A Little-Known Side Effect of COVID-19

The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject… And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them… Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced.
― Seneca, Natural Questions

[names have been changed]

Early in the fall, my husband came home and said that one of the ladies that he works with needed a tutor for her child, who had been in an accident and needed help with relearning things due to brain damage. Being that I hadn’t really worked with any students at school and was missing them, I said that I could help.

I spoke to Alice’s mom and was told her story. It is one that you probably haven’t heard about, or thought about, but I am in no doubt has happened to many adults with disabilities during the pandemic.

Alice, like many people, has multiple medical conditions. She has Addison’s Disease and Epilepsy, and something happened last spring to cause a grand-mal seizure. This seizure led to the ambulance being called, no surprise there, but the story now takes a twist.

As part of the seizure, or concurrent with it, Alice was also having an Addisonian Crisis. The ambulance drivers, stressed out due to overwork and the global pandemic, did not listen effectively to Alice’s mom, who I am sure was also very stressed at the moment. Alice usually goes to a hospital in Taylor, the closest major hospital to our area, but due to the pandemic, all hospitals had networked and routed patients to different places based on their medical needs. Alice was taken to St David’s in downtown Austin. Alice, it is important to note, is a 20-year old adult. The ambulance would not let her mom ride with her due to COVID. When Alice arrived at the hospital, no one knew her and the doctor familiar with her medical history was over 30 miles away at another hospital. The attending physician did not recognize her symptoms as Addison-related, and did not treat her as such. Her mom was not allowed into the hospital because of COVID, and the hospital would not release any information because Alice is an adult. Days later, her mom was finally able to get information, and found out that her daughter had had a heart attack and went without oxygen for 10 minutes before she was revived. At that time, she was in a coma, and remained in one for three months.

Before this accident, or incident, use whatever label seems appropriate, Alice was working at a sandwich shop and Walmart. She was taking two or three classes at Austin Community College. She couldn’t drive because of her epilepsy, but other than that, her life was completely normal.

In about an hour, her life became the opposite of normal. After she was released from the hospital, she could no longer walk unassisted. She had no short-term memory. Her speech was different: no longer the voice of a normal 20-year old person, she spoke in a monotone. She could not swallow liquid without risking aspiration, and could not eat solid food.

Now, a year after her accident occurred, she can walk on her own, and she has me and two other therapists who work with her on her memory and mobility. She is back to reading books and texting on her phone. She loves to watch Disney movies all day long. We are working on speech and her voice: trying to get her to control her voice more than she has been. She works very hard and keeps a daily diary now and makes marked improvements every week, although they are small and might not be obvious to someone who didn’t know her. Alice lives with her grandmother, her uncle and her brother, Andrew. Her mom lives across town with her husband, and her sister goes to college full-time at a nearby university.

When I think about Alice and her experience of the last year, I am mystified about how I didn’t think about this side effect of COVID: that people could receive such poor care that they die, or end up permanently (or at least in the long term) impacted by medical mistakes caused by the stress of the pandemic. The stress is systemic, and I suspect we haven’t really begun to understand what it has done to us individually and societally. I am sure, I am positive, that there are other people just like Alice out there; people who bore the brunt of a pandemic despite never actually having the disease.

COVID has broken-down, destroyed and distorted so many aspects of life. I sit here in a classroom, typing this story, and it is mid-April. The last time I had normal classes was over a year ago. The next time I have normal classes will be: no one knows. I asked Alice the other day if she intends to go back to ACC and she said yes. After all, there is nothing missing out of her amazing brain; it just takes a lot longer to pull the information out of it.

As with all things, the only guarantee is that things will change. Alice will continue to improve slowly. Sometimes I dream about going to her house and seeing her walking around, saying hello, and hearing her speak in a normal voice and tell me all about her day. Right now she is still talking in her funny monotone which is broken up with laughter, especially when we do voice exercises which make her make the funniest sounds.

Years from now, when we reflect on these times, I wonder what we will remember and what we will forget. What will be significant to us, and what will fade away?

Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”
― Salman Rushdie

I Dream of Sweet Caress from You

One of the stranger aspects of the COVID life is the lack of connection and, especially, hugs. We have stopped shaking hands and hugging because we are all afraid of catching or giving this disease to each other. It seems we are missing something larger than just a hug.

AF Archive/AP Stock Photo

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a paleoanthropologist and moving to Africa to study the origins of humans. I read books by and about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas. I loved the stories of the gorillas the most.

COVID, as of today, has killed 246,000 Americans and 1.32 million people worldwide. When I started writing about it back in March, that number was this boogey-man number that was thrown about by experts as our worst-case scenario. Now it seems like an undercount, or a lowball prediction.

Today I felt sad, it must be the time of the year, or perhaps just the lingering effects of the anger I felt the other night. I felt so lonely and so sad, and as if I am missing out on something living in the country and not the city. I miss my friends in Austin, but I miss them in the sense that I feel our lives may be shifting ever further apart, not just because of geography, but something else.

COVID is grating on all of our nerves. Raw, lonely, sad, disappointed, exhausted: everything feels worse than it normally would right now. I won’t share with you the various horror stories from around the country: suffice it to say, we are in dire straits. Our government seems to be in trouble and at the whim of a despotic man with the emotional age of a 7th grade boy in a fight, and the man coming in is quite wonderful but holy hell is he inheriting a mess.

I was thinking about the 90s yesterday as I was touring Lamar University: they were a totally different world. No smartphones, no white supremacist proto-fascist movement maybe trying to take the government and cast doubt on our elections systems, no global pandemic hitting us worse than any other country. It sure makes you wonder. What else will happen?

I miss hugs, and students, and sounds in the halls. I miss feeling connected to many of my friends. I miss my husband and myself not being so crabby sometimes. I miss a lot of things. I wonder how many we will gain back?

DATE: 15 November 2020

#Cases of COVID in the US = 11.1 million

#Deaths by COVID in the US = 246,000

Death Rate in US = 2.22%

#Cases of COVID Worldwide = 54.3 million

#Deaths by COVID Worldwide = 1.32 million

Death Rate Worldwide = 2.43%

All the Boats in the Harbor

I grew up in the summers on a large island off the coast of Maine. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you well know this. I grew up on Mount Desert Island, and lived there until about 5 years ago, when I returned to Austin, Texas.

Mount Desert Island (MDI) is a tourism community that attracts 2 million people in a normal summer; our year-round population is a smidge less than 10,000. There are many funny comments from tourists that islanders have to endure, and lately, one has been sticking in my memory.

I can see Bar Harbor in the summer clearly in my mind’s eye. There are pleasure boats, whale boats, lobster boats, and dinghies moored there, bobbing up and down in the water, as the currents and the winds shift. Bar Harbor is an open harbor so really is only used in the summer, due to its lack of protection from winter storms. Tourists often look out into that harbor and see all the boats on their moorings, with the mainland beyond, and ask: “how do they get all the boats to face the same direction?”

Whenever this particular question is uttered, we laugh, albeit inwardly. Of course, it is the water currents, not the mooring, that determine how the boats set in the water.

COVID has now been raging for months: it feels like forever. I remember I said I was going to write here every day, and that never materialized. I have now decided to be more patient and gentle with myself, and write whenever I feel that I can. There are all sorts of below-the-surface water currents at work, causing us all to drift on this invisible tide.

Right now, schools are supposed to open as normal, and there is no plan for teacher or staff protection. The President wants the whole country to re-open, and periodically shrieks about the stock market and the NASDAQ, as if that means anything to 15 million unemployed people. The Texas governor issued a mask order last week, in the midst of a fury of anti-mask propaganda. I canceled my Facebook account yesterday: well, I put it on a 7 day hiatus, but after reading articles like this one, I am fairly certain I am on the path to permanently deleting it next week. I was in a meeting last week and described the feeling of being in the Upside Down, if the Upside Down was made of molasses; it is as if we are in a crazy parallel reality where truth is not valued, science has been relegated to the side lines, and time seems to move very strangely.

