This is the story of how I got my dream job through the portfolio method.
The idea here is that traditional, convergent techniques will never reveal certain types of candidates. This is bad for companies, it’s bad for teams who are missing key players, and of course it’s bad for us as unique talents. Everyone loses when we work below our potential. Let’s help them help themselves and show them what they’re missing.
I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do. I knew the company I wanted to work for, I knew the person I wanted to work with, and I was stone-cold certain I would be a great fit in the particular role and department.
I spent two years looking for the right opportunity, a position that I could apply for, and I kept turning up with nothing.
Either the role I wanted required a security clearance, or I didn’t have the specific job history they were looking for. Obviously I qualify for a clearance, but you can’t initiate that process on your own, so that was a bit of a Catch-22. So is the question about the job history. You know you would be good at something, but you can’t get hired until you’ve already done it, but you can’t get hired until you’ve already done it, but you... et cetera, ad nauseam, ad absurdum.
If I was getting into this place, I was going to have to climb in the window.
I came up with a speculative idea, a way to create my portfolio project.
This is why a portfolio project is such a big deal. It proves a bunch of points that can’t be demonstrated with a traditional resume.
It shows the quality of your work.
With a long-running project like mine, it can show your ability to adhere to a production schedule.
It shows your creativity.
It shows, like nothing else, your sincere desire to work for the company... since technically you’ve just done it for free.
It may show that you see potential opportunities for the company that it hasn’t seen for itself yet.
It shows your communication abilities.
It shows your understanding of company culture and whether you have the right social filters to succeed in the workplace.
One thing it may show, which you can’t control, is how your work compares to that of other people in the department, or maybe even in your desired role.
Most people aren’t that engaged in their jobs, for a variety of reasons. Largely I think it’s because there’s a huge disconnect between people’s talents and what they are asked to do as their official role. There is a vast gap between what people will do from passion and internal motivation, and the petty tasks that are asked of them.
A passion project shows something besides the details of the project itself, and that is: the existence of passion itself.
Not everyone can or should display emotions like passion for their job. As a natural enthusiast, I have an almost unfair advantage here. If I’m into something, I am INTO it. I think about it day and night, sometimes dream about it, and I can’t really even stop myself from thinking about it even during my off hours.
Might as well harness that and make money off it, right?
This is the specific nature of my project. I put together a highly specialized, highly targeted newsletter aimed at the interests of the engineers where my husband works. I knew what they would like because I know him and also because I worked at an aerospace engineering firm for several years. Probably nobody but me could do this thing in the way that I do it.
I put out the newsletter day by day, day by day, day by day. My hubby forwarded it to a couple of people. Gradually, as I knew it would, interest built through word of mouth.
I probably have the highest open rate of any newsletter out there. Right now I have 49 readers.
Did you get that last part?
I could send a piece of email to my relatives and it would have more subscribers. This is an incredibly small reach.
Does this project have commercial potential? Could I build it out to 100,000x? Sure.
Did I want to? No.
I have a bunch of other things I’m working on, and I didn’t want to build an email business. I didn’t want to pay out of pocket for the months and years it would take to catch on and I didn’t particularly want to work with advertisers. It also wasn’t my chosen topic. If I were going to put in all that effort for something of my own, it would be something else.
I set out specifically to target this project to this one particular place and get myself this job.
It totally worked, too. One of my readers was... my future boss.
So when a position opened up in his department, I applied for it, and I prominently featured my newsletter in my cover letter and my resume.
That was the first thing the HR rep asked me about during my initial phone screen. “Yep, that’s me.”
After doing this project every business day for nearly two years, it was pretty clear that I knew what I was up to and that I would meet deadlines. What else did they need to know?
And then what happened?
And then I was asked to give a presentation about my methods, and it rocked, and people got pretty excited, and I got 25% more subscribers in one day.
The portfolio method worked for me, as it has for other people. They don’t always know they need you until they meet you and see what you can do.
I believe it’s our responsibility to make sure that we land in the place where we can contribute at our maximum. When we get scared about money, we sell ourselves short, and we grab at whatever we can find, no matter how far beneath our abilities it might be. Instead we should be honing our pitch and aiming at the highest level that we can reach. Several years later, we’ll be able to do much more, anyway, with our earned experience and new skills. So why wait?
The next step in the portfolio method should be obvious: Keep going. Develop whatever it is and get ready to pitch again. If you can do this, then you can probably do more, and all interested parties deserve a chance to find out just what that is.
Believe that I’m ready to pitch, and pitch hard. I have an entire page of ideas I can develop now, and all I need is the tiniest sliver of opportunity. Just let that window open a crack and everyone will hear my singing.
Something happened. Something happened at work and I’m not sure what the ramifications will be until next week, maybe later.
It basically went like this. I got a brand-new job, partly based off a project I’d been doing on spec for not quite two years. Right after I started, I reached out to someone who knew about that project to ask for advice on choosing a grad school in her field. She invited me to meet, which I thought was very generous, and it turned out she wanted to talk about my project. Then she asked me to give a presentation, which I did.
What I thought I would be doing was giving a brown-bag lunchtime talk to about a dozen people. I’d tell them how I came up with the idea for my project and how I put it together. I’d share the specific work tools I use and maybe teach some of my techniques. Fun, right?
Then there were 80 people there, at least one of them a director, and the response wound up being at least 10x bigger than I expected.
WELL THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY
One of the slides in my presentation came from notes I scribbled on my phone in the middle of the night, when all I wanted to do was sleep. During the Q&A everyone wanted to go back and look at that slide and discuss it some more.
Now I’m realizing that my original idea might have legs. I may have accidentally and sleepily created something good enough to be an entire book.
This kinda happens to me all the time.
