Six weeks ago I was pretty sure I was going to die.
“What shall I do?” I thought. “I know, I’ll apply for a job.”
It was slightly more complicated than that. I had been lying in bed, feeling extremely sorry for myself because I didn’t think I was going to live to see my 45th birthday this summer. For days I went over all the things on my to-do list that weren’t going to get done, books I’d never finish reading, and letters I would never write. I had to make peace with the reality that the world was already moving on without me, that whatever grand projects I might have had within me would never come to exist.
Then I went on to the might-have-beens. I started to wonder how things would have been different if I had known I would die at 44, if I could put a number on my days. What would I have done differently?
It wasn’t a big leap to wonder, if I actually defied the odds and survived COVID-19, what would I do? What does someone do with a second chance?
Once I was driving with an old family friend on an elevated section of freeway along the Willamette River, on the east side just after you pass through downtown Portland. We were in a Volkswagen Bus. Suddenly she spun out and we did a complete 360. We ended facing the same direction we had started. We both kinda went AAAAAAAAAHHH and then looked at each other, shook it off, and continued on our way.
This was not that. Intellectually I understood, Oh dear, we could easily have plummeted over the side and into the river. Dang. I didn’t actually feel like death was near that day. COVID physically made me feel like I would probably die within a day or two. The veil was thin.
I felt such sorrow that I had squandered the time I had been given. I felt that my potential was dying with me. What a stupid, pointless waste. I could have done something with myself.
My thoughts turned to what I would or could do if I recovered. What did I want? What prize would I give myself?
I want a job, I thought, I want a regular day job again. Nothing too challenging, because I have no idea what I’ll be able to handle. Just something where I can talk to people and contribute to something bigger than myself. I want to be where the action is. I want to be a part of making something cool. I want to keep busy indoors for the next three years.
I also thought, you know what? I want to earn a master’s degree.
Something uncanny and ironic happened.
I would occasionally tease my husband that he should pitch [specific person] to hire me. I would also tease him about this project I’ve been doing for the past couple of years, my tech newsletter, which I knew [specific person] read every day.
Suddenly, THE JOB POSTED.
Like, the same job with the same person.
My hubby read me the listing. Wait, what? I actually qualify for that! I felt pretty dejected that it would happen now, NOW, now when I was so desperately ill. I absolutely did not have it within me to attach my resume to an email and send it.
So I made him do it.
We both figured there was at least a slim chance I would get better. We both also knew it normally takes four months to go through the hiring process at his organization. All right. I could theoretically get better by then! It did not seem unethical to apply for a job and then die, because that could happen to anyone at any time. I was sure they would forgive me and simply move on to the next lucky candidate.
Ah, but if I lived?
With great effort, I poked around on my phone and found my resume, which I had cleverly updated about six months ago. There was even a cover letter for a fairly similar position somewhere else. Yet more, I had set up an applicant profile with the company last year and I still had an active login. I sent these to my hubby, who took dictation and did all the editing. It took about an hour, which was utterly exhausting and left me limp as a dishrag. He sent it off.
A week later, I got an email asking to set up a phone screen.
I was still very ill, into the third week with COVID, but that particular week I didn’t feel like I was actively dying any more. I responded right away and we set up a time. Ten minutes to read and respond to an email, that was actually still quite tiring, but I did it.
The phone screen lasted 30 minutes. I was so excited that I managed to summon enough enthusiasm to get me through. Then I flopped backward into the couch and basically dissolved for the next two days.
A week later I had another phone screen. This one was to be on camera. I set it for the afternoon, because I knew how long it would take me to actually shower, wash and dry my hair, and put on proper clothing. (I still had to rest between stages of bathing and dressing for weeks after this point). I started getting ready two hours early.
The interview went well. Well enough that we set up a panel interview for later the same week.
By the time that interview rolled around, I had a lung infection and had been feeling like I might die again. Fortunately we weren’t on camera due to a technical issue. I kept it together for 90 minutes, but I will say that sitting upright in a dining chair for that long left me whipped and shaky afterward.
From start to finish, the screening, interviewing, and background check process took six weeks. I got better. I start the day after Memorial Day.
This truly is my dream job in my dream field. I am thrilled. I had no idea when I applied, but they offer tuition reimbursement up to a certain amount per year. Guess who’s going to grad school??
These are trying times, and tens of millions of Americans are out of work, and most people are rightfully freaking out. It’s going to be hard, you don’t need me to tell you that. You don’t need 34 million jobs, though; you only need one. Please believe that you probably have more to offer than your last employer asked of you. A lot of companies in a lot of industries are actively hiring as fast as they can, including every big aerospace engineering company I know of. Don’t give up.
I haven’t had a regular day job in over ten years. I applied for a job while I had COVID-19 and I passed the panel interview with a raging bacterial infection in my lungs. If this was possible for me, what is possible for others?
What is possible for you?
Three weeks after being ill with COVID-19 for a month, I can finally say that I think I’m better. I’d say I’m back to 80%.
There are still a couple of remnants of this scary period that will hopefully soon be nothing more than a bad memory:
I still have brief moments of vertigo, usually when I roll over in bed.
I had heart palpitations again Saturday morning, and literally all I was doing was lounging in bed reading on my phone (probably something about robots). It was strong enough that I froze and thought, Am I going to have an actual heart attack?
These are the moments when you pause and tune in and check off all the things that are *not* currently going wrong. Okay, no pain, good. No clammy sweat, good. No nausea, good.
Then the moment passes and everything seems fine.
It’s possible that things happened while the coronavirus was romping around in my body. It was in my eyes. It was in my lungs. It was in my heart. It was in my stomach. It was definitely in my nose. Apparently it crossed the blood-brain barrier and spent a few weeks in my brain as well. Chomping around on my cells like an evil Pac-Man.
This at least helps me to explain why I am still so tired and washed out.
All I did for six weeks was languish on the couch, swallow handfuls of pharmaceuticals, lose track of conversations, and think about dying. This isn’t really a great fitness plan. I should probably give myself more credit for simply being able to bathe unassisted, but... I’d much rather there were a greater distance in behavior and abilities between Today Me and 95-Year-Old Me.