I don’t know what else to say except that times feel dark, and strange, and scary, and it is very hot (at least we have air conditioning!). I have been sewing almost obsessively, and watercoloring scenes from my life for a new quilt. I will share some of those when I have a few more ready. Some memories are good, some poignant, some sad; very much like the life they reflect.

I have been emailing with an old boyfriend from 20 years ago, and I think we have been comfort for each other in these strange days. Cody and I seem to not be a consistent comfort to each other, but I read an article about that, too. I feel very grateful for my friends at this time, for my dog Oscar, for my family in England who I can FaceTime with, and for the myriad stories I can engage with on television and in books. I spend a lot of time in contemplation and reflection, thinking about all the stages of my life, and of other’s lives, and how many, definite chapters we all experience. Life marches on despite our existence in the vacuum of COVID-19.

In some ways, this time reminds me of working in the studio in Northeast Harbor very late at night in the winters, when it was so dark outside that I couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet out of the front window, where the lights shone. I remember the blackness of the branches of the trees, the sound of the winter wind, the deep glow of electric light in a sea of winter black. None of us can see where this goes or when it ends, although many of us would like to know.

Despite the looks of the boats in harbors worldwide, there is no one undercurrent pulling us in one direction or another. There is, unfortunately, tension and mis-management, megalomania, fear, the unknown, wishes, rebellion, new ideas, anger, and a bit of hope. I just bought some very bright fabric to make quilts for the many babies that I know are on their way into this crazy world.

Back to sewing. With love, P

Date: 8 July 2020

Worldwide Cases: 12,009,301

Worldwide Deaths: 548,822

Worldwide Mortality Rate: 4.57%

United States Cases: 3,110,000

United States Deaths: 134,000

United States Mortality Rate: 4.30%

A Mid-Year Reflection

My plan to write here,  even just a little bit, each day has fallen apart. My biggest explanation as to why is being sheerly overwhelmed by all that has happened. The United States has the most cases of any country in the world, and the highest number of deaths. Our President, who was woefully inadequate before the pandemic, now has shrouded the White House in miles of fencing and barricades to keep the protestors away from him. Protestors by the thousands are peacefully marching, now, after a week of fire and destruction brought on by three incidences of racist police brutality in a row. We are all expected to “go back to normal” despite the knowledge that the pandemic still boils in our communities, and there is a 19% unemployment rate with little being done to help those people who lost their jobs; these are the same people whose lives are impacted most by police brutality and lower-quality schools that lead to lower-paying jobs.

In other words, it is a hot mess express out there.

I don’t have very many words for it all right now, except that it seems so incredibly sad, but also incredibly predictable, that this would happen in the United States after 40 years of destabilizing social programs and a destructive and addictive dependency on capital development over anything else. We have been out of school since mid-March, and all I hope is that we go back in August. No one seems to have a plan or even a specific idea about how to manage this transition, and my explanation is that schools don’t make money so they are not a priority. Isn’t that it?

My garden is beautiful and I have to look at that as an analogy for these frightening times. I have tended my garden well during the pandemic: literally and figuratively. I have spoken to friends, worked on creative projects, continued with graduate school, begun to work on school work for the fall, and stepped outside each day to plant living things. These are the only spaces of control that I have.

I often wonder about how people felt during the last pandemic. There was no information overload. Perhaps they only knew what was happening in their town or on their street. Perhaps they knew much more? I feel that I know nothing, except that my government has lost the last shreds of authority, accountability and usefulness that they had in early 2020.

There is an election in November. Even NPR is talking about the possibility of the President not accepting the results. What happens then? What will happen this week?

Gods help us.

Date: 8 June 2020

Worldwide Cases: 7,049,649

US Cases: 1,946,144

Worldwide Deaths: 409,821

US Deaths: 116,929

Mortality Rate (Worldwide): 5.81%

Mortality Rate (USA): 6.00%

An Aside

I woke up late today; it is raining, and I always oversleep on rainy days.

I went outside to take the puppy out and check on the bees. I gathered their sugar syrup feeder jars and chatted with them, noticing that they were irritated this morning and kept flying at my head, buzzing away. I assume they were annoyed with me sleeping in and annoyed that today will be cold and rainy, again.

