. Ten months after being exposed, I’m still having shortness of breath. Worse, every month or so, I start feeling heavy lung congestion to the point that it makes my back hurt.
I just learned that apparently COVID-19 scars the lungs worse than years of heavy smoking. The way my chest feels right now, I believe it. My last chest x-ray did show peribronchial thickening, and I have no idea how long that will last. I’ve never had a cigarette, vape, or pipe anywhere near my mouth, so it seems a little sad and unfair.
I’m not getting around much. The weather has been getting nicer, but I almost never leave our apartment. There are still maskless people flaunting their nostrils inside our building and all around our neighborhood.
We see nobody. I mean zero. No family, no friends, no acquaintances. Nobody comes over and we don’t go anywhere else.
We even quit hanging out with our quaranteam buddy a few months ago. She went to Hawaii for a couple months, and when she came back, we just all decided that the infection rate was too high. It was one thing when we came through coronavirus together and got tested together and celebrated our negative results together. It was another thing entirely after a couple of plane trips.
We’ve quit taking rideshares. This has already complicated things, as we had to borrow a friend’s car in order to go to an appointment.
I’m second-guessing that appointment, a visit to the periodontist, because my current chest congestion started a few days later. It was really scary to be in that office with my mask off, knowing that everyone who goes there throughout the day is also sitting there with no mask for an hour at a time.
When I got to my appointment, they checked my temperature with one of those forehead thermometers that doesn’t touch the skin. It registered as 102.
We figured it out, that I had just gotten overheated in my sweater and three masks out in the car. By the time I had gone to the restroom to brush my teeth and come back, the reading had dropped to 99.
However, the few minutes while I was standing in the waiting room were enough. If I had been infectious, after riding in the elevator, walking in the hallway, and touching a few doorknobs, then it would have been too late for everyone who walked through after me.
Two people, both wearing masks, are far safer than if there are no masks. But it’s not 100% effective. It isn’t magic.
It seems like the worse things get here, the more people shrug it off. The young men especially.
I got into the elevator of our building with some packages. There was a guy already in there. It wasn’t until I had adjusted my stack of boxes that I realized my mistake. At a glance, I thought he was wearing a mask. It turned out that he really just has a very thick, very dark beard. He started talking to me, offering to help me with my boxes.
He probably thinks of himself as a courteous and kind person. He doesn’t realize - how could he? - that the sight of his uncovered mouth frightened me more than he would have if he had started talking about kidnapping me or cutting me up.
We rode together for two floors, probably not even two minutes. I had two masks on, a cloth mask and a plastic face shield. I beat myself up for an hour afterward, thinking how lazy I was not to take the stairs, how dumb I was not to look more closely.
My husband had no sympathy for me. He said if he sees someone in the elevator, he doesn’t get in. If he’s in the elevator and someone else wants to get in, he just blocks the door and refuses to let them in until the door closes right in their face.
He means it, too. When either of us gets exposed, we expose the other.
It’s entirely possible he hasn’t had it yet. There have been other couples who have emerged from the illness of one, only to discover that the other has no antibodies. Thus it’s harder to guess who is more at risk if coronavirus re-enters our home - him, because he’s over 50, or me, because my system is still run down. I can’t imagine how I’d live through it a second time.
The virus is starting to take down more and more people that we know. I’ve been texting back and forth for the last couple of weeks with a friend who wound up in the hospital with COVID pneumonia. I have relatives as well as colleagues who’ve gotten sick now. My closest friends keep reporting back to me how many of *their* family, friends, and colleagues are getting sick, going to the hospital, dying.
If I tried to make a list of how many first- and second-degree contacts of mine have been exposed, I’d actually have to get out a sheet of paper and concentrate, because it’s getting pretty complicated.
A friend of mine just described trying to get COVID tests for himself and his family. We work in critical infrastructure. He wasn’t able to get a test at the first two locations he tried because all their supplies had run out.
