It was hard not to notice. During the pandemic, we watched more TV and movies than the rest of our marriage put together. The only thing that really got obliterated was our watch lists.
There were so many shows on the theme of dystopia. So many apocalypses and post-apocalypses.
A lot of them revolved around a pandemic in some way. The important thing is that there is an apocalypse, right? It must have happened somehow?
Reading this stuff is probably good for us in some way; otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much demand for it. I know I’m not the only person who developed an understanding of basic epidemiology from Stephen King’s The Stand. I read it twice, first when I discovered it in middle school, and then again when the unabridged version was released. My husband and I referred to it a few times during the early days of the pandemic.
We thought we knew what to expect. The first couple of months, it looked like all our media consumption of apocalyptic narratives had prepared us well.
The virus spread from one country to another. It left death in its wake.
Grocery stores emptied out.
People started freaking out and attacking each other, fighting over basic supplies.
In our area at least, robberies went up.
Mentally and emotionally, a lot of us prepared ourselves for the avalanche. Here it comes. The moment our culture has been preparing us for since…
The disaster movies of the 1970s?
The Cold War?
Paul Revere’s ride?
What is it in our psyche that always makes us think the worst is about to happen? That the British are coming or that we’ll wake to a red dawn or that aliens will start blasting our national monuments?
The craziest thing about 2020 is how bad it was not.
How many terrifying outcomes did not come to pass.
I myself got the virus early on. That was never part of my imagination or my preparations, that the apocalypse would come and I’d be one of the earliest victims.
What dystopian literature taught me was that I would be one of the survivors! I would be scrappy and I would come out on top. Disaster would be good for me because it would give me a chance to develop more grit and determination.
Dystopian literature did not teach me how to loll around, trying not to move even a quarter-inch so I could avoid setting off the vertigo, too weak to hold my phone and too washed out to read.
Much less bash a zombie with a shovel or build a siege wall.
All that chaos and mayhem taught us to brace ourselves because the supply chain was going down. Therefore, our two most important skills would be One, foraging for material goods and Two, fighting or killing people who used to be our neighbors.
Those things certainly did happen during the great pandemic of 2020. People, including me and everyone I know, spent a lot of time hunting for supplies.
We did kill a lot of people who used to be our neighbors. We killed them with coronavirus.
At the time I write this, we’ve passed four million COVID deaths worldwide.
This is why I claim that the apocalypse failed. Because in spite of four million deaths, we’re still trucking along.
As far as I can tell, nothing will stop the supply chain of Planet Earth, nothing at all.
Not wildfires, not gas leaks, not volcanic eruptions or meteorites or tanks in the streets or plagues of insects or hurricanes or earthquakes or mudslides or collapsed buildings. Nada.
Wouldn’t you think, after that condo collapse, that everyone in Miami who lived in an older building would be fleeing for the hills?
I turned to my husband and pointed out that our building is around the same age as the Champlain Tower, we also live near the ocean, and that we also had dripping water in our parking area under the pool.
He waved me off - he’s an engineer and he says he checked it out - but I’ll feel happier at whatever point after we’ve loaded a moving van and gone to live somewhere else.
It’s going to take a lot more than a condo collapse to stop Florida real estate. It’s also going to take a lot more than four million people dying of a highly contagious respiratory virus to stop the global economy.
Something else happened in the news around the time I am writing this. The Haitian president was assassinated. This is extremely scary and awful! I can’t imagine how it must feel to live in a country with that kind of uncertainty. Yet at the same time, everything continues more or less as normal. For most of the world, the biggest noticeable difference is that you can’t book a flight to Haiti right now.
My guess is that will be restored before the end of the year, possibly before the end of the month.
One thing that we are easily able to do in our post-apocalyptic world - meaning a world that is basically past the concept of an apocalypse - is to section off any area that is struggling for any reason. Like a collapsed tunnel in an anthill. We all just scurry past and think “don’t go down that tunnel” and continue working and shopping.
The pandemic of 2020 is now also the pandemic of 2021. More people have died of COVID-19 this year than last year. Financial devastation has hit many families, but not others, and so we continue. The difference is that now we can buy everything again, toilet paper and bleach and Lysol wipes and probably even ventilators.
Now we can go everywhere again, concerts and movies and restaurants - everywhere except the Tokyo Olympics. And Haiti.
What all the apocalypse shows got wrong is that even a global crisis is not evenly distributed. Some areas will probably always be fine, while others will probably never really be okay. We’ve all learned to live that way without concern. It’s only really an apocalypse if it’s mine, if it hits me and my family. Right?
Maybe now that we’ve all lived through a global crisis and realized that the movies are wrong, maybe we can let go of the fever dream of imagined disaster. Maybe instead we can start imagining something better, something appealing. What would we actually want to happen to everyone in the world at the same time? What would be an outcome that we could all cheerfully work toward, something that we brought into being through conscious intention?
You know how I’ve mentioned weird heartbeat issues off and on ever since I got COVID last year? Well, finally I had an episode strange enough that I wrote to my doctor about it.
I got an email asking if I was available for a phone appointment. They wanted to talk to me either that day or the next day.
I talked to a nurse practitioner on the phone. She said I should go to urgent care and tell them I needed an EKG.
I did as I was told. I described my symptoms and prepared to wait around for approximately five hours, like usual.
I had barely made it to the restroom before my phone pinged. They were ready to see me.
I went back and was taken to an examination room. A nurse wheeled in the EKG machine and had my results within minutes. The doctor came in almost immediately. He told me he was going to do a full cardiac work-up.
He asked me a series of questions and then sent me off for a chest x-ray and some labs.
This was more or less what happened when I had the secondary respiratory infection last year.
I couldn’t believe the rapid pace at which all this was happening. I barely had time to visit one part of the clinic before it was time to rush off to another.
I texted my husband and he said that if you complain about chest pain, you go right to the front of the line.
The test results had been reported within hours. EKG normal. Blood pressure normal.
Seven blood panels and the chest x-ray. All normal.
I got a voicemail from the cardiac doctor saying as much, and that he would forward the test results to my regular doctor.
