The pandemic splits the thin veneer of civilized behavior
like a heavy maul falling on delicate antique wood
and wild fear emerges and riots through the streets
while some hide, some stay calm
and try to sooth the selfish unleashed beast
A friend calls me yesterday, complaining that the new Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t prevent infection nearly enough for him to want to get it. He is in his 70s and says darn it, he’d still have a 60% chance of getting infected.
I thought about it and wrote back this morning:
Re the new vaccine the POINT is NOT to prevent infection, though it lessens it in codgers like me and you.
The point is that the vaccinated younger people shed a s–tload less virus if they get it, because their immune system kills it fast. This reduces the amount of circulating virus so that the codgers stop dying like flies. Also the codgers get less sick if their immune system recognizes B4 and B5.
Got it? Get the vaccine.
I am waiting for the top ten causes of death for 2021 to come out. Over one million US people have died of Covid-19. In 2020, there were between 300-400,000 deaths from Covid. That means that we lost 600-700,000 in 2021. If we lost close to 700,000 people, then Covid-19 would beat out heart disease as the number one cause of death in the US. When did that last happen? During the 1918-1920 influenza, the “Spanish” flu that has been traced to a chicken farm in the US midwest.
Here is a fascinating chart: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/lead1900_98.pdf. If you scroll to the end, the top two causes of death in 1900 were pneumonia first and tuberculosis. Heart was fourth. Heart rises to first in 1910 but then pneumonia is back at the top in 1918-1920. I think that the heart has been number one ever since, in the US. World top ten is not the same.
This is not the first pandemic and it won’t be the last. It is horrible. I think that everyone is doing the best they can, though some responses seem saner than others. Remember the old doctor joke about what to do in a code (when someone’s heart has stopped). First: check your own pulse. It’s a corollary that if the patient is dead, you can try to bring them back, but you can’t make them more dead. Also, my latest Advanced Cardiac Life Support class, on line, told me that sometimes I do not have to do cardiac life support. Their example was a decapitated patient. Really? Ouch, doctor humor. But truly, if you are freaking out or want to scream at someone or feel like the world is nuts and you have to do something, first check your own pulse. Slow it down. Breath in four and out four. I can drop my pulse from 101 to 71 in 20 seconds, just by slowing my breathing. You can learn to too.
My recommendation is that if you are due for the booster, get it. And thank you for protecting me and my friend and the other codgers.
No, it is not snowing here yet. But codger seems to be a word for an old GUY. Humph. Would a grumpy hummingbird be a grummer? What is a female codger? I am using codger for any gender, to heck with it.
In 2013, Catherine Hodes, director of the Safe Homes Project (a domestic-violence program), started a workshop called “Is it Conflict or Abuse?” An abusive dynamic, she argues, requires one person to have power over the other, whereas conflict involves two people struggling for power. The distinction can be confusing, and in some cases “both people feel like they’re being abused, because they’re not getting their needs met or they’re not getting their way.”
From the Atlantic Monthly article: That’s it, you’re dead to me. September 2022 p. 14.
I think this is a fascinating idea, in the article that questions the internet wisdom of getting rid of “toxic people” in one’s life. When we cut off someone we consider “toxic”, we aren’t peaceing them, are we? Peace me, peace you, how do we actively peace people instead of being afraid, on guard, at war. I think everyone is more afraid after the two years of Covid 19 pandemic and all of the deaths and the Long Haul Covid and war. Everyone has a shorter fuse, everyone is stressed.
Remember that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system. The body makes less thyroid and less sex hormones and makes more adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid and great for short term, but bad for long term. If we are continually stressed, cortisol messes up the immune system and we get auto-immune disorders, the body attacking its’ own cells. The adrenaline raises our heart rate and blood pressure, neither of which are good for the heart long term. When the thyroid hormone is on the low side, we feel tired. The adrenaline makes us feel wired and we have trouble sleeping. The cortisol makes us more likely to get sick and raises blood sugar too. The low sex hormones, well, women can stop menses and men start asking for viagra.
So we as a world, need to learn to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system and go back to parasympathetic. The relaxed one. The one where we have less adrenaline and less high cortisol and more thyroid and our gut works and sex works again. How do we get there?