Over the past week, I’ve been testing my limits by getting up and around a little more each day. I started with making Fancy Breakfast on the weekend, which felt like about the same level of exertion as my first 5K. Then I started taking my turn to cook dinner. There was a big improvement when I was able to stand for the whole process and not sit down between steps.
I tried sorting the laundry, and my plan was to actually carry it down to the laundry room on the second floor all by myself. But I wound up getting exhausted and overwhelmed to the point that I flopped over sideways and started crying on the couch. (Probably a lot of you can relate).
Waaaah, I’ll never get better!!!
Then I pulled my socks up, and I felt better the next day, and I kept pushing to get a little stronger, a little stronger.
A couple minutes more each day.
One of the toughest physical challenges of the past week has actually been sitting vertical on a hard chair for more of each day. I had been doing a world-class jellyfish imitation on the couch for so long that sitting up straight felt like “fifties.” That’s the exercise we used to do in Krav Maga: fifty jump squats, fifty sit-ups, and fifty push-ups. Sometimes followed by two minutes of jump rope.
I remember myself routinely doing these stunts and it feels like a completely different person, like I’m watching a faithful CGI rendering of myself in an action movie.
Remember that time you hiked past a sub-glacial volcano in Iceland for three days, while wearing a 40-lb backpack? Yeah, I think I saw that one.
Remember that time you ran the marathon? Eh, I fell asleep before the end. 2.5 stars.
When I think of these past exploits, I try to draw forth the grit and determination that served me at the time. That is still there, buried somewhere inside me. There’s a part of me that refuses to quit, hates being told “no, that isn’t for people like you,” and resents being written off as weak or unserious.
There’s another part of me that loves to prove doctors wrong.
If I’m going to be a statistic, I’m going to be an anomaly.
Now I’m going to tell a dirty little secret. While I was still ill enough to be in my pajamas all day, I ordered a low-end elliptical machine. I figured it would take weeks or months to arrive, and it might sit in the box for a while, but that at some point during the next three years, I would want it. I also figured I might not be able to get one even 6 months from now.
(We expect to be staying indoors almost exclusively until maybe mid-2023; it’s psychologically easier to deal with this situation by assuming it will be more or less permanent).
Well, the darn thing showed up two weeks ahead of schedule. My hubby spent three hours putting it together for me, and we moved a few things around so it would fit between my side of the bed and the closet.
I tried it out yesterday.
It was great!
My legs wobbled when I climbed down, but I felt fantastic. That was my first exercise-induced sweat in nearly two months.
I slept an extra hour that night, and then went back to bed for another hour.
No DOMS, no weird heart stuff, as far as I can tell no negative repercussions at all.
During my first marriage, I had some weird heart symptoms. I was collapsing and having dizzy spells. I got an echocardiogram and an ultrasound of my heart. They put me on beta blockers. I was 23 and someone probably should have told me that it’s hard to work full-time, take 17 credit hours, maintain a place on the Dean’s List, and sleep 32 hours a week. What I remember from that time is that riding my bike was reliably the only time and place that I never felt dizzy.
I believe that increasing the circulation of the blood (as long as one is not actively fighting an infection) is the best thing for overall health. I believe that exercise-induced endorphins are a good sign that the body likes what is going on. I believe in my innate capacity to heal. I trust my body. I believe that I will get past this and regain my baseline fitness level.
It happened again. I was just publicly recognized for a goal that took me four years to reach. Immediately I spun into the emotional state that I call the goal hangover.
Goals suck, by the way.
We’re supposed to “find our passion” and make a “bucket list” and a “vision board” and then celebrate when we make all this stuff happen. For the record, the first three parts of that process definitely work as advertised. The trouble is the celebration part.
How can I celebrate when I now have NO GOALS??
Right now, I’m on a goal cycle in the 3-4 year range. I’ve been in this situation several times with wildly different types of goals, and I’m starting to learn to expect it.
I went back to college after my divorce, got my bachelor’s... and then spent months recovering from a respiratory infection
I got my driver’s license at age 29... and then had to commute on the freeway an hour a day
I ran a marathon, got the race medal... and then borked my ankle and spent months in physical therapy
I tackled my paralyzing fear of public speaking, earned my Distinguished Toastmaster award, and then...
This is something that tends to be an open secret for newlyweds. There is an entire industry built around Your Special Day, holding wildly expensive and impractical wedding ceremonies. But then - ta da - you’re married. The premise of marriage is that no day is special; you’re just living a new and different default mode.
(I super-love being married and I think our wedding ceremony was pretty modest - we mainly wanted an excuse to go on a honeymoon).
Marriage includes a bunch of stuff that a wedding typically does not: clearing hair out of the drain, loading the dishwasher, filing taxes, and debating whether to talk to the neighbors about one of their weird loud habits. Marriage is only one example among many of how what was once a lovely fantasy becomes the new baseline, the pretty ring on the vision board now just an ordinary fashion accessory.
Every goal is like that. You strive and strain for it, and then you reach it, and then it simply becomes a thing you can do. It’s a skill, a memory, or something you have worked into the shape of your body.
The trouble with goals is that for those of us who thrive on challenge, reaching the goal means the end of the challenge. It’s a bit of a letdown. What am I supposed to do with my spare time now? Sort laundry and watch TV? So you’re telling me that my reward for reaching my goal is... nothing??
Well, the medal or the trophy or the diploma or the...
Ordinary state of goalless being
Probably most people are more comfortable not having the stress of an impending goal. Most goals are very practical, like paying rent or getting the car fixed. I realize that lacking a goal is a strange problem to have, a problem of privilege -
And indeed, I use some of that privilege to try to help others acquire some privilege of their own -
And yet I find the prospect of having no goals to be disappointing, dull, and boring.