The thing about ideation and creativity is that it comes out of a pipe. For some people, that pipe has been shut off for many years, and it will take more than a pipe wrench to get it turned on again, trickling out in brown sputters that nobody wants to drink at first. Then the water starts flowing pure and clean and cold.
Then it really starts flowing and spraying all over the place.
Then it’s like a fire hydrant blasting every kid in the street and it takes an entire crew to get it back under control.
This is my fountain, a high-pressure water main continually pumping by the thousands of gallons, and here I am in rubber boots, trying to collect it all in buckets and cans before it washes away my entire building.
Part of my remit now is to put together a reading list of books on imagination and creativity. I’ve read dozens of these, and if anyone can do this task, certainly I can. The trouble is keeping it under eight pages... although maybe I don’t need to...
Being a natural ideator often feels like trying to keep a beach ball under water in the pool. It keeps finding ways to pop back out and then everyone wants to play with it. The process of pushing that beach ball back underwater is ungainly, and it feels very exposed to do it in a swimsuit.
The idea is often ready before we are.
I’ve been working on capturing more things at the beginning phase of the process, the early curly part of the ideation arc, so that people can watch something unfold in realtime.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if my little grid illustration, born in the dark of night on my pillow, eventually turned into a published book? And we all got to watch it happen together?
I know what I am. Over the past several years I have developed myself into a working artist, and I have that confidence in my identity that is necessary to succeed in the creative world. What I don’t necessarily have yet are the world-class ready-for-prime-time skills that develop from practice and experience. I also don’t have the validation or credentials of having millions of fans. (Yet - but it could happen).
Possibility thinking includes anything and everything with a non-zero chance. There’s a zero chance that I will personally go to Mars, because I’m scared to get in a rocket and I just don’t want to. But there’s definitely a non-zero chance that people will go to Mars in my lifetime. Mars is a thing, me on Mars is not going to be a thing.
In that same light we can say, what else is there a non-zero chance of happening? In the past 25 years there’s been a non-zero chance of me working on a llama ranch, sorting recycling in Antarctica, winning $15,000 on a game show, or teaching MMA classes. This is because I am curious and I give serious consideration to options and opportunities that would not cross someone else’s mind as acceptable outcomes.
Is this awesome? Y/N
Would this be good for the blog? Y/N
Will this cause me to go viral for the right or wrong reasons?
Then what happens?
Sometimes I don’t believe my own hype. I can document the fact that I came up with the idea to backpack around Iceland for three weeks, and then rooked my husband into it. I can document the fact that I studied knife fighting and situational combatives. I can document the fact that I can solve cryptograms while listening to audio books on triple speed and using chopsticks left-handed. But that all makes me sound like a cartoon character. Inside I still think of myself as the world’s most boring person, because just as much of my time goes toward basic domestic tasks as everyone else.
It’s probably inevitable that I’ll wind up publishing a book, and/or giving workshops, and/or putting out a cartoon or an advice column or something. Those are just locations on the other end of the innovation arc that I’m traveling on. I can’t stop running my mouth, in realtime or behind the scenes in my own mind. Myself talks to myself a lot. It will turn into something eventually.
What remains to be seen is whether it will take 3-5 years, like I originally estimated, or whether it will happen more quickly because I have already dreamed it into obviousity.
We’ve swung about as far in the direction of the individual as we possibly can, a claim that I will proceed to back up in great detail but that can be observed by anyone in any common area these days. There is only a certain amount of time it can hold in this position before it inevitably begins to swing back the other way.
An example that comes to mind is of a woman who was killed by an alligator in Florida back in May. She was informed that the same individual alligator had taken down a deer at the same exact spot. She replied, “I don’t look like a deer,” moved closer, and those were her last words, as the alligator then proceeded to do what alligators do.
If you’re ever looking for a way to explain the concept of “death by misadventure” to your kids, this would be a solid example.
What was happening there?
It’s mean to pick on someone who isn’t here to defend herself, and I don’t mean to do that. I still feel the same shock and horror that I felt two months ago, when I first read this sorry tale.
Why would someone disregard social proof or direct evidence of objective reality?
I’m not sure, because I’m not wired that way, but I can take a few guesses. Demonstrating autonomy, that nobody tells me what to do? Displaying skepticism, that I’m smart enough to tell the difference between common sense and urban myths? (Although... alligators are real??) Raw physical courage? Belief in one’s ability to move quickly and outrun danger, on the extremely unlikely chance that I guessed wrong?
This is exactly what I think is going on with the novel coronavirus and mask refusers.
I can tell you from personal experience that COVID-19 sucks. Hated it. I can also tell you that the person who gave it to me thinks it’s no big deal. She believes she’s immune now and that the crisis is overblown. She is not alone in this reaction, to be sick with COVID and then shrug it off. All I can say is that if her symptoms were as bad as mine, then she must have the grit and stamina of a thousand wildebeests.
What people are saying over and over again is that rules don’t apply to them. Emotionally they buy into the concept of the sovereign individual. They interpret the situation of living in a pandemic to mean that they are assuming personal risk, and that is their ethical prerogative.
The merest suggestion that any one human can owe anything at all to any other human, under any circumstance, seems to trigger a deep rage in these people.
I think this is only possible because of where we are on the pendulum swing between the individual and the collective. We’re at a place where the idea of “a community” of any kind doesn’t even make sense to some people.
Just because there is more than one person in any given location does not then mean that there is a “group” of any kind. No connections, no broad categories. It’s impossible because there is only The Individual multiplied by seven billion.
The opposite extreme of this would be the idea that there is only a group, and that there is no such thing as an individual with personal rights. It’s fairly easy to imagine this, and it’s possible this is how it feels to be a bee, or a fish in a school of fish. Any ant stands in for any other ant, but in this formulation they don’t have personalities or names or music preferences.