Normal? Okay. Then what was going on with my heart??
Two interesting things happened at that point.
One, the heat was turned down. All the frenetic activity from urgent care came to a halt. We have examined you and determined that nothing is wrong with you, therefore please go away and be weird elsewhere.
Two, an eighth test result straggled in a few hours later. My TSH hormone levels.
Suddenly everything became clear to me.
My TSH levels are back to where they were in my early twenties, a sub-clinical low “normal” result that, in my body, causes me all sorts of problems.
I could have put together the clues for myself, having had the experience and the reading in my repertoire for well over twenty years. I missed what could have been obvious to me because I was busy blaming everything on COVID.
Constantly feeling cold, check.
Tired all the time, check.
Trouble dropping weight, check.
In fact, now that I thought about it, I had been noticing a visible ring around my throat and blaming it on excess body weight and/or bad posture. That same sign showed up when I developed a goiter at age 23.
Back at that age, I started having fainting spells. Vasovagal syncope. I had an ultrasound of my heart and an EEG. Both normal. They put me on beta blockers. I don’t remember whether I had weird heartbeat problems at that time, although I might have.
At other times in my life, I have felt dismissed and ignored by medical professionals. It has been terrifically motivating for me. Okay FINE, I’ll do my own research and heal myself then!
This time, a wave of optimism and joy overtook me. I have data! I have metrics! I have objective criteria to use for myself!
Also, I have been here before! I know what to do!
The best thing about this somewhat useless visit to urgent care is that I got information that my heart is normal and… MY LUNGS ARE CLEAR. No more scarring.
What all this meant to me is that I should be clear to commence running again.
The thing that healed my low functioning thyroid last time around was increasing the amount of very strenuous exercise I did. I stumbled across this by accident. This is good news for me, because emotionally I am well suited to endurance sports. It’s great for regulating my mood and dumping whatever toxic stress might be circulating in my system on any given day.
Such as: the ‘Why won’t doctors listen’ rant or the ‘Why is this still the “standard of care” when it doesn’t actually help people’ perseveration or the ‘Why isn’t more medical research based on female bodies’ query.
I can credit hundreds of miles on the trail to each of these, and thank you!
What I noticed about the weird heartbeat episodes I had been having was that they only came up when I was relaxing. I would be either sitting on the couch for at least an hour, or I would be lying down. It never seemed to happen when I was walking or climbing stairs or scrubbing the bathtub or folding laundry.
Obviously relaxation isn’t bad for me - or anyone. It just seemed that if this was when the weird heartbeat stuff was happening, then moving my body was presumably safe.
When I say “weird heartbeat,” I mean that sometimes it would beat very hard, sometimes it would beat faster, and sometimes it would seem to skip a beat. It wasn’t all that consistent. Only concerning.
A different person would probably campaign for a prescription medication at this point. That is good self-advocacy. For myself, I tend to be chary about taking prescriptions, feeling that I tend to be the side effects person. My test results would probably rule out thyroid hormone supplements, which is smart, because they can cause heart problems if they aren’t needed.
My goal from here on out is to increase my TSH levels. It will probably take me a few months.
What happened to me during the pandemic is probably similar to what happened to a lot of other people. I almost never leave my apartment to this day. I used to walk an average of 8 miles a day, three on an off day, and I was in motion almost all the time. Suddenly all that came to a halt, and I spend almost all my time now in a sitting position.
My body is like a rusted-out dusty old project car sitting in the driveway on four flat tires.
While I probably can’t do all that much to increase my background activity level, I can make sure I do at least an hour of cardio most days. I’ll know I am making progress when I quit shivering with cold when it’s 68F and when I quit noticing the weird heartbeat problem.
In a few months I will ask to have my TSH levels checked again, and then I can share a side-by-side comparison with my doctor. Maybe my experience can help inform his response, or Kaiser’s response, the next time a former thyroid patient calls in with a weird heartbeat mystery.
I’m never going to forget the first time I went into a grocery store and found all the shelves empty, the freezer bins ready to be set up as individual hot tubs for all the good they were doing anyone.
I’m also never going to forget the next three stores I went to, and how empty they were as well.
It was a rough month and I doubt any of us will ever completely let it go.
Now is the time, though, to realize that it would take an awful lot more than a global pandemic with millions dead to completely disrupt the food supply.
However we might feel about it, choices were made on higher levels. People would be called in to work, and in the first key months, they would be prohibited from wearing masks. Hundreds of thousands of people would die unnecessarily. Meanwhile, other people around the world maintained their ability to access such things as cinnamon rolls and children’s toys, chewing gum and energy drinks, fudge sauce and rum.
Whatever you want, at least in the US, you can get it. Not only that, you can probably get someone to deliver it right to your doorstep.
This is why I think we can pretty much rest assured that we will continue to be able to buy groceries throughout our lifetimes.
When I was a kid, the topic often came up of older people who had lived through the Great Depression. They hung onto (read: hoarded) all sorts of stuff that we considered useless, such as stacks of newspaper, empty cans, glass jars, and seemingly every consumer item they ever bought.
We don’t want that for ourselves, do we?
We can consciously acknowledge that we have been scarred and traumatized without acting that out in pointless hoarding behaviors, right?
I have done a lot of work with hoarders, and I can say right now that food hoarding is almost impossible to beat back. I think it only arises when some neurochemical switch has been flipped. Is there some form of therapy that might help a food hoarder to recover? I have no idea.
The best I can do is one of two things.
I can say that I myself have food hoarding tendencies, and that I am probably 95% cured.
I can also say that it’s probably harmless to examine one’s own behavior and question why one acts the way one does.
Does this serve me?
Does it really?
I think the solution to food hoarding is to keep looking at the evidence. What *exactly* is in all those cans and bottles and jars and bags and packages?
There is a way to maintain and rotate a pantry and keep up to four years’ supply of food on hand. I learned it from my mother-in-law, who did all her own gardening and canning. She kept it all in a cool room that she had designed herself, built for her by her husband on their own property.