When I was several days into my case of COVID-19, I felt that I might die. I might die quite soon. It felt like such a pitiful waste. I lay there for days, thinking about my stupid day planners and my stupid goal lists and my stupid resolutions. It occurred to me that there would be no lasting legacy, that when someone else went through my stuff, they’d throw it into a bag and get rid of it. Rightfully so. I had very little to show for my time on this planet. Even though I’m a whole body donor, they probably couldn’t even use my poor organs.
At that point, I decided to trash my existing goals.
I decided that the old me had officially died and that, if I ever managed to get up out of my sickbed, I would start fresh.
Being very ill is the most boring thing in the world. It’s hard to sleep and there is very little to attend to while awake. Too sick to read or watch a movie. Too sick to do much of anything but let your mind wander. That’s when I started pondering over the idea of what I would do.
What would you do if you actually had a fresh lease on life?
A real chance to start over?
One of the first decisions I made, after choosing to trash my previous goals, was to act on my intentions more quickly. If there was a book I wanted to read, I would start it right away, rather than add it to a list. If there was a movie I wanted to see, I’d watch it that night - and be grateful when I could track a plot for longer than five minutes without getting confused. If I was thinking about someone, I would reach out right away and write them a note.
This is a way of having “goals” without having a backlog, a paradoxical way of having few to zero goals. Just do everything in the current moment.
That, though, didn’t seem inherently challenging enough. Was that all I was going to do for possibly the next forty years of my life? Read, watch movies, and text people?
Sure, that was more than I could handle at the time, but I knew if I survived intact I would presumably want more than that one day.
Could it be a physical goal? I had no idea, but I did know I had it in me to do whatever it took to get my physical stamina back. If it takes five years, I’ll do it, because what the heck else would I do?
Could it be a mental goal? I didn’t know, but I did know I really, really wanted to be able to read again and I would never quit trying. (It worked).
I did choose something. In fact, I chose a few things. I decided that I wanted to get a normal job again, and go to grad school, and that I still wanted to try for the ultramarathon.
If I lived.
These were some of my deathbed realizations: that I’m a challenge-oriented person, that challenge is what keeps me happy and motivated, and that I want to be where the action is. I want to do the obvious things, the things that are of a large enough scale to be worth my attention for the next few years.
What are yours?
I’m still struggling and it’s been over two weeks since I got over COVID-19. My mood and energy level from day to day, or hour to hour, have everything to do with whether I am proud of my body, or frustrated with it.
Is my body a miraculous healing machine
Is it my adversary?
On good days, I think, Wow, my immune system is incredible! Great job! How fantastic is it that a brand-new virus got inside me and my body figured out what to do?
On bad days, I think, Why is this taking so long? Why can’t my tired old carcass keep up with my brain? Am I just... old now?
It would help if I had something familiar. Then I could hit the books and figure out what to do. This worked well when I was diagnosed with a thyroid nodule. I went directly from my appointment with the endocrinologist to the public library, where I checked out a couple of books on thyroid function. I’d already read a few chapters before my bus made it home.
(That was before Wikipedia and Google, if you can believe that! And smartphones of course)
My way of dealing with physical distress is to compartmentalize it. Try to ignore discomfort and distracting sensations. Get into a clean blank head space and try to figure out a plan.
The trouble with this method is that it can start to take over, until “the body” starts to feel like a separate entity. It can be like the head is a floating balloon, or like the mind is a driver riding around in a car. This is when we start to see “the body” as a stranger, or worse, an enemy.
Then again, the advantage is that it’s possible to ingest new ideas and new frameworks. We can take in new information that changes our perspective. We can also learn from other people and try out things they do.
One example of this is that my husband’s doctor told him not just to drink fluids, which everyone knows, but *why* it matters that we drink more fluids than normal when we’re ill. Mucus gets dry and stringy, and that makes coughing, sneezing, and stuffy noses much worse. Water, herbal tea, etc keep it moist and help keep it from building up. Now that I know that, I have been focusing much more on keeping a mug of tea next to me.
Another example would be a little more mystical, the sort of idea that takes more imagination and less practical effort. This approach tends to work more on the emotional aspects of illness, which is important because being sick can cause sadness and pessimism.
It’s one thing to intellectually grasp that you have a statistical chance of certain outcomes, such as being loaded into an ambulance, put on a ventilator, or going into a coma.
It’s another thing to physically feel your life force draining away, to have a continual stream of new sensations worsening day by day.
It’s yet another thing to confront the emotions brought up by this, almost all of which were dark and unhelpful, at least in my case. The combination of alarming research data and severe illness defaulted to a low mood and fatalistic thoughts.
Overcoming those black tides took considerable effort.
One of the ideas that came to me in the second week, when I thought I would be dead in another day or two, was the concept of “hiring” the virus. I kept getting warfare imagery, from the media and from personal advice, and it was awful for my morale. Advice in general was awful for my morale. It contributed to my overall sense of shame and failure for getting sick.
(Can’t people just send sweet photos or share memories of better times?? I mean, ARE YOU A DOCTOR??)
I liked the idea of hiring the virus much better. It made me feel like a founder or a CEO. Yes, I’ve hired this special consultant to teach me how to make antibodies for COVID-19, potentially one of the most precious commodities in the world in this year of grace 2020.
Then something else occurred to me, something I had been thinking back in December, when I had a terrifying drug-resistant bacterial infection that led to surgery. I had to take three courses of antibiotics, and I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I chose to reframe it.
MAGIC BLOOD, MAGIC BLOOD, I HAVE MAGIC BLOOD
I would just keep repeating this to myself as I went through the day, especially when I was swallowing the pills. I visualized the antibiotics flowing through my body and making me glow in golden light. Magic blood!
Not the same scenario, but in the context of potentially donating convalescent plasma, that same blood of mine suddenly became that much more magical!
Could it be?? Blood that I make inside my own body, without conscious effort, could save the lives of up to four people?? Doctors and nurses? Talk about magic!
The idea that I might be able to generate a life-saving elixir was sometimes the only thing that kept me going. I thought, if this works, it might even be worth it. (Not really, but...)