Obviously it makes the most sense for people to exist somewhere in the middle, with personal rights but also with social connections, friends, and some way to contribute to a greater good. This is the space with the potlucks and the games and the concerts. This is the space with a modern economy.
The far individual end is the space with the terrorists and the mass murderers. Arguably the mass murderer is a notch more individualistic, because terrorists tend to act based on group decisions and delusions. The lone gunman is probably acting on a personal grievance. The only reason it would make sense to inflict a personal vendetta on random strangers is if those strangers have no value to the killer.
The reason I talk about this is that an asymptomatic super-spreader of coronavirus... may very well have a higher body count than most mass murderers.
“Oh it’s just the flu...” that is 50x deadlier than influenza.
Why would someone persistently refuse to pay attention? Sure, I can understand why someone would feel allergic to mainstream news. But at this point, people know someone personally who got sick or died. I know I do. At this point I have several friends and a few first-degree relatives who have gotten sick, and someone I’ve been to dinner with several times has died. I know a dozen people who have lost a family member to COVID.
Which specific friend or relative has to die before someone finally caves and says, “All right already, I guess the alligator really does grab people sometimes”?
The trouble is that nothing is harder for the extreme individualist than admitting to a mistake. It comes across as losing face. For a sensible person, getting solid information is a cause for gratitude - thanks for looking out for me, I know you’re trying to help. (Avoid food poisoning, avoid getting a speeding ticket, avoid a sunburn, etc). A narcissist will be more and more enraged the more serious the warning was, because the bigger the threat, the dumber they might look for missing it.
One of those mistakes that is impossible to admit is the mistake of trusting a con. Being tricked is so embarrassing that people will avoid reporting fraud, sometimes even at the cost of millions of dollars. Finding a way to reframe these events in a way that is emotionally more acceptable would really help correct a lot of issues.
How do we get the pendulum swinging again, so it is at least one notch away from the farthest possible point of selfishness? What are some ways to help people feel safe to relax into a friendlier, more altruistic position? How can we help people feel proud and smart for stepping away from the alligator?
I ordered some breathing apparatuses and they were delivered today. As a COVID-19 survivor who is currently trying to recover from bacterial pneumonia, I want to improve my breathing. Like, a lot. I’m starting from a knowledge base of zero and trying to figure it out as I go. What are these things, how do they work, and can I actually start breathing normally again one day?
The first thing I can tell you is that if I get arrested in the near future, it will be because a police officer saw one of these things and assumed it was a weird futuristic vaping tool. I can about guarantee that an airport security guard somewhere in the world would confiscate it. I want to put a tag on it that says ‘NOT DRUG PARAPHERNALIA.’
The other thing looks and acts like a children’s toy.
Actually they both look like children’s toys, in their own way, which is great because I can use some fun in my life.
Relaxation techniques always tell you to focus on your breathing because they assume that is universally relaxing. I’m here to tell you that it would be more relaxing if I could stop focusing on my breathing for a while. It shouldn’t take this much effort. It shouldn’t be in question. I shouldn’t be wondering so much about how long I’ll be doing it or if I’ll accidentally quit while I’m asleep.
I first learned about breathing exercises as a tiny tot, when my mom was in labor with my brother. I remember I kept trying to lean over the seat and help her do her Lamaze breathing, and my dad kept snapping at me to sit down. (We didn’t have car seats in those days). I associated special breathing with the magic of a new baby popping into existence.
The next time was in kundalini class in college, but that’s a story for another time.
I had a less exciting lesson in breathing when I got the respiratory infection that followed me out of university. A nurse had me breathe into a spirometer to measure my lung capacity (52%). This memory is what gave me the idea to buy a device of my own, and that’s what triggered the idea that I could find a gadget to measure my improvement.
The device that the nurse used on me had me exhale as hard as I could into a tube. Apparently what she was measuring was Forced Vital Capacity. When I found out about incentive spirometers, this is what I thought I was getting.
The device I bought (for $9 US) has you inhale through the tube as slowly as you can while trying to keep a little ball suspended in a tube. It’s the exact opposite of what I thought.
What I was hoping for was a percentage capacity measurement like I had 16 years ago. For one, I wanted to compare it to how I measured when I was younger. For another, I wanted a baseline. I’ll admit, though, partly I wanted to show off just what bad a shape I’ve been in.
What I’ve learned, while scouring the internet, is that I would need a trained nurse to do this properly. I can’t really make any official medical claims because I don’t have the proper training and because I don’t even know where to find the correct device, which I might not be able to afford.
All I can do are three things. I can start with a baseline; I can train and compare my later results with this baseline; and I can compare myself with my friendly local husband.
(I had him test everything out before I put my mouth on it. I’m not great at reading instructions at the best of times and he happens to be an engineer).
We both tried the incentive spirometer. After we figured out how it’s supposed to work, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘he,’ we timed each other. Then he did the calculations.
He was able to keep two of the three balls in the air for 9 seconds. (The third ball isn’t supposed to go up).
I was able to keep the first ball in the air for 3 seconds on the first try, and 4 seconds on the second try. No second ball. My head was spinning afterward.
I’m super competitive about this stuff, though. Ordinarily I have the attention span of a... sorry, ran out of analogies. But when I’m fixated on something, I’m like one of those squirrels that never quits going after the supposedly ‘squirrel-proof’ bird feeder. There is now no way I will quit practicing with the incentive spirometer until I can keep the ball up for 10 seconds.
What the times supposedly mean, if we have any even remotely accurate idea of what we’re doing, is that my lung capacity is like 2400 CCs and his is like 5400. The trouble is that we have no idea what’s normal. Also, he is a tall man with a large build, a lifelong athlete who joined the swim team at age 4 and who also played the tuba. I, on the other hand, am of average height with a small frame. I had COVID-19 all through April and I’ve been fighting pneumonia for a week.