If this is your dream, sounds great! Are you willing to learn her system or are you going to wing it? Because that kind of thing is a lot of work.
My MIL was one of those people who is up at sunrise. She busted her butt every single day in that garden. It took a lot of work to organize, sanitize, and even label everything. She had all her canning jars lined up by type of food and year canned, and she would rotate so there was never anything over four years old in her supplies. (Because it isn’t safe and it also drains of nutritional quality over time).
Personally, as much as I admired her, that has never been my dream lifestyle.
It always boggles my mind how many of my people fantasize about such throwback activities as churning their own butter, yet they can’t keep up with modern conveniences like unloading the dishwasher or the washer and dryer.
In 1890, housework was a full-time job. Even by the 1920s it took over 50 hours a week. Why would anyone yearn for that, I ask of you??
We presently have about twenty pounds of dry beans under our bed.
Dry beans are supposedly good for 2-3 years, and no longer nutritious after 5. I can tell you from experience, one time I made a black bean soup from dried beans, and it was inedible. I boiled those beans for like 8 hours and they never softened up. Dry beans do too go bad!
My food hoarders universally do not believe in expiration dates or germ theory. They will defend as “still perfectly good” the most sketchy foods you’ve ever seen: things that blew up and spattered all over the place, things that come out runny or chunky, things that smell like they are fermenting, even things with visible mold.
My record for oldest food found in a refrigerator was something that had been expired for 16 years.
If you are scoffing at that or wanting to know what it was, congratulations, you are a food safety skeptic.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but I would ask you: is your digestion sometimes a bit dodgy? Is anyone in your household, including pets, prone to bouts of illness?
I am blessed, myself, with a cast iron stomach. I’d like to keep it that way, and that’s why I emphasize fresh foods in my own diet.
I cheat a little. I put my husband in charge of throwing away any food that is too old. He has zero patience with the whole concept of “it’s still good” or “it was expensive” and will just chuck stuff. When in doubt, throw it out!
I’m not suggesting that anybody throw anything away, unless of course it might make you sick.
What I am suggesting is that you start cooking up and eating the oldest stuff from your pantry now.
You can keep replacing it with new, fresh foods if it makes you feel better. If you really want to try to keep a year’s worth of food on hand at all times, sure, knock yourself out. Just please do yourself the favor of getting your money’s worth and using standard rotation.
Or if you don’t feel like socializing in the new normal, feed the old stuff to your guests and visitors!
I went for a run. Well, sort of.
Whenever I am grieving something, I try to work it out physically. Most likely I will go around cleaning things and reorganizing closets. Or I will try to run it off. The last major loss that I had to grieve happened when I was still doing martial arts, and I was able to ask my training partner to put some extra heat on the pad during Thai sit-ups.
That’s really what I want right now, for someone to repeatedly smack me in the belly with a large heavy pad and try to knock the wind out of me. Mood.
I had to drop off the loaner birdcage that we wound up with during the first emergency run to the veterinary hospital. We also had a pending bill. During normal times, this would be a routine errand. Given the circumstances, a massive dark cloud of sadness surrounded that entire corner of the dining room.
I had to do the thing I could not bear to do, and it was miserable, and there was never going to be a good time for it, and so I pulled my socks up and prepared to do it.
Then I had an idea. The old me popped her head up from the primordial ooze where she had been hiding.
What if I went there and ran back?
The last time I went for a run was the day I discovered that I had caught the coronavirus. Not a great association.
There was one more issue. I happened to have blown out my only pair of running shoes on my recent hike.
I had been tossing around the idea of trying to run again, just to test out my lungs and find out how much damage I had sustained. All the pieces fit together. I could take a ride share to REI across town, drop off the birdcage on the way, and then run/walk back. I knew I could walk that far, so even if I couldn’t manage to jog more than a couple of steps, I had enough time to walk home before sunset.
These are important parts of the planning for new or returning runners:
What are you going to wear?
Where are you going to go?
What is your fall-back plan if something goes wrong?
I ran and hiked for years before almost dying of COVID-19. I had hundreds of outings to test every possible combination of gear and clothing in every weather condition. I already knew how to monitor my hydration and glucose level.
In some ways, this was a serious problem, because I had intellectual expectations of what my body could do without information about whether any of that was still true in my new, janked-up form.
A lot of middle-aged people still think of themselves as athletes, because they were athletic in their teens and twenties. Maybe more time has passed than they realize. It can be a real blow to the ego to discover that your cardio endurance capacity has decreased. My advice would be to lower your expectations and think of yourself as the same fitness level as your least-fit age cohort. Then you can instead be pleasantly surprised at your strength and agility.
The first thing I did, once I had my plan, was figure out what to wear. I would be going in the door without running shoes, and coming out wearing a new pair I had never seen before. I also needed to think about what I would want with me on the return trip. Nothing about my plan would work for the combination of sundress, sandals, and purse that I wore to the dentist earlier that day.
I chose my larger hydration pack, standard workout clothes, and sandals. I packed a pair of workout socks. These preferences are highly individual - there is no one correct answer; it depends on the person’s build, the climate in their area, and what type of workout they do. I went through several brands of socks before settling on the ankle socks that I wear now. I have workout leggings chosen mainly because they don’t have exposed elastic in the waistband.
It took me about five minutes to pick out running shoes. This is because I talked to a trainer after blowing out my ankle, and he told me I should give up my barefoot shoe style (thin sole) in favor of a “neutral shoe,” which are in my opinion enormous, heavy, and hideously ugly. I have a couple of preferred brands - Brooks and Merrells - that work for my shape of foot, which is narrow with a high arch.
It was basically: “Hi, I’m looking for a neutral running shoe, can I try that in an 8?” I jogged around the store for 30 seconds, put my sandals back on, bought the shoes and an energy bar, and left.
I walked down the road while eating the energy bar. It was the hottest part of the afternoon and I had not brought any water, despite the fact that I was wearing a hydration pack, because I don’t always do smart things.
I opened my old running app, only to realize I had forgotten my login and password.