An irony of my illness is that I’m still tending the surgical scar, rubbing cream on it twice a day. I was able to watch it slowly, visibly healing. External proof of my body’s sorcery at work. The irony came in because I thought that infection and the surgery and the half-inch scar in my midsection were so scary and painful. Now they were barely noticeable. I could laugh at myself a little for being a coward, while at the same time appreciating that I had come such a long way and gained so much grit.
If you pray for strength be sure that’s what you really want.
I’ve resented so much of this process, felt so impatient and frustrated and disappointed in myself. I’ve watched my physical decline, from multi-sport athlete to dizzy, weak softbody, and it has made me dejected and miserable. I want my old body back and I want it immediately, not months or years from now!
At the same time, I recognize that hundreds of thousands of people confronted the same challenge that I did... and did not prevail. There is really no other response than to be awed, impressed, and grateful that my body did all this, alone, with no instruction manual. I’ve overcome other health challenges, and it’s when I feel I’ve won that I feel total unity with my body and what I consider to be my self.
My neighbors were out in the hallway, rustling bags and debating which shoes to wear down on the sand. They had a family member on the phone, I’m guessing an auntie, probably on video because I could hear her clear as a bell from inside my living room. This family has a two-year-old daughter so they were all pretty lit up.
The beach is open.
Our apartment is not quite a mile from the beach, more specifically from the pier, tourism center of a tourist area. You could plausibly put on roller blades on the front steps of our building and coast directly downhill to an ice cream shop.
Normally this would sound like a brag, which is why I’ve never mentioned it before. Right now, it feels more like the opening montage of a horror movie.
I’ve been hearing all about it on Nextdoor for weeks. A lot of our more vocal neighbors live closer to the action than we do. Some are directly on the beach. Others face onto alleys or live near shops where there is always a lot of activity. From all accounts, this is already shaping up to be a bit more chaotic than a normal summer.
Just today, a neighbor complained that a group of 15 teenagers and young adults were lighting off fireworks in their personal front yard. A police officer on the scene escorted them off toward the beach, and that was all. No masks, no distancing, no citations, not much of anything.
Another neighbor complained last week that various people are routinely copulating outdoors, in the open, in the parking lot next to their house.
Everyone is complaining that there is trash everywhere.
For the last 3-4 weeks, there have been steady reports of crowds of thousands of people on the beaches, in the parks, and all along the walkways. Someone talked to a security guard who said he had been hired by the city, and they were there to “report.” Not to ask people to leave an area that had supposedly been closed by order of the governor. Not to give out tickets. Not to do what they were apparently doing in... I think it was Brazil? Flying along the beach in a helicopter, spraying sand all over everyone until they packed up their picnic blankets.
We live at the beach, but we don’t really *go* to the beach, in the same way that Portlanders don’t usually go downtown during Rose Festival and New Yorkers don’t usually go to Times Square. My hubby lives for the sunsets and the occasional sea view. I like the palm trees and the wild parrots. But we’re not surfers or kayakers or whatever.
Too crowded, too loud, too messy.
Beach people are laid back. This is fun until something goes wrong. We’re probably a little too tightly wound, too serious, too Type A to truly fit in down there on the sand.
This happened somewhere else, but we went on a trip to Hawaii and I sprained my ankle after I fell out of a sea kayak for the fourth time. (Humblebrag) The kayak rental guy was like “Oh.” Fifteen minutes later he wandered over and handed me an ace bandage, then wandered off again.
I’ve found that episode instructive as I learn to live among the wild and carefree beach folk of the world.
I come from a rainy place and my hubby comes from a snowy place. I think it makes people a little different in their attitudes toward risk.
The reason we have a few different types of wild parrots here is that they can live off fruit year-round. A person probably could, too. This is a place where a human can go around permanently barefoot and conduct an otherwise ordinary middle-class lifestyle. My neighbors don’t like wearing socks, much less masks.
Someone on our Nextdoor list put up a poll asking which was more rude, to go out without a mask or to lecture someone else for not wearing a mask. It was pretty evenly split, but “lecture” was considered at least slightly more rude.
I don’t think rudeness really factors into it.
We’re not alone - this attitude seems to be cropping up all around the world. It’s an open secret that people have not been complying with social distancing measures, and by “people” I mean “most people.” We’ve reached the point where businesses are rebelling and defiantly reopening, calling the bluff of their municipalities.
People want haircuts, man!
I feel helpless and resigned about this situation. It seems transparently obvious to me that the majority of people aren’t ready to go out and pretend that nothing is wrong. “Opening” is not going to magically snap the economy back into place, marvelous as that would be.
Personally, I am far, far less likely to leave our apartment now than I was even a week ago. I already know that the majority of beach visitors have been traveling here from elsewhere, probably from 25 miles in every direction. Possibly much more. They’re self-selected as the most impatient, least anxious percentile of the population. I’m still not quite 80% back from the brink of death and I feel no internal drive to increase my exposure risk.
I can’t see it. I can’t imagine faking a casual, relaxed attitude even for ten minutes, strolling along the beach and pretending it’s 2015.
I can’t imagine going to a restaurant and sitting for 90 minutes, trying to figure out which is more dystopian - a waiter *with* a surgical mask or a waiter with *no* mask. Who could eat a meal and manage to avoid every single conversational pitfall, from the pandemic to the economy to “how are your friends and family, I hope they are doing well”?
On the other hand, I’m getting pretty good at sitting around our little living room and ignoring it all for up to an hour at a time.
I might go to the beach again - one day. I might go on vacation again - one day. Probably not until like 2025. Even though I live here, I can’t see what all the fuss is about.
I thought I was getting sick again. For two days.
Part of the long road to recovery is the paranoia, that if you sneeze once, that’s the bad omen and it’s all downhill from there. You don’t have the luxury of tuning out ordinary little aches and pains.
My eyes were really itchy again, which had been my first sign that I was getting sick with COVID. I used saline solution, but the next morning they were still at it. Made hubby go out and get me some Claritin, which worked almost immediately. Two days feeling irritable and low energy. Then my lungs started burning again, not anywhere near as bad as before, but not a great feeling.
All you do in a situation like that is rack your brain, spinning over and over like a bad dream. Where did I go?? How did I mess up?? When did this happen??