I walked back to the house and noticed that some of the sunflowers are about to bloom. I noticed a mockingbird scraping her bill on an old piece of oak from the post oak that we took down last year. I heard birds sing and watched them balance on the power lines. The wind lightly blew, and it was cool, but not cold.

I smiled, realizing that if there wasn’t a global pandemic that threatens not only health, but economy and democracy, this morning would be have been purely gorgeous. And it is, of course, actually that.

I wish there was more information, anecdotal or otherwise, from the Spanish Flu Pandemic. I would like to read peoples’ stories and learn how the process developed, what turns the pandemic took, how people responded, and then how it ended. Perhaps I should go to the library…oh, wait.

I was really down yesterday: worried about everything. I was sad and angry and wistful and full of grief, all at the same time. It lifted sometime in the evening when I started sewing, so that is a lesson in an of itself.

This morning, this perfect morning, I will make some toast and get back to it. I am sitting at my table looking at my favorite Mola that I brought back from my zany trip to Panama 5 years ago, I am drinking tea, I am listening to the neighbor’s rooster crow from his little cell. The puppy is sniffing and snuffling around. Cody is sleeping. I can see the roses through the front windows, and the blooms of the Jerusalem Sage as well, and beyond that, the neighbor’s giant red barn.

There is peace in these moments; in this time, many gifts.

Date: 18 April 2020

Cases: 2,273,986

United States: 706,832

Deaths: 156,076

Mortality Rate: 6.683%

 

 

 

It feels like waiting while revolving in circles – like a strange carousel.

Tomorrow, the Governor of Texas is slated to give a speech, about what we don’t know.

Today, the superintendent announced that we won’t go back to school this year. This makes me feel sad, but I understand, I think, that it is temporary.

This is such a strange time, during which it seems that no one knows anything and people are dying right and left. Some people want the economy to get back in its groove but everyone is afraid. It seems like everyone in charge is flailing, and, in the meantime, all of us just wait.

I spent today calling students and gardening, playing with my puppy, and wondering about the world at large. I tried to decide if I should cancel my flights for the summer, or hold out hope that it may all turn out ok. I learned from American Airlines that I can cancel up to the day before and rebook anytime before December 2021. December 2021? What will happen by then?

Today’s Guide to Opening Up America Again *

*I never want to hear the word “again” used in a political slogan ever *again*.

22 million people have applied for unemployment 

 

Date: 16 April 2020

Cases: 2,158,033

United States: 671,151

Deaths: 144,211

Mortality Rate: 6.682%

All the Feelings

Tonight, I miss my students. I miss them so much, and in tandem with that feeling, I feel fear. My fear is rooted in the worry that we have lost something fundamental, not in schools, but in our society. I am afraid that the “normal” course of things is now fundamentally altered. I just finished watching “Friday Night Lights” for the 5th or 6th time, and all of the things that I saw for those kids in the last two episodes of the show may not come true for our kids, simply because our economy as we knew it was a lie it seems, or at least, it was true only for a few.

I spent this morning talking to my friend Von about all of it, and I think we have a pretty solid plan to see how things go over the next year, and then maybe all (the friend group) try to leave the United States for greener, perhaps Italian, pastures. Everything seem so confusing and as if a giant rug was yanked out from underneath all of us at the same time. 16 million people have lost their jobs? And yet, I sit on a couch with a puppy watching  “Apollo 13” because it was just the 50th anniversary the other day. Maybe it was yesterday?

Anyway – there are good things happening. There are the birds and the bees and new variegated geraniums and the fact that our house now has a/c and heat for the first time since we bought it. Our friends and family are fine. We are getting along great, although there are stories of the opposite being true. I suspect if you didn’t get along before the pandemic, you sure as hell aren’t getting along now.