This used to be something I did four or five days a week, and now I wasn’t even 100% certain I had the right app.
I managed to jog along for a quarter mile before I felt like I couldn’t do it any more. I had a stitch in my side and I was just completely out of breath.
I slowed to a walk, which was fine. I was listening to a podcast, and I knew where I was going, and I actually liked the new shoes. (Brooks Ghost)
Some distance went by, and I caught my breath, and there was a downhill slope in the shade. I worked up to a jog again.
For a trip slightly over 3 miles, which is a 5k, I probably jogged close to a mile and walked the rest. I did most of the downhills.
When I came home, I was absurdly tired. I could barely get up the stairs in front of our building. I pounded a liter of water. That night I slept over ten hours.
The first day I decided to try running, I couldn’t make it around the block. I was not able to jog a distance of a quarter-mile. Not quite ten years later, after a moderate case of COVID-19 and a follow-up case of bacterial pneumonia, I did better than that.
I had no heart palpitations. I did not pass out. I did not wheeze. I did not have to stop to lean on anything or sit on the ground. I didn’t have to call a ride share to get me home.
Part of me is sad that I can no longer complete a 5k without having to walk most of it.
The other part of me is thrilled that I was able to do a 5k and actually jog part of it!
Also I want to state very clearly that until I got my COVID-19 vaccine, I was pretty sure I would never run again. My symptoms dragged on for a year, and it was only after being fully vaccinated that I started to feel like I could get out there again.
When I first began my running journey, I was in worse shape than I am now. My cardio endurance at one point was so poor that I would see black spots when I walked up a single flight of stairs. I know that I have the self-discipline and grit and determination to drag myself up from a lower point than I am at today.
How long will it take before I can run a 5k again without stopping? I have no idea, but I am going to find out.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t give people health advice under any circumstances.
First, it doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, nurse, space alien, shaman, mime, dog trainer, marathon runner, or whatever. Nobody will actually change their behavior based on what you say.
Unless it’s something weird such as ‘eating raw pineapple will cause you to grow a second row of teeth.”
Second, I recently sent in a tube of saliva to have my DNA analyzed. Supposedly this includes some genetic markers. It is a gol-danged mystery what might or might not have genetic components, including whether you have hair on your toes or a double-jointed thumb. No matter what happens, people now have the option of blaming their genes rather than external inputs.
Third, after COVID-19 I just don’t know.
I can tell people that COVID is real and that you probably don’t want to find out for yourself, so wear a mask, but anyone who would listen to me has probably been doing that for a long time. Again, what I say to someone will either be preaching to the choir, or it will have no effect.
All I can do is offer for friends who know someone with COVID to have them text me.
Even then, what can I do? I can talk about my experience, but that might not be theirs. For instance, I lost my sense of taste and smell for three weeks, and it came back, but for some people that loss appears to be permanent. Why? I have no idea. Is there anything they can do to get it back? I have no idea. It appeared to happen naturally in my case.
Did anyone read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
Remember the part where Arthur Dent came home, ate something spoiled out of his fridge, and unknowingly cured himself of some space infection that would have wiped out all of humanity?
What if I did do something to help myself get my sense of smell back, but I had no idea? What if it was... eating pickles? Something that I have done my entire life, and would never stop even if it caused my skin to turn green and warty?
What if there are multiple inputs in my personal environment that combine in such a way as to cause certain issues in my life and eliminate others?
That’s probably the main problem with trying to give other people health advice. We can’t do it in isolation, one factor at a time. Maybe we do twelve things, the combination of which is necessary to get our results, and maybe the other person is only willing to grudgingly do one of them?
I can say that while I had COVID, I ate a lot of broccoli and cauliflower. That is true. Whether it had any effect whatsoever on my healing will never be known, because nobody did any kind of tests or measured any health metrics while all that was going on. It’s guesswork.
This is where I think most people get into trouble with giving advice: singling out a particular input that they like and wanting to broadcast it to everyone.
Example: Someone I know believes that she can’t get coronavirus because she drinks a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every day. This is why she won’t get vaccinated.
I utterly 100% think this is wrong, and that all the health effects it can cause are smelling like a salad...
Or at least I thought that until this same person needed major surgery and took months to heal.
Will anyone tell her that maybe her vinegar habit did something bad in her life rather than something good?
Gosh, I hope not!
Will she stop telling people that vinegar is a miracle healing cure?
Are they related?
What it would take to test something like this requires an entire scientific framework that is, for some reason, under scrutiny. The scientific method is the exact part that so many people are skeptical about.
It seems to work like this. I will trust this advice and follow it scrupulously, every day, and tell everyone about it all the time. I will pay good money for it. I will drive many miles for it. I will rearrange my schedule for it. But only if it does not come from a mainstream health practitioner.
Food and health are the new religion, and they have been for some time.
We get into these things because we are desperate for a feeling of control over our lives. We want so much to feel like we can do or not do something very specific, and it will protect us from our mortality.
This is why we want to get other people on board with our habits, because it builds and strengthens that sense of confidence and control. Now we are a team, and together we are unbeatable! Now everybody get that vinegar ready and let’s drink, one two three!
I used to feel that holy fire myself. At that time in my life, I was surrounded by people who were almost entirely on a different wavelength than myself. Many of them were struggling with issues that I had beat, and I wanted to help.
All I did was annoy people.
Then I moved and changed my social group, and instead I was surrounded mostly by people more fit and active than myself.
That shut me up!
Now I’m working on recovery after a year of being blitzed by long-haul COVID. While I’m pleased to be able to run up a flight of stairs again, I still struggle to carry heavy objects, lift my arms over my head, or become very tired after doing a few things that used to be routine, like putting something on top of the fridge. I have a long way to go.
Not that telling someone, “I’m tired too and I struggle with simple things too” would feel like much of a bonding exercise.
What people really want is for someone to deeply validate what they are saying, and that does not include expressing that you had the same experience, because they want to feel seen and prized as a unique individual with unique issues.
This is why I’m not giving health advice these days. All I can do is report something back from my recovery, such as, one day soon I hope to be able to put on a shoe without leaning on something.