Took Mucinex at bedtime and again the next morning.
Then... I was fine! Maybe it *was* just allergies this time, after all! Or maybe this is just how my body reacts now to pollen, mold, dust, or any other minor irritant.
Reading back over my report from just a week ago, it is stunning to me how LONG these weeks are. Last week, I was complaining that I got light-headed and sort of collapsed onto a chair.
That was new, and possibly a weird glitch?
But then it happened every day for nearly another week. I was also still getting the vertigo, a distinct feeling that, to me, seems unrelated.
I reported that I went down to the garage, walked laps for half an hour, and came back feeling great.
The entire next day I was so washed out I had to take a nap, and didn’t have the energy to do much of anything at all.
The next time I tried it, I made it about 15 minutes and got so hot and tired I quit. By the time I had made it back upstairs I was fighting a wave of nausea. I’ve heard of runner friends hitting this particular wall after distance races, but I never did (because I am very slow). Imagine walking slowly for 15 minutes hitting your body the way a 10-mile run might.
That was the end of that plan. I realized that, as usual, it was too soon. I wasn’t ready. I was pushing too hard.
It is hard to express the restlessness, the frustration and boredom that I feel every time I realize that the least little thing is still outside my physical abilities for at least another week. My stamina is... I don’t want to be rude to my own body but it’s like a limp white celery stalk from the bottom of the crisper.
The good news is that I have at least been able to contribute a bit around the household.
I’VE BEEN WELL ENOUGH TO COOK!
This weekend I made Fancy Breakfast, something I used to do every Saturday and Sunday without a second thought. From today’s perspective, it’s actually quite a workout: I have to get out two pans and the toaster, and I have to reach things from the fridge, freezer, two drawers, and the cabinet above the stove! Whew! Then there’s the timing, trying to get three items ready on the stove at the same time while making sure the toast is still hot.
Ahh, I still got it
I’ve also been taking my turn to cook dinner!
This is a seriously big deal. It had been well over a month since I had cooked anything; I had barely graduated to fixing my own instant oatmeal and occasionally making my own sandwich for lunch. My poor hubby had to do everything and sometimes go back to his desk afterward, finishing his day around 10 pm.
But now... I can chop up a cauliflower! I HELPING
I’ve also started slowly doing a few chores here and there. One per day. For instance, one day I might scour the bathroom sink. Another day I might sort the laundry and then lie down for a while. I finally figured out that I don’t have to spend 12 minutes scrubbing the entire shower area. I divided it into six wall sections plus the tub. Right now I actually have 2-5 minutes in me.
This is my fitness plan, at least for now. A year ago, I could do a four-hour promotion in Krav Maga or Muay Thai and then ride my bike uphill for two miles. Now, I can’t even walk slowly for fifteen minutes... It’s going to be a slow journey, but I’m going to get it back. In five-minute increments.
It helps to think of these efforts not as “chores” or “housework” but as regaining my health and feeling like myself again. Every time I’m able to finish a little job like unloading the dishwasher all by myself, I have a few minutes to feel normal.
It’s helping me remember who I am.
Tightly wound, restless, maybe a little hyperactive, bustling around cleaning everything and testing recipes while listening to an audio book on triple speed.
Right now I’m the 0.5x version of that lady.
Two milestones today:
This is where I am after six weeks. Proud of myself for making dinner and emptying the dishwasher. Finally beginning to tackle the backlog of correspondence that built up while my brain was packed up in a box. The old me could have done all of this *while* fixing dinner and barely noticed.
Today, there is nothing wrong with me. Today, I don’t have vertigo. Today, my legs didn’t give out. Today, I didn’t have a headache or itchy eyes or chest pain or heart palpitations or burning lungs or anything. Today, I got up and did a few things and it was okay.
Tomorrow, maybe, the laundry.
I’ve been thinking about conspiracy theories and fake news a lot lately, and I wasn’t sure what to do, so I thought, “Why not try it myself?”
My goal was to make up something so transparently dumb that nobody could possibly believe it. I spent two days trying to come up with something and realized that
because of the very nature of conspiracy theories. The entire idea is that the more the mainstream rejects it, the juicer it is.
I did have a couple of funny ideas, which I will detail, before sharing something my dad made up that illustrates my point. (I get it from him, after all).
“Listening to Nickelback cures COVID” - I thought, if anyone is dumb enough to believe that, at least it won’t hurt them - but then I listened to myself and realized what I was saying
Um... uh... I’ve got one! “Having a beard is protective against COVID” - surely that one is dumb enough for people to realize it’s a joke? No?
Okay, here’s my dad’s story, and the reason that my mom is my mom and that, thus, I exist:
He had a girlfriend who was hot and fun but not super bright. He wanted to demonstrate to her how gullible she was, so he made up a ridiculous story, like so:
“Giant condors live on Mt. Hood and they swoop down to the fields and steal babies and eat them”
She believed this and started crying because of how horrible it was. He felt so bad that he told her he had made the whole thing up and it wasn’t true. THEN she decided that it really must be true after all, and he was now lying to make her feel better. It is possible that she believes baby-stealing condors live at Timberline Lodge to this very day. We will never know because my dad broke up with her and married my smart, ambitious mommy instead.
It is possible that that same woman is actively sharing the “Plandemic” video on social media as well.
Isn’t it more fun to believe that we are the chosen few who are savvy enough to understand the true truth, and that everyone else is a sheeple??
See, I wouldn’t have fallen for that story, even if I didn’t already know that my dad is a spinner of tall tales, because I’m an ornithology nerd and I’m super into condors. I know they eat carrion. The one who steals children is the Slender Man, everyone knows that!
That’s the first thing to consider when evaluating juicy exciting stories. Who is telling them?
Rule 1: Consider the source
An issue that comes up when someone is trying to talk a true believer through a conspiracy, even one that has already been widely debunked, is that the true believer will say, “Why would they lie?” Like, what could their motivation possibly be??
This person is what we would consider an easy mark.