We’ve been getting alerts on our phone about the coronavirus surge in our region, urging us to stay home.
We’ve been getting texts from Kaiser alerting us that the hospitals are full and to please be careful.
Local news has been reporting that ambulances are no longer transporting people who can’t be resuscitated at the scene. The ones who are transported may be in the ambulance for as long as 17 hours before they can even get inside a hospital. Patients are left unattended in the hallways.
We live on a busy road, and we hear emergency vehicles going by with sirens blaring every single day. We’ve quit even mentioning it when it disrupts our work calls.
We’ve been getting email alerts every day at work, notifying everyone of areas of our building that have had COVID exposures. (Only people with written permission can even enter campus). They have to be closed off for “natural decay” for several days, meaning that nobody can physically go in there. Again, we’re critical infrastructure.
This is what it’s like after 1 in 3 people in our county has been exposed.
The vaccine is slowly being distributed. I don’t know anyone personally who has had the opportunity yet. I don’t even know anyone who has been offered an appointment. I do know one person who is about 99% likely to refuse the vaccine, but otherwise, everyone who has mentioned it to me is eager, ready, and waiting.
There is another finding that affects 1 in 3 people. Out of people who contract COVID-19, one in three have persistent symptoms, just like me. I wish people would take that risk more seriously. If they understood what was at stake, maybe they’d be more careful.
If everyone would actually wear masks and avoid socializing with bare faces, we could beat this thing in just a few weeks. My area is a striking example of what happens when people simply refuse to believe it or change their behavior.
The Year That Shall Not Be Named. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to say ‘2020’ any more, we’re all just supposed to move forward and pretend it never happened.
‘Yeardemort!’ I blurted.
(Inspired by Voldemort, the character in the Harry Potter universe who also should not be named).
I don’t see anything particularly to be gained from completely trying to shut the door on the annus horribilis that just passed.
That’s probably the historian’s lens, right next to the futurist’s lens on the other side of the frame. Spectacles, one side of which looks forward and the other side of which looks backward.
Okay, 2020 was miserable. I’ll go with everyone on that. I got COVID, our dog died, I did not get to see my family for a year, and that’s just on the personal level.
Has anything really ended, though?
In my personal life, I still have no dog, I still can’t make safe plans to visit my family, and I’m still dealing with weird heart issues and shortness of breath. What’s changed?
We have a vaccine now, and millions of people have already been vaccinated, which is great and very encouraging.
That’s the only major difference.
Everything that sucked about 2020 is still in play as of early January 2021.
The death toll from the virus is actually higher, and rising. There are still millions of people unemployed and many facing eviction. Everything that was bad about politics and the economy before is still bad now. We don’t need to go into details on that; as an historian I see these things in twenty-year phases anyway.
(Actually I was saying a few months ago that the political situation will probably be yet more volatile in 2021, and probably natural disasters like big storms too).
One thing that is encouraging about the study of all the dire, dreadful, even nightmarish events of human history is that somehow, in spite of it all, we progress.
Every year has had something lethally bleak going on, and yet at the same time, every year families continue to produce new generations, there is music, we innovate and build and create.
The vaccines that we have now originated in someone coughing wetly in a cave a hundred thousand years ago.
Our air conditioned homes, complete with shower, microwave, and deadbolt lock on the door, are a linear progression from our ancestral, flea-ridden thatched huts.
Every year humans have murdered each other (often for money but more often for ideology), committed arson and burglary and treason and every other type of crime and cruelty.
We’ve also donated organs, rushed into burning buildings, raised orphans, and built charity veterinary hospitals.
It’s because we’re both savage and kind, altruistic and bloodthirsty. Sometimes within one selfsame individual.
This is why history echoes. It’s our original sin, our duality as murderous philanthropists.