The other device that I bought is a special breathing trainer that has apparently been in use since 1980. I can tell you right now, if this was designed in the late Seventies then there’s about 100% chance it was inspired by a hash pipe.
Me: “Do you think you could make this into a bong?”
Him: [glances over] “It is a bong.”
Note: We are straight-edge people by inclination and by profession, and also we plan to retire early so we save our money. But also we live at the beach and that kind of thing is recreationally legal here.
The “Breather,” as it is known, now comes with an app and a training plan. I set it up, but for some mysterious reason it gave me today as an off day, so I don’t know what the exercises are like yet. All I know is that it believes age, height, weight, and gender are relevant. Well, that, and the positive reviews included athletes as well as people with various medical issues.
I’m a diligent person. It makes sense to me to follow medical advice, especially when I paid for it and took time out of my schedule to hear it. I’m the kind of person who carries dental floss in my purse. (Right next to the Blow Pop, the dog clicker, and whatever else I have in there...) I have the patience and the persistence to sit down with these new gadgets and test myself, day after day.
Because if the alternative is to keep being as short of breath as I am today, almost anything is worth trying.
Nobody is really useless, I always say; if nothing else, you can always be a bad example.
I just feel useless since I’ve been sick so much. Maybe even worse than useless, since not only am I not doing much these days, other people have to keep stepping up to do my work on top of their own.
It’s a little melancholy to get pneumonia for your birthday. Honestly I would have preferred a scented candle or some colored pencils. It makes me wistful for all the years I made some big enthusiastic goal, and then eventually got around to completing it a few years later.
This year? I thought I’d make a goalless goal, just give myself a year to do nothing and not feel guilty about it. Or bored.
I made it a few hours, I swear I did!
Then I came up with something, something I actually found inspirational and exciting in spite of my current limitations.
Let’s get to that in a minute. First, I want to say that there are quite a number of goals that are still possible even in the midst of severe pain and illness:
To maintain a streak of never snapping at people, no matter what
To always say ‘thank you’ when appropriate, plus some extra
To track symptoms as accurately as possible - for science!
To set alarms and reminders, and take meds on time
To use a wastebasket rather than leave tissues etc all over the place
Not that anybody needs to do anything, or follow anyone else’s dictates - just that for me personally, it helps to maintain a certain amount of control over my attitude, my behaviors, and the things I say to other people. Until the day my head starts spinning around backwards, I can stop things from coming out of my mouth that I wish I could call back.
(If that happens, go ahead and call a priest, why not).
Even on bad days, I can recall a few particularly rude people, notorious for their constant sarcasm and cutting remarks, and think to myself, at least I’m not nasty like So-and-So. Keep it together, suck it up buttercup.
Kindness, if nothing else. Kindness, or maybe they won’t keep coming back...
It weighs heavily on me that nobody owes me care or nursing. There is not a person on this green earth who was born to be my servant or wait on me or watch over me or bring me things. Those who are willing will say, “I’m doing what anyone would do,” or “you’d do it for me,” the second of which is true and the first of which, alas, is not.
Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum of Taker to Giver, not always where we think we are, but we’re all on there somewhere. I try to keep it dialed to Giver when I’m able, because I know how often there are extended periods when I’m forced over to the ‘receiving’ end.
Personally I don’t mind caregiving. There’s a lot of room for personal time when looking after an ill person, especially when they need a lot of sleep. I can just turn on an audio book and clean and cook and carry a tray, doing what needs doing, while reserving a corner of my mind for myself. This is because I’ve always been able to see a way out, that there is a natural time limit after which my services will no longer be needed.
It’s probably much harder when it’s indefinite, when it’s been going on for years, when it might go on for yet more years, when nobody knows.
That’s what I worry about.
I worry that I’ll never feel well again, that I’ll never get back to what I would consider 100%, that I’ll just have to progressively reset what counts as ‘not unwell.’
That’s why I’ve put aside my goals about going to grad school, or writing a book, or training for an ultramarathon. At least for now, when I’m still on an inhaler and still not over this post-COVID pneumonia.
And that’s where my new goal comes in!
As bad as I feel right now, a day that has included chills, trembling hands, coughing, ears ringing, and the swallowing of 18 pills, I believe that improvement is possible.
Why? Because I’ve done it before.
I realized recently that I have a storyline about this already.
Back in 2004, I had a terrible respiratory infection. At that time in my life, it didn’t occur to me to go to the doctor at times that should have been obvious, because I didn’t have health insurance for most of my 20s. It wasn’t until my friends intervened that I went to the doctor on campus, leaning on every bench and tree and lamp post along the way. The nurse had me breathe into a spirometer, where I rated a 52%. (Oh, maybe that’s why I’ve been coughing up blood...)
Tl;dr, they gave me an inhaler, and I missed three weeks of work, but I quit coughing and got better. Looking back, it really took me about a year to start rebuilding my cardio endurance. There was a day that I tried to go for a bike ride, made it about a mile down a gentle hill, and had to turn around and push my bike home. But?
Exactly ten years later I ran a marathon.
I know it’s possible to regain lung capacity because I’ve done it. I know it’s possible to recover from a really gnarly respiratory infection and go on to feel totally fine.
Is it going to be the same for me after COVID-19? I don’t know, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. If I have data then I’m going to contribute it.
My new goal is to learn everything I can about breath work and respiratory therapy. If there are exercises, I’m going to do them. If there are training tools, I’m going to test and compare them. If there are logbooks or studies or tracking devices, I’m going to find them.
It’s hard sometimes, feeling weak, feeling like a burden on others, feeling disappointed about having to let go of goals that were appealing and personally meaningful. One way to deal with that is to shift focus to something else. Not “what can’t I do anymore” or “what am I losing this time” but:
What CAN I do?