I come from a family that prides itself on word games, banter, snappy repartee, storytelling, puns, and leg-pulling of every kind. If you know any one of us, simply extrapolate up and across the family tree. Whenever one of us prevails in a battle of wits, we save it up to regale one another at family parties, and inevitably wind up falling about laughing ourselves into hysterics.
The lesson here is that some people will propagate silly stories just for, as they say, the lulz. Or for that other new game, clout.
Others will do it because, say, their former professional reputation is shot and they have a new book to sell.
Others will do it because they are Russian operatives who think it’s hilarious to destabilize Americans and, thus, American culture, economy, and politics.
Others will do it because they are teenagers (or people with the mentality and emotional maturity of teenagers) who have nothing better to do than troll people.
Others will do it because they are, to use the technical term, whackaloons.
Others will do it because they have burned out on all the pre-existing conspiracies and they need a fresh one.
All of this adds up to:
Rule 2: Consider the motivation.
Why, who on Earth would ever say something that wasn’t true?? Other than the entire mainstream news media, governments, academia, and medical establishment of each and every nation and culture throughout history?
Bats in belfry
Born chaos muppet
What always mystifies me is how someone can be so suspicious of certain things and yet so wide-open to others. Why we think we are such skeptics and contrarians, but we don’t realize that the back gate to the brain has been left wide open.
I’m gonna make up another conspiracy and we can test out these ideas.
Okay, here we go. This is the joke fake satirical idea that I am testing for comedy humor purposes.
EATING MEAT CAN GIVE YOU CORONAVIRUS
My proof is that thousands of slaughterhouse workers have been infected and at least forty of them have died. They are breathing COVID all over your meat!! Also everyone knows that cows, horses, and dogs have been getting coronavirus for years and years.
What do you think of them apples??
Okay, let’s take it apart.
(Actually totally not. Don’t go trying it and screwing up and then blaming the lifestyle just because you did it wrong).
Now you know not to believe anything just because I said it.
Next we can pick apart what I actually said, how that shapes up as a logical argument, and whether my stated results follow from that argument.
First off, I didn’t cite any sources for my claims, so it would be up to you to Google those numbers and see what comes up. Is it true that at least forty humans have died because they were producing meat under the Defense Production Act?
Second, I seem to be claiming that coronavirus can be transmitted into the food supply through people breathing on it. Is that true? Seems like the kind of thing that someone would have tested by now, takes only a minute to Google.
Third, I seem to have made a factual statement about coronavirus in animals. Is that the same coronavirus as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19? Again, easy to check.
Note: A “factual statement” is a claim that something is a fact, such as “the Moon is made of green cheese.” It isn’t necessarily true, but it can be tested or verified, unlike an opinion, such as “tights are not pants.”
Okay, for reals though, I don’t want to convince more people to quit eating meat because quite honestly it has been getting very hard to find beans and legumes lately. Back off, people, go eat sardines and leave me the beans! Leave me the lentils or I’ll get relentless! Stop giving peas a chance! Or something.
The only way I can think to tackle the hundred billion and five conspiracy theories out there is to try to talk about them as folklore, try to reinforce everyone’s critical thinking skills, and of course offer a few talking points for others who are doing the same.
It’s my belief that somewhere inside every credulous believer of conspiracy theories is a keen and curious mind that can be shaped to the discipline of inquiry. We can do it together. Let’s approach this conundrum with kindness, patience, good humor, and sympathy.
Or at least humor.
Quaranteaming is tricky, and we’re figuring it out as we go. I’ve been trying to come up with a simple way to categorize people based on their exposure risk. Letters? Colors? Numbers? Animals?
Conversation with hubby:
Me: What animal would I be? A woodchuck? Like something that hides in a burrow.
Him: No, a woodchuck goes right up on the porch, looks in the window, and eats pizza! Maybe a chipmunk.
Me: I was thinking that. I’m a chipmunk. You’d be a bear; like, “I’m going to eat these berries and I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone. Maybe it’s time to hibernate.” Now, how about our neighbors? Meerkats? They have to stand in the sun in groups?
Him: Or groundhogs.
Me: But groundhogs hide underground...
Him: But they keep popping their heads out!
Animals are complicated and we know of too many that may not be widely recognized in North America. Capybara? Echidna? I dunno.
I went with numbers.
Let’s say that each individual has a number representing how many people they are in contact with during social isolation. My hubby and I are both a 2, because we see each other and we sometimes see our quaranteam friend. We trust that she is also a 2.
The Unabomber would be a zero, because he would only hang out with himself in a cabin in the woods.
Anyone with an unknown amount would be an X, for ‘variable.’
I have no idea about any stranger on the street, so to me all of them are an X. I should be an X to them, too.
Going through our local friends, one lives alone, which would theoretically make her a zero. But we know that she regularly sees her parents, her sisters, and her nieces and nephews. We also know that she was exposed and refused to tell any of them. They may think of her as a zero, even though she is a 9 within their family group, because they picture her chillaxing alone in her nice apartment.
When they think of their family exposure risk, the ‘zero’ of their group probably wouldn’t be the person who came to mind.
When the three of us started talking about quaranteaming, weeks before we actually took our masks off, we went over our friends, family, and colleagues and started socially profiling them. We were able to decide pretty quickly that anyone with kids was off the list.
Parents will chafe at this, but the simple fact is that parents believe they know their children’s souls and they can tell when they are lying. WE actually were children and teenagers ourselves at one point, and we know better! We’ve also spent years mentoring young people, who tell us they confide things in us that they would never tell their families. And we know better than to think that kind of statement makes them 100% open books to us, either.
We also see young people in groups doing very reckless things, and we assume they all have parents.
Guess what? NO, your kids are not wearing their masks - at all. If they are pretending to, the mask is in fact hanging off one ear, or dangling around their neck, or worn around forehead or chin. They are not physically distancing with their friends any more than they ever did before the pandemic.
The only reason this is our problem is because we do occasionally have to leave the apartment, and young people are perpetually walking or jogging or skateboarding or pushing a shopping cart too near to us. They don’t care.