This is non-sequitor, but important. Today I received an application for Early College High School from a student who was rather well known for being a scamp earlier in the year. Then, he went to Mexico for three weeks, returned and was transferred into my class. The kid and I just got along really, really well and he turned himself around and started to take his schoolwork seriously. He passed one half of his college entrance exams. I called him a couple of times over this strange break of ours and asked him to apply to ECHS. He said he would think about it, and I gave him til last Thursday to tell me either way, no pressure. He called me back and told me he wanted to do it, and then I dropped off applications at his brother’s house (no contact on the porch!). Late this afternoon, I received 5 photos via text, which were his full-page essays that he wrote explaining his goals, his challenges, and his three best qualities. The school counselor, who received his application, wrote me to say “wow”. This one incident let me know that maybe I did something good this year, despite how strangely it has (almost) ended.

I worry about our future and our kids, even though I know I have no control over this. People say this a lot: we have no control over x or y or z, but that doesn’t change the feelings. I was listening to a podcast today and the host said that she felt we should stop saying “how are you?” because no one has a good answer, and we should come up with something else. I wish someone would come up with something else to say to me instead of “you can’t control x, y or z”, or perhaps I should learn non-attachment. Perhaps both.

Tonight, it is late and I am so tired and just hope to sleep tonight. I am having so much trouble sleeping, and so many others are, too. But, suffice it to say, I did not realize how much love I had for my students, and for the “normal” way of life until a few weeks ago. This too shall pass, but into what?

Date: 16 April 2020

Cases: 2,064,815

United States: 639,628

Deaths: 137,020

Mortality Rate: 6.64%

 

 

 

 

It’s Been a Few Days

It has been a few days. I haven’t known what to say, but by now I just think I am shirking a responsibility so I will try my best.

By tomorrow there will be 2 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The United States is still beating everyone in our number of cases, and now, our number of deaths. Our federal government continues to fail miserably at anything resembling leadership. New York City seems like a death trap, but the governor of New York actually knows how to lead, so that is something. It seems that the resolution of this crisis will only come from the states, but primarily, the individuals that experience it. It seems that the world is lacking leadership: there is no one who has stepped in. I hear that the women presidents of the world are doing a wonderful job, but we hear nothing of them here.

I suppose I feel cynical today. I feel cynical about the United States and where it is going, and where it is. After all, I only became a citizen a few years ago, in 2015. It has been 4 years. I am considering renouncing my citizenship to this country that now seems patently absurd and abjectly cruel to its people. How can a president almost mock his own peoples’ suffering, disregard it, and only care about the levels of money that he and his friends can earn? It is despicable, it is deplorable. It is the lowest point yet of a low-road presidency. I have been hesitant to write my inner desire to renounce my US citizenship out of fear that someone will read this and take me to task, but now, I think it is all right to be honest.

Where do we go from here? What happens to the world? Will it all just go screaming forward into “normal”? 4 million garment workers lost their jobs in Asia, and none of them get stimulus money from their governments, although I can guarantee you in 2 years, they will be back, forced into factory work so that folks in the United States can buy t-shirts for $5. Or maybe not. Maybe the Coronavirus COVID19 is so powerful that it really will stop us in our tracks. What does that mean? What would we all do? I think we all are so anxious at this moment that it is impossible to think clearly. We are all on edge and just trying to distract our minds from those moments of terror and concern.

I miss hugging my friends and having dinner parties with them. I just baked a new cake, a parsnip cake, from the Lost Kitchen cookbook and it smells divine. I can’t wait to make if for them. I am waiting to receive a new book, written by a namesake, and I am very much looking forward to devouring its pages and begin crafting my own minor masterpiece. It sits in a box to my right, begging me to dive in.

What will we all do? It is impossible to know. All I know is that today and each day are very tiring in their complexity and their lack of clear information and facts. Perhaps it is by design? Perhaps it is a pandemic.

Date: 14 April 2020

Cases: 1,920,985

United States: 582,580

Deaths (Worldwide): 119,686

Mortality Rate (Worldwide): 6.23%

Dystopian Worry

These last few days, I have been drowning in worry. I have been enmeshed it in, held down by it, choked by it, pressured by it, swayed by it, distracted by it, addled by it. It has held me by the throat. Everything seems so chaotic and insane, like how could it have all been so fragile that it fell apart in just a few weeks? Just like all the dystopian fiction I have read for all of these years, those stories were exactly right in predicting the pace of the dominoes falling.