Whenever we see something like a volcanic eruption, a political coup, a typhoon, a wealthy crook, crops failing in a drought, riots, livestock die-offs, war, accidental explosions... whenever we see something newsworthy and awful, humans have been through it before. Many of these things happen season after season without fail, and they always have.
Is it true that they always will?
Hard to say. Nobody has been here for every generation, not even the history books. History just means the stuff that happened that we wrote down. Dendrochronology doesn’t have much to say about human pestilence or political unrest.
The thing about this most recent plague is that we have survivors of the last one within living memory.
Did you see in the news where the last remaining Civil War widow just died? How nuts is that? In 2020 we also lost the grandson of John Tyler, who was the tenth president of the United States, elected in 1841 and born during George Washington’s first term.
How does living memory work?
Living memory means that someone who is still alive was there and can tell us what happened. Sometimes that’s quite a lot of people.
Depending on how old you are, you can probably tell people with vivid detail what you were doing when you found out Kennedy was shot, when the Challenger exploded, when the second plane hit on 9/11, or when Kim and Kanye broke up.
Most people can probably also remember stories their parents or grandparents told them. For instance, I’ll never forget my mom telling me about her little cousin who died of chicken pox.
The problem starts to come in the fourth generation, our great-grandparents. I had the privilege of meeting three of mine, when they were very elderly indeed and I was quite small. There are moments like that when someone might have an opportunity to pass along a vivid story to a tiny great-grandchild, a story that might make a vivid impression - but not many. It didn’t happen with me.
(My best memory is that my great-grandmother gave me a $5 bill).
The Spanish Flu happened in the lifetime of my great-great-grandparents. It’s too far back.
We’ve been here before, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘people of the world’ and by ‘here’ I mean ‘mass die-off due to airborne virus.’ Last time, nobody even knew what a virus was. People would feel fine in the morning, come home sick, and be dead in twelve hours. Whole families might die in three days. People bled out their eyes. At least fifty million people died in three years.
It was pretty upsetting.
Then everyone quit talking about it and moved on and had the Roaring Twenties, and then everyone was distracted by the Great Depression (also global) and the Second World War.
Collectively we let go of the idea that millions of people can die of an airborne virus, and that masks help, and that quarantines help. This terrible collective memory of a plague simply left pop culture.
1919 was an annus horribilis, another Yeardemort, another Year That Must Not Be Named.
If we’d remembered, if collectively we all popped our heads up like prairie dogs and went “Uhoh, time to stay home and make masks,” maybe we could have staved this off. We could have fended it off the way we did with SARS, Ebola, and Zika.
The way we actually progress, the way we start winning more fights against more destroyers of humans (plague, famine, war at least, maybe not death itself), is to start paying more attention to the battles of the past. As soon as we start trying to slam the door shut on the bad memories of the recent past, we quit trying to teach and help the generations that will come after us.
What’s left to those of us who are lucky enough to survive unusually bad years is to keep moving forward. What do we have the power to do? Love those around us, raise children, work, invent things, find better ways of doing things that were shoddy before. Tell stories and keep the lights on.
Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. This is something I think about all the time. It’s probably more obvious, after this year of grace 2020, that it really does apply to everyone.
Whatever you’re doing, whatever your default mode is, something about it may be permanently affected by external circumstances.
This can be good or bad.
The same event may devastate one person, and it may be the making of someone else.
I’ll use myself as an example. I got COVID-19 early, before the shutdown, and it ruined my life. I’m still having heart arrhythmia and shortness of breath eight months later. On the other hand, I applied for my dream job while I was still sick, and now I’m making 50% more than I did at my last job.
There is something about feeling your life force draining away, feeling like you will probably be dead within two days, that has a tendency to reset your attitude toward life.
Not that this was a good thing, not at all. Being that ill was profoundly depressing. I felt that my death would be a sad and pointless waste, that I would leave my husband a widower for the dumbest possible reason. I went to brunch and then I died at age 44.
The world would simply go on without me and my existence would barely have mattered.