What can I do today?
What will I be able to do tomorrow?
If nothing else, how can I use this particular experience in a way that might help others?
Someday this pain will be useful to me. Or maybe not me, but someone. And if that’s true, then it’s useful to me after all.
“Pneumonia is a treat compared to COVID,” I said. My husband pointed at me and said, “You should write about that.”
I thought I had COVID-19 a second time, but it turned out just to be bacterial pneumonia. The main difference is that pneumonia hurts, while I didn’t find COVID to be physically painful. It’s a Krav Maga-level pain in the chest and upper back.
Other than that? Not a big deal.
I mean, sure, I was so short of breath that I had to lie down after reaching up to open a cupboard in the kitchen. But at this point I’m used to that sort of thing.
The best part about pneumonia, besides the fact that it’s treatable, is that... people know what it is! They believe it’s actually real!
I feel like there are a lot of people who would be more likely to believe me if I told them I saw a ghost, or that Sasquatch came and shook my tent in the woods one night, than the fact that I was sick for a month with COVID-19.
In that sense, it’s a relief to have something familiar and old-fashioned like pneumonia.
Maybe people who are scoffing at COVID, even though it’s killed hundreds of thousands of people, will sit up and start paying attention when they start hearing more about the after-effects.
Yeah, I lived? But I’ve also needed antibiotics for two separate follow-up respiratory infections in three months. In the summer.
Me, a 45-year-old multi-sport athlete and marathon runner.
At least, I used to be. Now I’m just happy to be able to walk across the room without leaning on anything.
That’s one of the other great things about pneumonia.
No vertigo! No dizzy spells! No headaches!
I can taste and smell my food!
Only a couple heart palpitations once a day or so! And my heart rate hasn’t even doubled!
Man, this stuff is great.
I can actually read and follow the plot of a movie!
Okay, there are a few things that COVID-19 and bacterial pneumonia have in common. With both, I coughed so hard I fell over. With both, I nearly passed out at least once. Both have made me too tired and ill to make my own lunch. Both make it really hard to sleep; on the night of my birthday I could only sleep four hours before the neighbor’s dog finally woke me up at 9 am.
This time, though, I haven’t even been sick for two weeks and I’m already starting to get better! I mean, hooray!
My doctor’s office got on the phone with me within a day, and I managed to get prescriptions for antibiotics, an inhaler, and non-drowsy cough medicine. That’s the all-time number-one reason that pneumonia is better than COVID: treatments! When I got COVID they didn’t offer me a darn thing other than an apology.
By this point in my bout with COVID, I felt that my life force was draining away. With pneumonia I already feel like I could probably drag myself through a day at work (since I have the luxury of working at home, off-camera). I’ll try, anyway. I hate feeling like an invalid and I always feel very guilty taking sick leave while other people cover my tasks.
This is what I wish people would remember. There are a lot of contagious things out there that are not fun, do not feel good, and are spread from person to person through the air. I was saying not that long ago that I didn’t want anything, not even the common cold, for as long as I could get away with it. I’ll probably wear a mask in public for several years, if not the rest of my life - assuming I live several more years, she said darkly...
You know what? Nobody can stop me from wearing a mask. If I want to wear a plastic face shield on top of it, I’m darn well going to. If someone tries to refuse me service while I wear my masks, I’ll take action. I’ll wear a mask anywhere I want. It’s my right. If I happen to think it brings out my eyes and covers my incipient jowls, that’s my opinion. If I find that wearing a mask and sunglasses makes me look ten years younger, I’m going with it.
That’s my fantasy, anyway. I haven’t been well enough to go anywhere but the pharmacy in over a week.
Another great thing about pneumonia! I was able to go to the local pharmacy in person - I didn’t have to choose between paying someone to go for me or going to the COVID hospital 15 miles away. Pneumonia is so convenient!
I have to say, I was pretty mean about giving COVID-19 only one star and telling everyone I didn’t recommend it. But I can go so far as to give pneumonia two stars. Much better experience all around.
I’m learning a lot from this experience. I did a little exploring online and discovered that there are devices available for purchase to the average consumer that can help train the lungs back to better function. “Incentive spirometer” is one. I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival. I have a special box now, where I keep my pulse ox and my thermometer and all my pills, and there’s plenty of room. So many medical devices, how fun, they’re so collectible! I’m almost like my own amateur nurse now!
Okay everybody, gotta go, the NyQuil is kicking in. Wish me luck that I can get back to work soon. There’s a lot to do and I need to read up on respiratory therapy!
Happy Birthday to me
I am COVID-free
I don’t have the virus
It did not kill me
Three months ago I made a wish, that I could please live to see my birthday. I made it!
Trying to focus on this rather than the fact that I woke up to a still-untreated rampant respiratory infection of some kind. I’ve been sick all week and this was the earliest day I could get a phone appointment to find out, okay, if it isn’t COVID, what is it?
Old kitchen sponge
Wet sock from alley behind the laundromat
Decaying canned ham
There is a weird streak of bummer events that have happened on my birthday, to the point that several years ago I started celebrating all of July and avoiding high expectations on the actual day. On past birthdays I have stepped barefoot in warm puppy poo, discovered stinging nettles the hard way, organized a party at the amusement park only for it to close due to power failure just as we walked up... Last year we went to Scotland, and wandered around Aberdeen for half a day finding only closed restaurants and a park with a bare patch of dirt where an elaborate floral display was supposed to be.
I’ve learned to laugh it off and try to have more fun the rest of the year instead.
Try to see the irony in a diagnosis of bacterial pneumonia. Gratitude!