This is why to us, anyone in regular contact with anyone under 30 is automatically off the list. Every kid gets an asterisk
And we get to say that because it’s OUR asterisk
The saddest group, to me, are all the people who can’t physically distance at work. This is sad for two reasons: those who are forced to work with no PPE and not allowed to wear any even if they bring their own. This is awful and so unfair! The other category make me sad for a different reason. They are those, mostly self-employed, who aren’t taking precautions because they think the risks are overblown.
We know three people in this category: a personal trainer, a hair stylist, and a dog walker.
The trainer already had COVID-19, as did his girlfriend and at least four of his clients, three of whom are still training with him in person. When we talked to him about offering classes virtually and potentially earning a lot more, maybe even becoming nationally known, he refused. He has no interest in learning how to use social media, or even recording video for that matter. He’d rather continue to risk his own health than reframe his business.
The hair stylist thinks she might be immune, which scares me because she has an autoimmune disorder and is about ten years older than me. I worry for her the most.
The dog walker has an appointment to get tested today because she was exposed to someone who now has a sore throat.
These are all people I know and like, people I’ve seen socially, hugged, brought coffee, eaten meals with, etc. I wish I didn’t have to avoid spending time with them, but for the next year, I will. Because all three of them are Xs. They see various people all day, every day, and all of those people have their own households and their own workplace variables.
When we do bubble math, we have to keep to our own local community, because seeing anyone else in person would involve traveling. That is unfair to the other cities. I would dearly love to fly up and see my family right now. Frankly, I’d love to just move in with them! Oregon is keeping the numbers nice and low - which is exactly why they don’t need a carload of people from an X region like Southern California heading their direction.
My husband and I are extremely lucky. We’re lucky because we were both exposed, and even though I was deathly ill for a month, we survived. Everyone in our cluster lived through it. We’re lucky because our kid is independent and lives safely outside our hot zone, 500 miles away. We’re lucky because we’re debt-free, insured, and our employer is WFH-mandatory. We’re also lucky because our social lives have improved during the pandemic. Suddenly we have text threads going all day long. We’re back in touch with people we hadn’t seen in years, and it helps us feel like our bubbles are actually much bigger.
Now I have to go get ready for virtual game night tonight. Ciao!
Yesterday I set out to make some predictions about the near-to-mid future coronavirus timeline. By the time I had evaluated myself on the predictions I made back in March, before I got sick, I had run out of room to fit anything new.
Now I’m just going to list off a bunch more stuff, rapid-fire, and maybe we can go more into depth on some of these later. Just to set expectations, this is going to start out dark, but I’ll try to work in a few positives.
I don’t think we’ll be done with coronavirus until, like, 2023. I don’t think a vaccine will offer long-term coverage; I think one season, like the flu shot, at best. I also think a huge percentage of people would refuse to get it. I don’t think we’re going into the “second wave;” I think the first wave has barely gotten started. I don’t think everyone who gets COVID-19 will have antibodies and I don’t think antibodies will provide immunity for more than a few months, if at all. I think the predictions that at least 100,000 Americans will have died by the end of May 2020 are probably a little on the sunny side.
I think if I get it again, I won’t survive, which is why I’m publishing all these thoughts now. If I have to die before my time because my asymptomatic young neighbors refuse to stay six feet away from me, I’d prefer my legacy be spooky and impressive rather than sad and pointless.
I am stone-cold certain that the statistics of who died, and when, will still be actively being updated at least a year from now. There are vast areas of the world where an accurate count would not be possible due to infrastructure, and in those areas we will never know. At time of writing, over 270,000 people have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, about 77,000 of those in the US, and I believe the true numbers are at least 10% higher [*cough* up to 100% higher *cough*]. Part of that is due to reporting lag, part is that places like Florida quit reporting weeks ago, and part is because only tested patients who died in a hospital setting are being counted.
My cluster from Virus Brunch includes 6 people who were sick and could not get a test. My husband, my friend, and I all got sick and couldn’t get a test until we had already recovered, when of course we tested negative. At least from my personal experience, I know not all the statistics can be accurate or up to date.
Regardless of hospital capacity, there are people who, if infected, will not survive. We simply don’t have the interventions yet that might save them. This is why I think the fatality rate isn’t really going to drop much even if we supposedly “flatten the curve.”
Okay, what else?
I think a lot of companies, especially in tech, are going to move to permanent WFH and then they are going to want to unload their commercial real estate.
I think a lot of investors have already realized that they need a different formula if they want to live off passive income. Investing in the market or buying rental properties are a totally different game now.
I think a lot of people in the service industry are going to get shafted out of unemployment, disability, or death benefits because there is no “proof” that they have/had COVID-19. I think in the near-to-mid future we’re going to be relying on people for certain jobs (food service, warehouses, deliveries) who would have been considered unemployable (even in the gig economy) just six months ago.
I think AR/VR could actually become a thing in entertainment if the price point for the rig is low enough.
I think certain communities will get delivery drones/robots and most won’t.
I think a lot of people are going to want to relocate or change their housing situation if this keeps up for another year. Some will want roommates or want to combine forces with broke/lonely family members. Others would rather live in a tool shed than stay where they are.
I think attempted burglaries will be up, and I also mentioned the word ‘brigands’ in casual conversation with my husband recently.
I think there will be a significant turnover of people working in the health care industry, some who will run screaming (if they still can) and others who will enlist and seek out ad hoc training.
I think travel will go back to being as expensive and exclusive as it was in the 1920s-1960s. Wealthy-ish people will buy some kind of suit, helmet, or connector hose to get their own clean air supply, and then go back to normal. (The “really” wealthy will just cheat and use personal transport/yachts/private jets).
I think a LOT of people will return to normal levels of socializing, and the toll of that will always take a month to reveal itself.
I think certain parts of the world, starting with island nations, will achieve total eradication and then require at least a two-week quarantine before anyone can visit.
I think the “immunity passport” will definitely become a thing, and will definitely be hacked, and will definitely lead to sickness.
I think society will polarize even more than it already was, specifically in the area of “health expertise.” Those who would drink bleach will start doing even dumber stuff, and those who were already inclined to get their shots will start seeking out deeper reality-based knowledge of scientific and medical topics.