That was when I started wondering what I would do differently if I managed to survive. If I got up out of the bed and started feeling healthy again, what would I do?
Would I just forget it had ever happened?
Or would I use this terrible experience as some kind of pivot point?
The same can be true of anyone, about any awful thing.
We all have the power to determine our own attitude.
We don’t have the power to prevent terrible events. We can’t stop tornados or landslides or earthquakes or volcanos or hurricanes. We’re all, in some ways, at the mercy of economic, political and cultural forces.
For instance, nothing in my power was able to prevent the advent of leggings worn as pants.
I can’t do much about my slow healing process, either. I have spent most of this year trying to get better, resting and eating lots of cruciferous vegetables. It’s taking the time that it takes.
What I did was to ask myself, Can I handle working while I don’t feel very good?
If I felt tired and low-energy for the rest of my career, could I still do it?
It feels unfair to me to be in this position, but the answer is, Yes. I can get through a workday even if my energy level is like a 4 out of 10.
What changed after my brush with death is that I understood, in a deep way, how much more useful I am than a dead person. As a cadaver, I could not update spreadsheets or help people edit their technical papers. As a living person, even a low-energy living person, there were things I could DO. That was what I wanted for myself, to contribute in a way that a corpse could not.
See, I’m a whole body donor? But after COVID my poor organs are probably too chewed up and drooled on to be suitable as a gift to someone else. I didn’t have the consolation of feeling that my corneas might live on.
My mind would have to live on instead.
Not everyone will have my reaction, of course. By the end of this, probably at least two million people will have died of coronavirus around the world. Others have had limbs amputated, lost their hearing, had psychotic breaks, and all sorts of other side effects that are far worse than mine.
Arguably there are all sorts of things that are worse than being deathly ill for a month. I would never contest that.
For me, the perspective is, it’s bad enough that the terrible event happened. I had to give it what it demanded. After that, I’m reclaiming my time. It’s up to me to do whatever I can now.
Nothing specific about that word “do.”
Not “doing whatever I can” about my health, or converting COVID skeptics, or anything else specific. My position is simply to DO. To do anything a living person can do that a dead person cannot do any longer.
When I lay in my sickbed, I fantasized about being able to stand up and take a shower every day without leaning on the tiles. I fantasized about being able to get dressed and put on my socks without having to rest and catch my breath for two hours afterward. I fantasized about being able to make myself a sandwich.
I’m there now. I have those victories.
It’s a surprisingly cheerful place to be.
The novelty has not worn off yet. I’m still grateful to be able to shower and dress and make my own lunch.
I never thought I would be grateful about logging in to work and doing projects on a deadline. But I see it differently now. I still see it as my ability to contribute something and help other people get things done. Whenever someone thanks me for doing even a minor thing, there is still that little sparkle, that I did something a ghost could not.
Other people have had terrible experiences during this sad and terrible year. Others have lost close family members. Others have lost their jobs. Others have been evicted. Others are homeless. I would hesitate to give advice to anyone in one of those circumstances, but I would not hesitate to hear them out if they wanted to talk.
I’m also not sure if this would be helpful to anyone who is going through a hard time, even the same hard time that I had, because we all have different perspectives and different moods and different emotional settings. I would say, though, that it’s helpful to me to remind myself of all the problems I do not have.
In comparison, I have never managed to think of a hard circumstance that I would choose over my own hard circumstance.
I guess all I really wanted to say is that hard times don’t have the right to destroy us.
There’s got to be at least a little small part of a person that can remain bright and untouched, no matter what happens.
For me, that was the desire to be of service, to feel that I had done something to contribute to something larger than myself. I wanted to be back in the game and be a part of something. COVID-19 tried to take that away from me, but it failed.
What is that thing for you?
Have you seen this yet? The New York Times put out this tool to help people estimate their place in line for the COVID-19 vaccine. Pretty cool.
My hubby and I are a little past 7 millionth in line.