This is what is going on with me.
I got both my vaccines, and then I traveled for the first time in a year and a half. I went to three different international airports and sat next to strangers on two separate planes. Both flights were full.
I’ve been running up the stairs.
All I can do is speak to my own experience, and that is that the COVID-19 vaccine seems to have restored my health. I spent a year dealing with long-haul COVID symptoms, and now they are gone.
Now I’m idly shopping for new running shoes. I’m tentatively thinking about short hiking trips. I’m feeling my way back into what used to be a pretty active, outdoorsy lifestyle.
This isn’t just a personal anecdote. I know that millions of people, for some reason or other, are petrified about vaccines. It feels really important to share that vaccines work and that they are safe, routine, and normal.
I’m starting to get the sense that getting vaccinated - against anything, really - may have a way of making a naive, “all-natural” immune system a little smarter and more efficient.
I’ve been vaccinated against, let’s see: measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis A & B, influenza, and now COVID-19. There are probably others that I have forgotten about - but apparently my immune system has not.
What is important to me here is that I never got sick with any of the things I was vaccinated against!
I had the misfortune of contracting coronavirus early in the pandemic. The day I was exposed there were only 3,000 recorded cases in the US. Obviously there wasn’t a vaccine available yet. If there was, I would have lined up to get one, because I get the flu shot, too.
For some reason, a lot of people are suspicious of the testing around vaccines when they are not equally suspicious about other things. A few that come to mind are the cumulative effects of food additives across products and across time, and whether the ingredients on the label of “supplements” actually match what is in the product.
I know someone who believes she doesn’t need the vaccine because she drinks a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every day.
I know several people who are adamantly against vaccines but who will use “supplements” and essential oils with wild abandon.
Question: why do you trust the makers of these products so fully? Why don’t you demand the testing on these products that you do for vaccines - or can you even explain what kind of testing you would want? How do you know that isn’t already happening - is this a close scrutiny or an intuitive rejection?
The problem with taking a firm, documented stand for or against a certain lifestyle is how to rebrand your position if you wind up having a health problem.
I didn’t have time to formulate some kind of claim about whether I thought I could keep myself from getting sick with COVID. I got infected before I really had time to realize that hey, this could happen to me.
If I had had more time to gather my dread and anxiety, as more people in my community started getting sick, I probably would have figured, yeah, I do tend to be vulnerable to respiratory infections. If I got it, I would probably be in trouble.
There doesn’t seem to be any profit to me in making claims that can easily be refuted.
Maybe I say something like, Oh, I eat a lot of cabbage, you should eat cabbage too so you don’t get sick. Then I get sick. Oops.
Health is like religion for a lot of people. The way we deal with our anxieties is to build some sort of belief system that helps make sense out of a weird and frightening world. It helps us feel like we have some control.
I bought this consumer product from a skilled marketer! It’s called [x] and the packaging looks like [y]! Owning this makes me feel strong, smart, and confident. If I can convince you to buy it, too, it will reinforce my feeling that I know what I’m doing.
I did it, too. I bought some expensive vitamins that I took while I was sick. I got better.
Was it because of these vitamins, or would I have gotten better anyway?
Was I getting better anyway, and maybe... *gasp* ... the vitamins actually interfered with my healing??
There is no way to explore this counterfactual because I can’t go back in time and do it the other way, as a control. I can only guess and hope I’m right.
This is why I look to big data and studies and testing done by other people. I don’t necessarily know the full resume of every one of these people - but I do know that I cannot trust myself as a single point of data.
I’ve tried, and it’s stressful and confusing.
What I do know is that coronavirus made me very ill, even though I am a not-old person who lacks a single one of the comorbidities on the list of risk factors. At least there is no question in my mind whether COVID is real.
What I know now is that it’s possible to get better. That process will probably be shorter for some people and longer for others.
Does this apply to other illnesses that are not viral? I don’t know. I only know what I experienced.
Right now, I am finding that my energy level is getting better and better. I am starting to have the urge to move faster. This includes running up flights of stairs.
A year ago, I could barely get down a flight of stairs, even clinging to the railing, without shaking, sweating, and waves of nausea.
Physical recovery has a lot in common with adjusting your mental framework. It can make you want to just lie down and take a nap. It can involve a lot of brain fog. It can feel like running upstairs, working so hard just to get to a higher level.
Bodies and minds are both designed for growth and movement. Both need to be exercised to function as well as possible. Exploring different ways to respond to a problem is nothing that we can’t handle.
It’s not quite three weeks since I got my second COVID-19 shot. This is how it’s going.
About a week after my first shot, I felt the lifting of my lingering long-haul symptoms. So that was great.
I had no aftereffects from either shot. My arm was sore after the first shot, but I barely felt the second injection at all.
As soon as I had my appointments, I booked a plane ticket. I would be flying on the first day I was considered fully vaccinated.
The week we got our second shot, our county changed the rules. It’s now allowed for people who have had both their shots to walk outside and go to the park without a mask. We took advantage of that fact! Nobody got within ten feet of us anyway. It felt like such a luxury to be outdoors, something that we never used to give a second thought.
We went to the grocery store to buy ice cream. Another activity that used to be completely normal but that we had given up for a year. It was nice to go to the store without a face shield and not break into a flop sweat.
I prepared for my flight with trepidation.
It’s one thing to walk around the neighborhood and go to the park, knowing there are no other people within several yards. It’s something else to go to the store, where max occupancy is enforced.
It’s an entirely different category to go to an airport with thousands of other people traveling from who knows where.
As much as I want things to go back to normal, my tolerance for personal risk is basically zero. I knew there would have to be a way to go on my trip without being exposed to every type of pathogen from every region under the sun. I bought a special helmet.
Much to my disappointment, I was required to take off my mask in the security line. Everyone has to. When you show your ID, they want to make sure it’s really you, so you can have the correct name on your headstone after they give you COVID.
I put my helmet back on after I got on the plane, hoping it wasn’t too late.