Breathing is one way. Slow breathing: 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Work up to 20 minutes. One of my veterans said he was not used to feeling relaxed, it felt weird. Ok, it may feel weird, but maybe we need to practice it. He did. There is circular breathing too, 5 seconds in, 5 hold, 5 out, 5 hold. Zen meditation, facing a wall for 40 minutes, works too. We try not to follow the thoughts. The thoughts pop up anyhow, but not following them down the rabbit hole is interesting and challenging. Mindful mediation and Jon Kabat Zinn’s books and tapes work as well. It takes practice. Practice peace, practice relaxing. Doesn’t that sound like a lovely practice?
Stupid cat videos work for me too. Laughter works. What makes you laugh? I like the silly animal videos, the moose playing with the wind chimes, three baby bears rescued (with care) from a dumpster, with the truck driving off to avoid momma bear. Rocking, knitting, sewing, fishing, walking the beach, cuddling a baby, dancing, listening to music, playing music. Which works for you? Silly movies. I don’t like horror movies, and I love cartoons and animation. Engage the child at heart for the parasympathetic nervous system.
In high school my daughter said that most fights were stupid. “One person says something without thinking. The other person goes off and gets upset. She stops talking to person one, who has no idea what is going on, and they often talk to their friends. So there is this big fight over some dumb comment.”
I don’t think it ends with high school, sadly enough. And before we label someone “toxic”, maybe we need to wander off and breathe, or watch a silly cat video. Whatever works for you that doesn’t hurt others.
We need more parasympathy in the world. Yep, I just made that word up. Relax and if you can’t or won’t, consider practicing.
I keep reading bits about despair and about how a generation of children is being “ruined” by the pandemic.
Not so, I say. There is hope. We need to support each other to survive and then to thrive.
This generation WILL have a higher than average ACE score. If the Adverse Childhood Experience scale is from zero to eight, children in this time period will have at least one higher point than average and many will have three or four or more. Loss of a parent, a sibling, beloved grandparents during covid. Increases in domestic violence, child abuse and addiction. These are all part of the ACE score.
What does this do to children? They have survival brain wiring. They will do their best to survive what is happening. A friend and I both have high ACE scores, 5 or more, and we are both oppositional defiant. We showed this in different ways. He grew up in the same community. He escaped from home and knew all the neighbors. He walked to the local church and attended at age 3 or 4. He has lived in this community all his life.
His oppositional defiance showed up at home, where he consistently refused to obey. And in school, where he confounded and disobeyed teachers and passed anyhow.
My family moved every 1-5 years. I hated moving. I wouldn’t talk to kids in a new school for a year. It was very difficult. So my oppositional defiance was very very internal. I hid in books and in my head. In 6th grade I got in trouble for hiding novels inside the school book I’d already read. I also would just not listen and my respect for the teacher got even lower when she would be angry that I knew the answer to the question once she’d repeated it. I wasn’t listening because I was bored. She was the first teacher that I thought, well, she is not very bright. The next year they stuck me in the honors class and I stopped being bored, though I still questioned practically every opinion every teacher had. I wanted evidence and I did not believe it just because the teacher said it.
I am not saying that oppositional defiance is in every high ACE score. I don’t know that. Why oppositional defiance? Imagine you are a small child and you are beaten. There isn’t rhyme or reason. You can’t predict when the adult will be out of control. Why would you behave “well” if it makes no difference? You might as well do what you want, because nothing you do will change the adult. Or imagine you are a small child who is with one person, passed to another, then to another. You may not exactly trust adults after two or three repetitions. And you want to survive.
There is an increase in addictions, behavioral health diagnoses, and chronic illness in adults with a high ACE score. A researcher when I first heard a lecture about it said, “We think perhaps that addiction is a form of self medication.” I thought, oh, my gosh, how are we ever going to treat THIS? Well, we have to figure that out now, and we’ve had 30 years to work on it.