In our county, that is. As far as the rest of our state, or the country, who knows?
I’ve decided to quit worrying about people refusing the vaccine. It’s going to be months before they have a chance to do that anyway.
This is why I’m not worrying. I think the problem is overstated. I think the marginal few who never shut up about it are just busy being single-focused because they have no better way to get attention.
My plan is to ignore the issue, in the same way that the media have learned to downplay serial killers and mass murderers. Do what you want - we can’t stop you - but that doesn’t mean you rate an audience for it.
What I think is going to happen is that people like my husband and me are going to eagerly watch for news of when the vaccine will be available, and we’re going to take the first available spot. We’ll get our shots, and we’ll quickly be able to resume normal activities.
(This probably won’t happen until late spring at best).
Other parts of the world will also rapidly be distributing their own supplies of the vaccine. Depending on the size of the country, and whether it is an island nation, some of these places will quickly see their cases drop. They’ll start going weeks, and then months, with zero cases.
Areas like Oceania might start allowing inter-regional travel.
Those who are still trapped in hotbeds of the virus will start feeling a serious case of FOMO - fear of missing out.
It reminds me of one of my favorite Indian restaurants in Portland - India House, please order from them if you live in the area, I’d like them to stay in business. There is no foyer, so when people come in out of the rain and cold and want to wait for a table, they basically stand there, only feet or yards away from people who are still trying to finish their meals. (I have been those people). It’s like, it smells great anyway, but then you have to watch people eat that tantalizing food right next to you, so close you could just reach out and grab yourself some naan.
That’ll be us when Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and the UK are all COVID-free.
After a few million people have gotten their shots and nothing bad has happened, it’s going to start being more and more obvious that it’s okay.
There is always a spectrum of behavior, where some people are at the extreme ends and most people fall somewhere along the middle. On one extreme here are the bio-hackers, the sorts of people who are comfortable brewing up their own vaccines out in the garage and just ramming them into their own arms, on video. That’s, uh, sort of a bad idea? But they’re just as entitled to the “My Body to Ruin” argument as the rest of us, I suppose.
On the other extreme are the “I only think about two things, and those are refusing vaccines and trying to tell everyone all about it all the time” people.
Almost nobody is on that end, and I think even a few of those outliers might eventually be willing to budge this time.
Okay, I get the position that they are worried the vaccine might do bad things to them. You know what definitely does bad things to you? COVID-19.
I actually wish someone would try to tell me they think it’s a hoax. That would be fun.
We had a moment like that at work last week. A guy was saying he wasn’t sure whether he believed it was serious or not, and I sort of put him on blast for a few minutes. He will probably remain a skeptic about any and all things, until the end of his days, and it’s not my job to try to change that.
The other people in the meeting, though, were unaware of the hard time I have had with the coronavirus. I think hearing it from someone they knew personally brought it into sharper focus.
What I’m telling you is not that it will kill you. Driving on the freeway can do that. What I’m telling you is that you have a 1-in-3 chance of having “long COVID” like me and still dealing with issues over six months later.
One of my friends who got COVID the same day as me? Just went on short-term disability.
We’re not over it.
I gave a three-minute speech last week, and I was short of breath for three hours afterward.
This year, I have had some of the weirdest health symptoms I’ve ever had in my life. I almost died; in fact, I think I almost died half a dozen specific times. I have as much reason as anyone to be a bit worried about side effects.
Does it make you feel better to know how beyond-excited I am about getting this vaccine?
I’m doing all sorts of calculations right now. I’m estimating how long it will be before I can get my shot. I’m calculating how I can schedule it so that I have time for both doses, plus the appropriate buffer afterward, and go visit my family. I’m guesstimating whether everyone I want to see in person will rush out and get immunized.
Most of all, I’m calculating what could happen if more people start taking vaccination seriously as the miracle that it is, and what will happen with more research and development, more funding, and more participation.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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