Happy birthday to me, and time to open my gifts:
Pills for cough
Pulse ox I bought myself, because self-care! You deserve it honey
This is where I remind everyone of how great it is to live in the 21st century. I just 1. Talked to a doctor by phone who 2. Pulled up my medical records on a computer and 3. Ordered modern drugs for me to 4. Pick up the same day which I can do because 5. There are some in stock three miles away. And 6. They will probably be cheaper than a large pizza because 7. I have health insurance.
[Total cost to me: $6.06]
If I had the same respiratory infection in, say, 1798... I’d probably just continue to have it three years later (if I lived) and I’d just be some sad toothless wretch coughing on a straw pallet.
The natural way!
In the future, I think our phones are going to be a lot more like medical devices than communication units. They can already check our pulse (put your finger over the camera) and track how active we are, how fast we walk, etc. It seems easily within reach for a smartphone to listen to someone’s heartbeat and/or check their cough. Not too far in the future, they might indeed be able to analyze swabs for bacteria and viruses too.
Earlier this week, I went across town for a COVID test. It was just like the last time I went to the COVID hospital, in and out. Last time it was for some blood samples and a chest x-ray. Neither time did anyone check my pulse, take my temperature, put the pulse ox on my finger, listen to my chest with a stethoscope, or even weigh me in. It would have been technologically possible to take some kind of culture to answer the question, “Just what IS in your lungs right now??” ...rather than focus narrowly on, “Is it COVID: Y/N.”
Obviously I understand that the goal is to avoid infecting our treasured medical professionals. That’s why I think robots will be doing all the icky stuff not too far into the future.
This is an exciting time to be alive!
Since last year, I moved from a bad apartment to a pretty great apartment, became a Distinguished Toastmaster, survived COVID-19, and got my dream job.
I try to focus on these things rather than their corollaries, which are being isolated, seeing the indefinite end to the types of public speaking and event planning that I trained to do, and missing a week of my new job because I still haven’t made it back to 100% healthy. All of those things are probably temporary. There’s no point in wasting mental and emotional effort on transitory obstacles.
What’s in the future?
What will I do with my next year of life?
Not everyone has cause to make a formal wish for another year of life, but I did, and recently. It’s fresh enough in my mind that the same 365 days issued to me will probably be more valuable than the 365 given to anyone else.
Hint: Now is your moment to feel your next year as a precious gift
Now I’m going to model my next year off The Princess Bride. Legit, right? [spoilers, skip this section]:
Westley’s story of meeting the Dread Pirate Roberts.
“He simply said, “Please. Please, I need to live.” ...and then he got to be a valet, and every night the Dread Pirate Roberts said, “Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” Three years went by and Westley learned to live that way, in what I call the Place of Uncertainty, learning everything he could and just going with it. Then he got a massive promotion, a title bump, and a new wardrobe!
Oh, and he always wore his mask. “It’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”
So that’s my plan. I have no idea how long this phase of life will go on. I have no idea what my state of health will be like by this time next year, or the year after, or the year after that. Usually I like to make grand plans about things like running a marathon or publishing a book. Right now my only grand plan is to live, to keep waking up every morning, and in the meantime try to be a good valet.
The good news is, my COVID-19 test came back negative. Hooray!
The bad news is, something is still wrong with me and now I don’t know what.
I’ve been feeling worse every day for a week, starting with chills that woke me out of a sound sleep. Whatever is going on, I’m short of breath, my chest and upper back hurt constantly, and I have heart palpitations after walking across the room. I also had a weird episode of mysterious symptoms which I am not sure were neurological or circulatory.
Was I infected with something, or not?
Is this related to my experience with COVID back in April, or is it something else?
If I got infected with something, like influenza or the common cold, then who did I get it from? How did I get it through both a mask and a face shield? Why did I get it and my husband apparently didn’t? (We both got the flu after I took him to the ER in February, and we literally started coughing the same minute).
Worse, if this is the common cold, then why does my chest hurt so bad? Is it just a really gnarly version of the cold, or do I have lung damage?
If I didn’t get exposed to anything contagious, then what is wrong with me?
Why did it creep up on me gradually?
If this is related to COVID, but it doesn’t show up on a test, then what’s going on? What kind of damage did it do? How long will it last? Why did it take two months to start up? How do I get rid of it? Or if I can’t get rid of it, how do I treat it?
I’m so frustrated right now - I know it’s because I’m sick and illness always makes me weepy and emotional - but it’s really annoying that now I show up in the statistics as nothing more than two negative tests. A month of illness, feeling like I was dying, all the uncertainty and misery, now this relapse or whatever - and it doesn’t officially count for anything?
How many other people out there are like me, who were sick as can be but weren’t able to get a test at the right time? How many of us are now living a medical mystery?
My birthday is on Friday and I’m really happy about that. Back in April I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it this long. I have more reason to celebrate this year than I ever have. My family are all, as far as I know, safe and sound. (Hopefully my story is making them be that extra little bit careful - right??) My husband never got sick. We both have jobs and we’re financially in the best shape of our marriage.
How can I complain when several of my friends have lost someone to COVID?
How can I complain when I have relatives and friends who’ve lost their jobs, or whose educations are on pause?
I talk so much about being in the Place of Uncertainty, and how it’s supposed to be good for building character. I talk about overcoming chronic health problems. Now is the time to draw on that.
I just started a new job. I’m so new I’m still on probation, haven’t even had my first one-on-one yet. We’re supposed to do a whole on-boarding interview where we set up our goals for our first annual performance review. It’s pretty heavy on my mind right now. The elephant in the room. Is this... going to happen a lot?
I had to notify my boss and two separate departments that I had COVID symptoms. It’s a security incident. Everyone in my entire subdivision knows. Which is great! I’m for it! It’s really important to me for my experience to serve others in some way, mostly so that they can avoid what befell me and keep their families safe. Tell everyone, take a video clip and play it in the lobby, put me on a billboard.
Still. I’d rather that if I had a reputation in my first two months on a new job, it was for solving a problem or really showing up for someone in a big way.