I was very comfortable with the oppositional defiant patients in clinic. I got very good at not arguing with them and not taking their behavior personally. They might show up all spiky and hostile and I might be a little spiky and gruff back: sometimes that was enough. I think the high ACE score people often recognize each other at some level, though not always a conscious one. With some people I might bring up ACE scores and ask about their childhood. Sometimes they wanted to discuss it. Sometimes they didn’t. Either was ok.
One thing we should NOT do is insist that everyone be “nice”. We had a temporary doctor who told us her story. Her family escaped Southeast Asia in a boat. They had run out of water and were going to die when they were found by pirates. The pirates gave them water. They made it to land and were in a refugee camp for eight years or so. She eventually made it to the US. She was deemed too “undiplomatic” for our rural hospital. I wondered if people would have said that if they knew her history and what she had been through. It’s not exactly a Leave it to Beaver childhood, is it? When she was telling us about nearly dying of thirst in the boat, my daughter left her chair and climbed on my lap. She was under ten and understood that this was a true and very frightening story.
We can support this generation of children. This has been and is still being Adverse Experiences for adults as well. Family deaths, job loss, failure of jobs to support people, inflation. Remember the 1920s, after World War I and the last pandemic, of influenza. “On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the 18th Amendment.” (wikipedia). There were forces trying to legislate behavior, as there are now. The result in 1920s of making alcohol illegal was speakeasies, illegal alcohol, and violence. Some people acted wild after WWI and the influenza pandemic and some people tried to lock down control, by controlling other peoples’ behavior. It did not work then and it will not work now. The wildness is out of control grief, I think, grief dysfunctional and drinking and shooting and doing anything and everything, legal or not. We remember how the 1920s ended too. Let us not repeat that. Let us mourn and grieve and support each other and support each other’s decisions and autonomy.
My first achievement for today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt is spelling achievement. And no, I did not spell it correctly on the first try.
My daughter has finished her first two years of teaching eighth grade, during Covid-19. She taught remotely until March of 2021 and then in person. She worked on her teaching certificate the first year and finished her Masters last month. She is SOOOO amazing!
Hooray for ALL of the teachers who continued to teach during Covid-19, remotely, in person, hugs and prayers and sending love.
I had covid recently AND I have been very lucky with it.
Ok, so when the war started I had been talking to a friend in Europe about visiting. He said nice seasons were May and September, but he and his wife have a kitchen make over planned for September.
“My son is getting married at the end of April, after two year long postponements, and so May doesn’t seem feasible. Maybe next May.”
Then the war starts. And it is affecting gasoline and causing inflation. I call my friend. “Can I come in two weeks?” March to early April.
“Yes. We have other guests a week after that.”
“Ok.” I try to get a British Airways ticket to stop in London to see an old friend from high school. British Airways has a computer attack and three days go by. To heck with it. I buy a ticket to Paris and on to my friend’s country.
I spend an hour on the phone trying to change to a layover in Paris for three days. I manage that. I fly to Paris and then take the train to London. Three wonderful days with my friend in London. I mask on planes, metros and trains. I double mask on the airplane, with my oxygen, and use a ceramic straw to drink liquids.
After three days I take the train back to Paris, the local train to the airport, and fly to my old friend’s. I arrive at midnight and we take the metro.
We do lots of sightseeing and take a memory trip to his parents’ graves and the town we lived in when I was 17 and he was 18.5. I was an exchange student. The language comes back. I can read but listening is more difficult. My brain won’t process it fast enough.
Four days before I am due to fly back, I get an email from AirFrance. I need a negative PCR covid test within 24 hours of flying to return to the US.
Well. I have a mild headache and muscle aches. Probably not covid, BUT. I go online, register in the country for a test and go to the testing site. Positive. I read about covid. The muscle aches of this strain usually happen at day 4-5. I did notice that going from London to Paris to my destination four days earlier, I feel a little off balance. Not bad, not spinning, just slightly weird. So my guess is that I am at day 4 or 5 of covid.
My hosts have both had covid within the last month, so I am not confined to my room. I read the rules for being allowed on the airplane once you HAVE covid. I have to wait 11 days, have a certificate of the test and then the eleven day certificate saying cleared. I isolate for 5 days, spend about 8 hours rescheduling the flight with Air France and Delta, and contact my doctor. My doc wants me to take medicine, but the local medical people where I am say I am not sick enough. I agree with the local people. The headache is gone the next day, I have mild sniffles, and my lungs are fine. Well, at least, they are no worse.