This is the important part. Despite all my planning, I was exposed to roughly two hundred people with my helmet off. Not only that, I had to take off my cloth mask in a spot only a few feet away from the line, where one person after another had also stood with a bare face.
Nothing about that felt safe at all. I strongly doubt the CDC got any say in the TSA regulations.
For my purposes, while I’m definitely still worried about COVID-19, I want to avoid any and all respiratory illnesses. I don’t even want the common cold, much less influenza or, worse, any emerging thing that doesn’t even have a name yet. I’m definitely a convert to the mask life.
I had a good time wearing my helmet and realizing how much of the world was now reopened to me. I would feel safe wearing my helmet on the bus or the subway, and that means I can basically go anywhere I want.
I got to my destination, where about half of the people I came to see are fully vaccinated, while the other half have only had their first shot.
If you haven’t had to manage this yet, it’s not all that complicated. The fully vaccinated can hug in one room, and those who aren’t there yet can keep their masks on in another room. When everyone is together, we all just put our masks back on.
Now it’s been five days since I was at the airport with my mask off.
I’ve been nervous, I’ll admit it. I sneezed a couple of times and had to ask myself:
WHAT WAS THAT???
Reaction to pet dander?
I sneeze in bright sunlight, and I also sneeze if I taste strong peppermint, which is probably why it has “pepper” in its name, but it still seems like a corny joke.
Culturally, our natural reaction is going to be, “Wow, this person is really a hypochondriac.” Getting worked up over a sneeze? Get over yourself.
Yet my first symptoms of COVID were a sneezing fit and itchy eyes.
At the time that I got sick, these were not recognized as potential coronavirus symptoms. I was feeling very weird, and I had gone to a social outing five days before, so my husband and I Googled and read through several lists of COVID symptoms, just to be safe.
I didn’t have a single symptom on the list, and not a single one of my symptoms were on the list.
Two weeks later, I was gasping for air like a trout on a riverbank and having tachycardia several times a day.
This is why I still pay careful attention to my state of health every time I sneeze.
I keep hearing of local cases - cases in my area, cases of people in my industry, cases of people who are one or two degrees of separation from me - where half a dozen or more people got the coronavirus at work because one individual thought they had “mild allergy symptoms.”
It’s high time people quit going out or going to work in person when they are sneezing or coughing or having a runny nose. Yet I fear it’s never going to change. Our Puritan work ethic is too deep in the bone, even though nothing destroys productivity more than a global pandemic.
The good news is, in spite of a couple of sneezes, I appear to be fine. I appear to have escaped the TSA plague gauntlet with no repercussions.
That sorta supports the idea that the shot worked. Or at least it doesn’t refute it.
Soon I will have been on my visit long enough to pass through a quarantine period. Then none of us will have to wear masks around each other and it will be just like the old days, sitting at home like normal.
I went to the airport for the first time in a year and a half, and I bought a new MicroClimate helmet for the trip. This is my experience.
My itinerary began at LAX, with a layover at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, and continued on to PDX. This is a trip I have made many times, and I have spent untold hours at each of these airports over the past 15 years.
I’m a pretty experienced traveler - or at least I used to be, in the before-times. Things are different now.
I figured that the form factor of my MicroClimate helmet would advertise itself pretty clearly. This is a serious piece of equipment. I had read up on the corporate website, and it looked like other users were experiencing friction from various airport personnel. I assumed that I would get different responses depending on where I went and who I interacted with, and I was right about that.
TSA and my airline, Southwest, were both pretty clear that a mask “covers the mouth and nose” and that it loops behind the ears.
Obviously my MicroClimate helmet covers the mouth and nose, correct? But my mouth and nose are visible!
This is where I recall all the cartoons I ever saw of confused computers and robots with steam blasting out of their vents, going all swirly-eyed and then exploding.
My first issue was at the baggage check counter in LAX. I had been in the airport just long enough to check in and print out my baggage claim stickers. The agent told me that she understood, but TSA was going to make me take off the helmet and they weren’t going to let me wear it on the plane.
I turned away, took off the helmet, and pulled out the double-layer fabric mask that I had in my pocket. “I apologize for making you uncomfortable,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not me, I’m here to help *you*,” she said.
I put the helmet back on for the short walk down the hallway and into the public restroom. I saw nobody, and thus no one said anything. I had felt anxious about being in the enclosed area of an airport restroom during the pandemic, and wearing the helmet definitely helped me feel better.
When I emerged, I realized that swapping out the helmet for a cloth mask in the security line was not an experience I wanted to have. It was a cattle call. Nobody was distancing more than about 18 inches and there were at least 100 people packed together.
I stepped to the side and put on my fabric mask and zipped my helmet back into my bag. This was very disappointing because this 1000-square-foot area was the precise reason I wanted the helmet in the first place.
Hundreds of thousands of people a day pass through LAX from all over the world. I have gotten respiratory illnesses probably more than half the time that I have traveled through this airport. I don’t care what the statistics are about being onboard an airplane, or how their filtration systems are rated. I care about standing in line at the airport itself so the TSA can examine my internal organs.
When it was my turn to hand over my ID, the TSA agent asked me to remove my fabric face mask.
There ya go. My exact worst nightmare. Standing in the filthiest place on Earth with a bare face, where another dude was standing doing the same thing five seconds earlier. Buy any mask or filtration system or biohazard suit you like, and TSA will interfere with you and insist that you participate in equal-opportunity disease exposure.
I made it to my flight on time, boarded, waited until takeoff, and put my helmet back on. Not a single person said a thing. My seatmates on either side glanced at me and went back to whatever they were doing, clearly unfazed.
We landed, and I decided I would just push it as far as I could go. I would leave the helmet on as we disembarked. A few of the flight attendants and gate agents made eye contact with me and said nothing. Cool.
As I walked into McCarran, it was immediately obvious that we were in Vegas, for two reasons. First, the slot machines, and second, the anything-goes atmosphere. A lady walked up to me, all smiles, and asked where I got the helmet. A man gave me a thumbs-up. People were checking me out as I walked to my gate. I sat for an hour, texting with my family and my husband.