I think philanthropists will start funding vaccine research, not just for COVID, but also for diseases that arguably kill a lot more people, like TB.
I think a lot of people will quit smoking and vaping, and a small portion will also drop weight and work toward getting off their meds (asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure).
I think 2020 is going to be a great year for conservation and species reintroduction. (Cite white-tailed eagle, storks in Britain, beavers, tortoises, etc).
I think residential construction will move toward isolation-ready floor plans with larger pantries and more home-office alcoves.
I think a lot of people, like my personal household and our techie friends, will just shrug and stay home for the next couple of years. People on the other extreme are already experiencing crisis fatigue to the point that they will quit following coronavirus news, and accept a background fatality rate of 2,000-3000 deaths per day (and up) in the same way that they previously accepted traffic fatalities and gun violence.
I think the Pacific Northwest will be mostly clear by fall, but my part of Southern California will continue to heat up. Most deaths in my state are right here in my county, and as far as I can tell, most of the local community doesn’t even care.
What kind of numbers would it take to impress my neighbors? I have no idea. Will people who are out protesting and being very vocal about “herd immunity” ever change their minds, if someone in their family dies or if they themselves get as sick as I was? No idea.
This is a weird time. It’s made weirder because nobody knows what’s going to happen and nobody knows what to believe. I choose to make some predictions because it helps me to feel like at least my brain still works. Undoubtedly the most newsworthy events of 2020 will be completely surprising and thus unpredictable. I’ll be following those threads from indoors.
Rather than admit that I’m too tired to do anything else after walking for half an hour yesterday, I’m going to discuss a few predictions I made about the near-to-mid future.
As I always say, making predictions is risky because they are almost always wrong. The main reason for that is that we can’t anticipate the biggest, most transformative events until they are already starting to happen. Case in point: the entire internet.
It’s like we have this big donut where all our predictions are the cakey part and the hole in the middle, the part that defines it and makes it an actual donut, is just this empty void.
What the heck, though. Let’s do it.
I made a bunch of predictions about coronavirus before I personally got sick with it. Let’s review those first and compare them to what really happened.
First, I claimed on March 3 that my husband and I prepped for coronavirus. We did this by buying a month’s worth of food and backup supplies of TP, cleansers, and bath products. I had been planning to start stashing cash but didn’t get to it in time. Reality testing was hard on this prediction since we have been in isolation much longer than that and we wound up running out of a bunch of stuff.
I THOUGHT THREE WEEKS WOULD BE A LONG TIME + A LITTLE EXTRA TO BE SAFE
Also, I never really anticipated that either of us would get sick.
Our personal lives are where our strategic forecasting abilities actually matter. Where I applied this to my own household, I, ah, did not over-prepare.
That’s something: the dog that didn’t bark! I did not make any purchases or take actions based on guesswork that didn’t pan out. Another way to put that is that I didn’t blow all our liquid cash reserves on shopping carts full of paper towels or bacon.
The only thing that I bought that we haven’t needed so far was four bottles of Gatorade, in case one of us got the dreaded fever.
What I was envisioning was something out of Contagion, in which the government came down like the scientists in E.T. The Extraterrestrial. I did a ton of research for a draft of a novel I began back in 2010, the plot of which was a strep-type airborne bacterial pandemic that turns everyone into zombies. I thought we would all be in “real” lockdown and that this sucker would quickly be brought to heel.
Then I wrote a post called History Says, and I laid out several specific predictions:
“...sometimes an entire family can be taken out in days.”
“Burials become a serious logistical problem.”
“Supply chains collapse and it becomes very difficult to find food or other material goods.”
“...labor...could negotiate for legal rights, higher pay, and better working conditions.” [reorganization of my argument but I stand by my point]
“...people... run amok like a bunch of morons, rioting, fornicating in the streets, getting falling-down drunk, running around naked.” [looks like we leaned more toward ‘riot’ than ‘drunk and naked’ alas; looking to you, Florida]
“Rationing (i.e. one per customer), including food, medical supplies, and other material goods
Total unavailability of certain categories of product
A thriving black market
People waiting in line all day for something like a single loaf of bread
Economic, um... opportunities? 😬”
“It could be that a month from now, we’re all laughing off what was a very scary first quarter of 2020. Or, it could be that this is just the beginning of a major watershed, after which everything will be totally transformed. We are in the middle of the Place of Uncertainty.”
Okay, First Quarter 2020 is over now, and I don’t think a lot of people are laughing. (I kinda stuck that in there to make that piece seem less gloomy, and again, that was before I got sick).
I have no idea about the black market thing, although it looks like this might be happening with PPE, sanitizer etc? Yet the total opposite for the drug trade? From what I’ve read business is down for drug dealers and sex workers.
(What?? Trend analysis is part of my job!)
Pretty sure I was wrong about bank runs, at least in the U.S. At least so far. I think virtual banking has been a big help here.
Something I didn’t think of, when I did this list, was the concept of speakeasies. That’s probably because I’m not a user of recreational substances other than green tea. When I heard it was happening already I thought ‘DUH’ because what matters the most to people right now is their desire to get drunk in groups. Which, I feel ya.
Looking back, these last four months have been the longest twenty years of my life. Some of my predictions I thought would come down maybe at the three-year mark, and lo and behold, they are already in play.
What this means for me and my little household is that I was not pessimistic enough. I had no idea that a month after I claimed “we prepped” I would be at Death’s door, with the Grim Reaper spattering me with little sparks from his scythe sharpener.
On the other hand, I was also not optimistic enough. I didn’t know that I would survive COVID-19, that my husband would remain uncertain whether he even had it, or that we would basically continue to have access to most food, pharmaceuticals, and consumer items. We even maintained access to water, power, the internet, phones, and streaming entertainment!
As I was writing this, I started rattling off a bunch of future predictions, and it quickly became obvious that this post should really be a two-parter. Therefore, I hacked off that section and pasted it into a new document. You can come back and read that tomorrow.
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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