When I am out of isolation, I take a train to another town masked and stay at a hotel for four days. In that country, 80% of the people are vaccinated and 80% have had covid. They are no longer masking, except a few. I am feeling good. I mask when I am around other people and in all public spaces in the hotel.
The trip home is rather more exciting than I would like. At the airport I am informed that I need a doctor clearance ALSO. They say retest. I say “I AM a doctor.” and pull out a copy of my license. I brought it just in case the war spread and I needed to help out. They let me on the plane. In Paris I nearly miss my connection, but am one of the last 8 people on the plane. I am very relieved once we take off.
The silver lining is that at my son’s wedding I am now very unlikely to get covid or give anyone covid and mine was very mild. The Omicron BA2.12.1 that is circulating in Europe is milder than the previous strains AND ten times more contagious or more. So the covid is morphing towards a cold, which is what coronaviruses used to do to us. There are some strains that I read about that are going in a more virulent direction, so I would prefer to have the mild one and be protected from the nasty ones.
I am hoping that it’s more and more Omicron BA2.12.1, since it seems to be milder. I am reassured that covid did not make my lungs worse. Within a week I am better from covid and then get what seems like a normal cold. Covid testing negative. I am feeling well for the wedding and reassured that a normal cold does not force me on to continuous oxygen. I am feeling lucky about the version of covid that I have but I am NOT recommending that people get it on purpose, because even with mild covid, some people go on to develop long covid. Here is an article that I got yesterday through the American Academy of Family Practice:
Long covid is very worrisome and we don’t know what it will look like after a year or more. Many of the present studies are on unimmunized people, from the first year of covid, so the studies of immunized are still evolving. There is hope that there is less risk of long covid with immunization but there is still a risk.
Covid will continue to morph into different strains. We continue to get “colds” or “upper respiratory infections” because the viruses are very very good and fast at changing and avoiding our immune systems. Consider checking the CDC data tracker above regularly to see if your county or your destination has a high covid level and if so, mask back up.
One caveat: my local health department says we have a high level of transmission right now, here:
This video is from 2011. I was invited to be a speaker and had ten minutes to present the Mad as Hell Doctor program, talking about single payer healthcare, medicare for all.
If there is a good thing to get from Covid-19, for me it is single payer healthcare. Because doctors and nurses and staff are worn out, sick, quitting, dying. We need people to take out sick appendixes. We need people to work in nursing homes. We need to support our medical people and I am NOT talking about insurance corporations. They are making more profit than ever. Twenty percent of every dollar paid to them or more.
People say, but it’s socialized medicine, to have medicare for all. Well, no. The only socialized medicine in the US currently is the Veterans Administration. No one that I talk to wants to take away Veterans benefits. Or any of the other government programs: medicare, medicaid, active duty military. The oldest, the poorest and disabled and the people defending our country.
But physicians can do a better job if they are not worrying about prior authorization from 500 + companies, each with multiple different insurance contracts, and who can change what they cover at any time. I get emails all the time: we have changed what we cover. Great. Like I have time to read and learn 500+ insurance contracts. I memorize medicare rules and they change too. Medicare for all, one set of rules and then if you ask if something is covered, we will know.
I am not the only physician who wants single payer: Physicians for a National Healthcare Program.
The answer is yes, yes, yes. And there would be a continuous ongoing battle about what is covered and what isn’t but that already happens. For two reasons: medicine changes continuously as the science changes and there is a vocal strong fringe, which is occasionally correct. I don’t trust the fringe, but then I don’t trust insurance companies, herbal medicine makers or politicians either.
I can’t credit the videographer because I did not know that the video was being taken or that it was posted. I found out when a new patient said she was seeing me because of my video. I had to look it up.
I am thinking about the roaring twenties a lot. I think people went a little nuts, not because of the war, but because they had difficulty being emotionally honest about the influenza pandemic. I think we humans will do it again to forget the deaths, to go into denial, to refuse to grieve.