Someone sitting directly behind me coughed, and I didn’t have to worry.
The performance of the helmet itself is, as far as I can tell, flawless. The fan does a good job of unobtrusively tuning out most background sounds, like a white noise generator. I was a bit hot, but probably because I tried to dress for Oregon, not Nevada or California, and I would have been more comfortable in short sleeves.
Face ID recognized me on my iPhone, but not on my iPad. Go figure. I was able to pair my AirPods and listen to a show, although I did have to turn up the volume higher than normal.
I don’t really like the chin strap - I wear a XXS bike helmet and the MicroClimate helmet is one-size-fits-all. It took a lot of finagling to adjust it so it would stay in place on my tiny little head. As a competent costumer married to an engineer, I will probably go in and rig a more customized strap setup for myself. And then send a drawing and photos to MicroClimate.
We boarded our connecting flight. The ticket agent greeted me but said nothing about the helmet. The flight attendant at the end of the jetway greeted me and said nothing. The flight attendants doing the safety presentation said nothing.
Then another flight attendant came over and handed me a surgical mask, making eye contact but saying nothing. I put it in my lap.
We took off. After the safety presentation, a different flight attendant came over and firmly told me that I needed to wear the surgical mask.
I understand how this works, because I also work on a team in which we sometimes take turns being “the enforcer” or “good cop” or “bad cop.”
Having no desire to give any hard-working safety professional a bad day, I indeed put the mask on underneath my helmet and obediently wore it over my mouth and nose throughout the flight.
Is this all they want from me? That I check the box for their baseline instructions and pointlessly wear the paper mask, even though I am wearing a helmet that literally covers my entire head and has its own air filtration system?
All right, fine.
Get used to it, though. Given another pandemic of a respiratory virus, and/or heavy wildfire smoke or a volcanic eruption, and/or any kind of chemical spill, and/or [insert nameless dread here], more and more people are going to decide to get themselves a helmet just like this.
The reception of the crowd to this device was either positive or neutral. Almost everyone completely ignored me. Not a single person gave me a dirty look or appeared scared or annoyed. A little girl waved at me - and I waved back and smiled - and it may have been one of the few times she saw a stranger’s actual smiling face in well over a year.
A couple of women came up to me and asked me where I bought the helmet, looking very intrigued. It would have been a great opportunity for MicroClimate to include a bunch of business cards, or even put a QR code on the back of the helmet. I wouldn’t really mind if people wanted to take pictures of me wearing it. I am a photo-shy person but I feel somehow anonymous in my helmet, like a person from the future.
Which I am, now.
I had to double-check the news just to make sure that it applied to California, but I did, and we were good to go. We are officially allowed to walk outside and go to the park without masks! The very first day that we had off, that’s what we did.
Every week I check the weather forecast to see if there is going to be a nice enough day. All year, it’s been touch-and-go. Sometimes, there will be one warm-weather day, and sometimes, that day will fall on the weekend. I plan our entire week around making sure we get to the park that day.
If there is only a two-hour window of warm and sunny weather, by gum, we’re going to be sitting in the middle of a grassy field and making the most of it.
It was glorious. 78F, not a cloud in the sky, flowers blooming, butterflies and bees and hummingbirds, the full springtime experience.
We walked down the trail to the park, and we didn’t have masks on, and nobody came near us, so it probably didn’t matter anyway.
We’ve both had our second shot. I wanted those shots, and I booked them the first day that I had permission, and I got there early. I’ve already started feeling the effects, as the sense of lingering illness that I have had over the past year has finally started to dissipate.
At the same time, though, I don’t know if I truly believe that it will work.
I talked it out with my husband. A hundred million people in the US have been vaccinated for COVID-19, and about 5600 have had breakthrough infections.
“That’s about one in twenty thousand,” he explained.
“Yeah, that feels like a big enough risk to me to still be careful,” I replied.
I was one of the first 400 COVID cases in California, a state with a population of nearly forty million people. I’m not great at math, but that’s... one in 100,000. I have no problem with being extra-cautious, considering that so far, most of the planning I thought was very conservative was nowhere near what we truly needed.
Storing food supplies for one month, for instance!
In February 2020, I thought we were planning very carefully and being smart.
What I’m worried about right now is the indication that the Pfizer vaccine might not be effective against the South African variant.
A vaccine-hesitant person might use that as some kind of excuse not to get the shot.
Not me. I see it as a laundry list of Pandemic Problems, most of which I have just crossed off by getting my jab. Let’s see, now all I need is a booster shot that covers that strain and I’ll be good to go.
I fully expect there to be annual boosters of the COVID vaccine, and I am ready and eager to roll up my sleeve.
I have two other plans for the future, considering that I’m 45 and a COVID survivor. One is to start getting the flu shot twice a year, once at the very beginning of flu season and the other six months later. Say, late September and again in February or March.
Although... it looks like all the social distancing and masking may be driving influenza to extinction all around the world. Even better, it looks like all this medical research may be bringing us a universal flu vaccine, which is magnificent!
If you’ve been paying attention, it looks like we may also be getting both an effective malaria vaccine and an HIV vaccine. Coronavirus bonanzas.
I said I have two plans for the future, and one is to get the flu shot twice a year instead of just once. The other is to ask my doctor what other vaccines are on the market and please can’t I have them?
I don’t think it will happen for us this year, but I do believe that eventually world travel will be back on the table. (I’m still sticking with my original prediction, circa March 2020, that the pandemic will last until January 2023). I am much more concerned now about picking up some random contagion now.
I’d far, far rather go through a course of multiple injections that just lock my door and never go anywhere interesting ever again.
These are the sorts of things I’m thinking about as I sit here in the park on a beautiful warm spring day.
The park is very busy. We got to watch a group of third-graders give each other presentations on the US presidents. They were so much more confident than I was at that age, or, to be honest, even thirty years later.
We sat off to the side, on an embankment that is too steep for much besides our inflatable chairs, and made up our own fake presidential facts.
“Teddy Roosevelt wrestled a moose,” I intoned.