Next week I’m supposed to give a presentation. I’m super excited about it. In so many ways it’s what I’ve been preparing for for the last four years, developing my speaking skills and getting over my stage fright. Now all I can think is, at least my face won’t be on camera so I can mute myself coughing.
That is, assuming I’m well enough to finish my slides between now and then.
You know what I was going to be doing this week? I was going to be calling the four grad schools on my list, getting details about application dates and admissions requirements.
Now I wonder if it’s really wise to be making plans for over a year from now. Grad school is a very expensive proposition to be making commitments on a timeline.
My best guess for what’s going on with me right now is a bacterial infection in my lungs. This is how my experience ended in April - I tested negative for COVID just in time to pick up a secondary infection. I’ve learned to associate ‘burning’ with bacteria. If this is what happened, then it wouldn’t necessarily be something I got from another person. There can be a bunch of different kinds of bacteria that cause lung infections, but at least one of them just loiters around in the respiratory tract full-time without incident. If that’s it, then why did it suddenly activate?
Why does anything happen? Ever? To anyone?
Answer: who knows
What I want people to know is that COVID-19 is a serious bummer even for the mild and moderate cases. When I found out I was exposed, I thought I’d have a rough five days and be done with it. Here I am, four months to the day after I was exposed, and it’s still causing me pain, stress, confusion, annoyance, and distraction from things I’d rather be doing. Also weight gain and acne like I haven’t had in 25 years - I include that for the young ones - you say you’re not scared of coronavirus, but are you scared of breakouts?? Are you??
The upshot is that I emailed my doctor, because I still have symptoms that they say to watch out for. I am guessing he will order more antibiotics, maybe a chest x-ray. If I’m right that it’s a bacterial infection, then I should be fine within a week. If not?
I tested negative, but alas, my character is still positive. I’ll keep believing I can beat this thing and go on with my life. Maybe I just won’t put candles on my birthday cake this year.
Place your bets. Do I have it or don’t I?
I had the phone appointment with my doctor this morning. Apparently a test had already been ordered for me. He asked me a few questions about my symptoms and said to assume I have it. He said he hasn’t had any patients be reinfected so far, so it would be “interesting to find out.”
I couldn’t get a test the first time around. Now I’ve gotten a promotion. I am clinically interesting. This should open a few doors for me as I become a “data donor.”
How am I doing?
Yesterday morning, I got up for work, got dressed, took my pills, ate breakfast, signed in... and immediately felt like I was going to pass out. I was sorta thinking I could work for at least a few days, maybe ride this thing out. It took about two minutes to realize this was not going to happen. I emailed my boss and the others on my team and signed out. Then I emailed my doctor.
As soon as I put my phone down, I had an extremely weird new symptom:
A wave of prickly heat ran from my elbows through my hands. My skin flushed red. My hands and wrists felt slightly swollen, and when I tried to bend my wrists, it stung all through the backs of my hands. At the same time, waves of this prickly heat rash feeling pulsed in and around the tip of my nose.
I had a lot of very strange symptoms when I was sick in April, feelings I had never felt before, and this was not one of them. It went on for about five minutes. So far, that’s been it.
I lay in bed most of the day and had a three-hour nap. My lungs burned all day, unrelated to my breathing - it just felt like someone had blasted through my chest and upper back with a cannonball.
Slept fairly well, woke up feeling marginally better, but now I’m short of breath.
I had to go across town to get the COVID test, what turned out to be a two-hour round trip. I wore a surgical mask with a heavy-duty cloth mask over it and a plastic face shield over that.
The process didn’t seem as organized as it was when I had to get my chest x-ray back in April. They were confounded by the fact that I was dropped off and did not have a car. I was sent back and forth to both sides of the building, and a big security guard walked with me part of the way - not distancing! Aren’t you scared of me? You should be!
I sat on a folding chair in a little pop-up tent, baking in the sun and feeling quite uncomfortable under my masks. A woman young enough to be my daughter came over to take my sample. She said that people find it uncomfortable but it would only be ten seconds. She had me lift my shield and lower my masks, tip my head back, and
NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE IN ALIEN ABDUCTIONS
I will simply leave you with the code word “swirling” and say that my vision turned completely red for a while. I had a hurt dog’s instinct to find a bed and crawl under it.
“Okay, you can go now” - directly to therapy??
I came home and asked my husband to speculate. Let’s game it out. Place your bets: Positive or negative?
Negative, he said.
Care to elaborate?
These are basically the options. Either I had COVID-19 in April and now I have something else; or I did not have COVID and now I do; or I did not have COVID either time; or I was positive before and now I’m positive again. We can draw those out as:
Any of you who chose N/N should pause and realize that that is the scariest of the four options. This would mean that there is a non-COVID thing out there that *also* causes loss of taste and smell, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and an x-ray indicating peribronchial thickening. And either it’s possible to get *that* thing twice, or there are *two* distinct non-COVID things, the second of which can be contracted through both an N95 mask and a face shield.
Nobody is ever going to know what happened to me in April, because I couldn’t get a test while I was still sick. I also didn’t get an antibody test. In that sense, a skeptic would consider anything that happens to me to be anecdotal. Which is fine, and good for you; by all means please double down on your belief in objective data. All I can really offer you for evidence is that chest x-ray with the peribronchial thickening.
My husband thinks I had COVID-19 in April and that now I have something else, like the common cold. My immune system is probably still a little weak, my lungs may be damaged, and now maybe any little thing will be enough to lay me out. Call this [Y/N(a)].
I think I had it in April and now I have a separate strain, indicated by the rush of weird new symptoms on Monday morning. [Y/Y(a)].