But then there is another side to this. The control piece is the other side, and the reality is that there is no control now or any other time. I think, though, that the now feels so out of control it is rather starkly constructed with the relative peace of “before”. Let’s say that, anyway. And add to that a lack of leadership so profound it seems that no one cares, let alone has the skill, to lead. We are all just watching it unfold in real-time. And real-time feels fast sometimes, and sometimes ever…so…slow.

I type this sitting by a cook fire in my garden. I can hear crickets and frogs, birds, and my neighbor’s little girl on her playscape. I can hear the distant sound of trucks on the highway, and sometimes one even drives down our road, past our house. The dog just barked at a toad: I don’t think he’d ever seen one before. The wind plays with my hair, and the almost full moon is caught in wispy clouds over the eastern sky. The sun has almost set, and tomorrow is….Tuesday?

Where do we place worry, or free-floating anxiety when we have nowhere to go, when we are asked to stay at home and do nothing? When we are no longer working, except for maybe an hour or two, here and there. When we are asked to not go out to shops, to wander, to talk with friends on their patios. When we are asked to be at home with our family and our own thoughts for the third week in a row. The mind reels, wobbles, pursues strange rabbit holes of thought and indecision, concern, and worry. But then it passes, again, to another rabbit hole or recipe, project or paranoia.

I have seen more beautiful meals cooked and photographed on Instagram than ever: people are getting crafty out there, My friend Shanarra is making COVID-19 themed quarantine cocktails that just sound lovely and have many snarky, slightly ironic names. People are challenging themselves to create beauty out of what they have, rather than seeking it from someone else, outside of themselves, with a perfectly curated vision of beauty and bliss, Perhaps it is becoming more real.

This experience, while bizarre, does feel like the Maine winter. We have come through the first phase in which we accept it is winter and we will be snowed in quite a bit and have begun to look around for things to do on snow days. Some people are still trying to pretend that nothing has changed. My friend Linda once told me that winter forces you to know the nooks and crannies of your own mind, and you might be surprised as to what you find in there. I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment. I found anxiety and worry and irrational fear, not of the virus, but of society’s lack of security and stability in the face of grave trial. Queen Elizabeth spoke yesterday of the strength of Britons, and I took some solace from her. She is right, and she has been alive a lot longer than me.

Tonight I was staring at the evening star through whispy, humid clouds and wondering what to do, and a little voice in my head said: publish your book. Work on your book. That is something that I can do, and I do have a lot of time.

I am hoping I can take some tools from my toolbox and try to remember that anxiety is fear feeling real, but it’s not real, really. I will try to remember to breathe and bake a yummy cake I have been wanting to try, and roast some veggies and call friends I haven’t chatted with yet this quarantine time. I have to remember that the bees don’t care about COVID-19: they are off to the races, and after all, they are the lynchpin to our food system. The bees’ work is much more important than my worries.

Perspective,  I think, is my takeaway tonight. I hope you out there are doing all right. Stay home, stay safe, be well. Create something beautiful out of weird stuff around your house. You never know what it might end up meaning to you.

Date: 6 April 2020

Cases: 1,346,299

United States: 367,507

Deaths: 74,679

Mortality Rate: 5.547%

Mother Superior Jumped the Gun

Today was better; the sun came out and there seemed to be hope about. I worried all evening last night about losing our jobs and losing our home that we love so much. I worried about friends and loved ones, students and their parents.

I have no control over any of this: I have to remember that. Today we rehomed some bees that had swarmed in an old hackberry tree. We put them in a new box and watched them get busy in their new abode. They plainly stated that they don’t care a whit about the coronavirus.

But all of us humans, do. I had to go to Tractor Supply to get a bee feeder and no one, including cashiers, was wearing a mask. No surprises there. After, at HEB, almost half the customers were wearing masks and I felt better for the cashiers than I had felt in days.

Tomorrow I am tempted to make masks with funny lips on them: smiles, grins, glares, etc. What else is there to do? It seems so odd we will be doing this for at least another month.

Date: 5 April 2020

Cases: 1,273,990

United States: 337,310

Deaths: 69,444

Mortality Rate: 5.450%