Something we noticed is that there were far more kids in masks today than there have been any other time in the past year. Our region has been extremely sloppy about masking. It seems, though, that the news is getting out. COVID seems to be having a stronger effect on little kids. Did you see the story about the poor little boy who went on vacation with his vaccinated parents, and he died??
By this time next year, maybe testing will indicate that the COVID vaccine is safe for children as well. Or maybe there will be a formulation that is safe on infants. At that point, we can finally break the back of this stupid virus and drive it to extinction.
We noticed today that a few people were enjoying the new order, that it’s okay to go without masks outdoors like we are doing. I would have assumed that everyone would take advantage of that fact, that even unvaccinated people would just go bare-faced and assume nobody would call them out on it.
It would be useful if we had some kind of signal for who was vaccinated and who wasn’t, like a colored ribbon, although that system could be abused as well. For now, though, it seems like people are going for it. Mask if no vaccine, bare face if elite.
How weird would it be if suddenly wearing a mask started to become a signal that one was part of the vaccine resistance? If the hesitant or the politically motivated started using masks to indicate where their loyalties lie? I would think it would make a terrific canvas for various symbols or slogans, like a nice little DONT TREAD ON ME serpent. Instant Etsy income.
This has been a surprisingly great day. We’ve enjoyed relaxing in the fine spring weather and smelling the freshly mown grass. Now we’re going to walk down to the beach, pull our masks out of our pockets, and get takeout burritos.
The weather is hot, and I got my shot, so now I’ll have fun with barely a thought. And that’s a great feeling that cannot be bought.
My hubby and I got our second shots last week. We are, as they say, in like Flynn.
Word is getting out, and people are starting to ask questions of us. We haven’t really gotten our heads around the idea that in another week and a half, we’ll be 94% protected against COVID-19.
Now that we’re in the vaccinated elite, it’s like doors have opened to us and we don’t even know what’s on the other side of those doors yet.
The first thing that happened is that some of our young people have started asking what our rules are for socializing.
The second thing is that our work asked on which exact date my hubby would be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ and thus free to travel again. Business trips.
There you have it. Right back to where we were in 2019, with a social calendar and a variable amount of business travel.
In the meantime, we’ve only just realized that we can go out in public and get PROFESSIONAL HAIRCUTS again.
My hubby needs to renew his passport. I called for him and found that he can get his photo taken 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, right up the street. He mentioned getting a haircut first.
“What, don’t you like my $6-equivalent home haircuts anymore?”
Haha, like I’m offended. The only thing more stressful than giving someone else an amateur haircut is: driving on the freeway. I might be willing to cut a man’s hair again under certain pressing circumstances - not sure what those would be - but it is unlikely that I will be called upon to do this again.
We keep talking about what else we’re going to do, once we’re free to go out and about.
Well, technically we’re free now. I think we could even go to see a movie at the mall. The pool is open at our building again, residents only. The gym next door is allowing people in. Cases are finally dropping in our area and things seem to be going well.
I have done something since we got our shots. I went to the store and bought some fresh raspberries.
I went alone, I wore my mask, I distanced, I was only in the store for ten minutes, the clerk stayed behind his plexiglass barrier, I left. Chances are, these behaviors would have served me just as well before I got my first shot, in the Wild West days.
The difference is that now, I no longer approach transactions like this in a flop sweat, with my hands shaking and my heart racing.
I am what seems to be fairly rare in the US: a true believer that the coronavirus exists and that it wants to kill you. I had COVID, I’ve followed the updates and pre-prints in various research journals, and I understand that I could both get it again and die of it.
A short list of things I would rather have happen than get COVID a second time:
Be audited by the IRS
Be attacked by a coyote
Or a mountain lion
Get a tattoo on my eyeball
Have a tooth pulled without anesthesia
Be hit in the face with a baseball bat
Have food poisoning
I suppose I should match this with a short list of things that I think would be worse than getting COVID again. That would basically be: being trapped in a submarine with the oxygen running out, being dragged underwater by an alligator, or, actually literally dying.
Probably none of those things will happen to me or to anyone I know. I sure hope not. (Except the dying part - can’t do much about that). Probably I won’t get COVID again, either, because I am now paranoid for life. I don’t really have a problem with the idea of wearing a mask in public forever, because so far it has kept me from getting the flu or even the common cold.
Also I don’t have to worry if there’s spinach in my teeth.
What are we going to do, now that we’re in the vaccinated elite?
Probably we will re-enter society gradually, one step at a time.
We do have rules for having people over. Those rules are 1, you must be fully vaccinated, 2, you must show your documentation, and 3, if you bring someone with you who is not fully vaccinated yet, then I will throw a huge fit and shove the whole group of you away from my door with a broom. Because a 10-foot pole won’t fit in my apartment.
Probably we will be expected to return to work soon.
I am not excited about this, because I know that there will be a certain number of vaccine skeptics on staff. I won’t know who they are, and thus I might wind up in a small room with one sitting on either side of me.
Am I paranoid? I am. The Pfizer vaccine that I just got is not protective against the South African strain. How long will it take to produce a booster shot that will include that strain? No idea.
Going in to work as a physical entity, rather than a virtual avatar, means I’m going to have to wear a mask at least ten hours a day. I will probably wind up eating my lunch in the parking lot so that I can feel safe to take off my mask.
I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t feel all that elite yet. I have a piece of information that stresses me out, which is that there is still a deadly and highly contagious strain of a virus circulating out there, and my injection does not protect me against it.
Going to work and being on site 50 hours a week with 3000 people, many of whom travel regularly, is a completely different risk profile than going to the grocery store for ten minutes, or getting a haircut in a private salon with one stylist and a locking door.
In some ways, being a part of the vaccinated elite is great. It’s our best chance to achieve true herd immunity and finally end the pandemic. On the other hand, it’s not perfect, and it creates a certain amount of pressure to get back to business and pretend that everything is normal, when it isn’t yet.
The rest of 2021 promises to be both exciting and super weird.
Have you booked your appointment yet? Or are you already elite like us?
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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