There are a bunch of other formulations, all of which are worth exploring:
I had COVID-19 in April, developed antibodies, cleared the infection, and was exposed again. What I am experiencing now is my body mounting an effective antibody response, and I’ll be fine in a few days. [Y/Y(b)]. This formulation would not necessarily be invalidated by a negative test result; if I was exposed before Wednesday then I may have had enough time to clear it already.
I had COVID-19 in April, never cleared the infection, and got a false negative test because the cheek swab test was not as accurate. [Y/Y(c1)]. Another version of this formulation would be that I beat back the infection enough that it was undetectable, resumed normal activities and started working out, but then the infection surged again. [Y/Y(c2)].
Whatever my anecdotal narrative may be good for, it should serve as a test of reasoning. Mine and anyone else’s who reads this. This is your chance. Take a little sticky note or an old envelope and physically write down what you think is going on.
Do I or don’t I? Do you believe it’s Y/N, N/Y, N/N, or Y/Y?
How will this affect your evaluation of your own reasoning abilities when the test results come in? Will it change your behavior?
Personally, I have a lot to think about. If I test positive, I have to reevaluate my PPE and my sanitizing procedures. If I test negative, I have to reconsider my physical vulnerabilities in a whole different way. Either way, I can only be more cautious going forward.
Here we go again. I’m writing this a couple days ahead, feeling cruddy but with no idea what it is or how long it will last. All I know is that if I do have COVID-19 for a second time, I’m better off preparing ahead of time.
Why do I think I might have it again? 1. I feel tired and ill; 2. There are cases popping up in the news of reinfections, as well as people feeling better and then relapsing weeks later; 3. People don’t become immune to other members of the coronavirus family, so why assume we would from this one?
If I’m wrong, then I’ll have extra supplies. I can either use them for some other respiratory bug or share them with someone else. I can laugh at myself for being a worrywart. If I’m right... well, so far I have failed to over-prepare for a single thing during this pandemic.
The first thing I did was to take inventory of our medicine cabinet. I would not want to go through this the natural way, without modern pharmaceuticals, like some medieval person in a hut. I want Mucinex and Tylenol. Assuming it’s just me, I need enough supplies for 2x/day for at least three weeks. Last time, we ran out and there were shipping delays, but we got lucky and I managed not to miss any doses.
Next, I decided to order a pulse ox, a finger pulse oximeter. During my second week, I was gulping air and having a lot of trouble breathing. If that happens again, I’m not waiting, I’m going to try to get myself admitted to the hospital for at least a few hours with an oxygen mask. I figure I have a better chance advocating for myself if I have metrics.
The last time we went through all this, back in April, all this stuff was sold out. You couldn’t get a pulse ox - they were all marked up in price and back-ordered - in the same way that you couldn’t get masks or face shields or cleaning wipes or hand sanitizer. You could find Tylenol and Mucinex if you looked hard, just like paper towels and toilet paper. In some ways, it’s less scary to buy something like this and see a ship time of under a week.
These are the easy steps. Retail therapy. Let’s buy a consumer item and then everything will be all better, right?
The harder parts are playing through my memories of this illness and thinking back to what I need to do. Three months ago, I was deathly ill and pretty sure I would not live to see my birthday. Still not there yet. This is not fun to think about.
I should probably re-pack my hospital bag and leave it packed.
I should probably re-think my advance care directive. I was pretty adamant about the “do not resuscitate” part when I filled it out ten years ago. Now it seems fairly ordinary for a COVID patient to be in a coma for days or weeks, and then walk themselves out of the hospital. I’ll be 45 this week (*hope*) and I have as reasonable a chance as anyone else my age.
Last time, one of the many little annoyances was that I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t follow a plot, either in a novel or a movie. I’m prepared for this now. I realized I could have been listening to music and looking at streaming nature cams. I have a folder of those just in case.
I know a lot more this time around, because I’ve already been through this illness and because I’ve been avidly reading everything I could find about it for the last four months. I quit checking the daily statistics. I don’t feel like I need to read every single article about symptoms or transmission anymore.
I know I need to set alarms to remind me to take my pills on time, because last time, every time I slipped up by a couple hours, my symptoms would be worse for days.
I know I need to spend as much time as I can lying on my stomach, even though it makes my back stiff.
I also understand that if I do have COVID-19 again, I probably won’t skip through it in a few days. I’m psychologically preparing myself for a minimum of six weeks. I’m going to assume that I won’t be able to exercise for the rest of the year, or at least until Halloween.
Few things in my life have been as depressing, frustrating, and boring as having COVID-19. Trying to avoid lying on my back for at least twelve hours a day was really hard, exhausting, and demoralizing. I am not thrilled AT ALL to be facing this thing again.
Not thrilled to have to contemplate dying young either.
Worst of all is knowing that roughly 40% of my fellow Americans don’t think this thing is real. Either it’s a hoax or it’s no big deal. Even the person who originally infected me thinks it’s no big deal. I guess if I have three wishes right now, one of them would be that someone (who knows who she is) would go to her and say, “You really need to start taking this seriously now.” It’s not that I blame her for getting me sick; she couldn’t have known. It’s just important to me that if I die young, around my birthday, and pointlessly from this catastrophically managed pandemic... it’s important that it mattered to someone.
My other two wishes would be that everyone in my family is careful and stays safe, and that my husband finds love again and remarries. I hope he can use the life insurance money to buy a nice house and eventually be happy there, with a smiling woman by his side.
Of course I’d rather it be me, but what do you do?
I’m trying to be a good Stoic about this. There’s no reason for me to be untouched by plague when millions of other humans throughout history have died in this manner. I have no right to complain about it. Once I’ve made my preparations, it’s time to get on with life, patiently, pacing myself for the next three years or more that this thing will be with us.
Shortly after this posts, I have a phone appointment with a doctor. I’m definitely sick and my lungs are burning. Wish me luck.
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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