Yes, that is my prediction.
Be very quiet, I am hunting wabbits.
Be careful in our future roaring twenties. Money will flow like honey and people will go nuts. Hold fast, hunker down, don’t go out without your macintosh, wear clean underwear. Remember what your mother told you, remember what your father tells you. Because that was followed by the Depression and that is one risk.
I don’t know if it will start this spring or next spring. Ok, I AM hoping that my son and future daughter-in-law can get married in early May, since they’ve put it off for two years. But. The 1918-19 influenza was really three years, not two. It tailed off. Half the people in the world got it. In Samoa, half the adults died, or was it 70%? They had little exposure to infection but a ship brought it. They KNEW they were high risk, but a sailor didn’t know he was sick yet.
Why a roaring twenties? Because we want to forget this pandemic, as the last one was forgotten. Our history books say that the Roaring Twenties was about the end of World War I. We teach lots about that. We barely mention the influenza world pandemic. I am reading a book about the 1918-19 influenza pandemic published in 2018. The author says that it is only now, 100 years later, that we are starting to really tell the stories of that pandemic. She gathers stories from all over the world, including stores of different infection control strategies in two cities. One guessed right and one guessed wrong, and in the wrong one, way more people died.
I read about that 1918-19 pandemic after influenza nearly killed me in 2003. I was 42, healthy, a physician, a mother, an athlete. I had NO risk factors except stress. Now it looks like it was a PANS reaction, but at the time, neither my doctor nor I could figure out why I was short of breath and tachycardic walking across a room for two months. Fatigue, chest pain, tachycardia, shortness of breath. Hmmm, what does that sound like? My partners thought I was faking and I was so sick that I could barely communicate. The stresses were my mother dying of ovarian cancer in May 2000 and my marriage being pretty on the rocks and me working way too hard. My psychiatrist said I should take time off. I said, I can’t. He said, you’d better. Then I got flu. “See?” he said. The body decides, not the conscious brain. He was correct, damn him.
The book I read in 2004 looked dry and medical from the outside. It had pages and pages of footnotes. It had photographs of Los Angeles. They knew the influenza was coming towards them like a wave and they tried to get ready. Bodies under sheets were stacked five deep in the hallways of the hospitals. It hit that fast. People, usually age 20-50, turned blue and fell over dead. WHY? It was the immune response. The 20-50 year olds had a better immune response than the 50 and older and their lungs would swell until there was no airspace left. Even then, that pandemic death rate was only 1-2 % in the US. But it was so fast and spread so quickly that everything was disrupted because it was the workers that were deathly ill and at home and there was no one to work.
People wore masks in public, except for the mask refusers, but not in their homes. So entire families would get ill. I don’t think they had figured out viral loads yet. If you are the last one standing, and you are trying to take care of a spouse and six children, you were high risk from viral load and exhaustion.
The Roaring Twenties WAS a way to grieve, it’s just a dysfunctional one. The stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, grief and acceptance. My sister said that acting out and revenge ought to be added as stages of grief. She died of breast cancer after fighting it for 8 years. Roaring is denial and bargaining and acting out and revenge, all at once. Everyone grieves differently, remember that. There is not an order to the stages of grief and you don’t do them once. You do them over and over and over.
I am a Cheerful Charlie, right?
War is one way to forget/deny/act out. Let’s not do that. Let’s not have a civil war of forgetfulness and denial.
The good news is this: National Guard Empties Bedpans and Clips Toenails at Nursing Homes. “In Minnesota, an ambitious initiative is training hundreds of Guard members to become certified nursing assistants and relieve burned-out nursing home workers.” (1) Well, hooray, the National Guard is called out to help, because the nursing homes are out of staff and we aren’t supposed to abuse our elderly. I think this is AMAZING. And the National Guard may learn some things about work and the elderly too. Hoorah and Hooray!
The bad news is a snippet from New York State: Omicron is milder, BUT the exception may be children. (2) Child cases of Covid-19 are going up really fast and hospital admissions of children. ICU work is hard hard hard, but child and infant ICU is even harder. Blessings on the nurses who do this and the physicians too. When I did my pediatrics rotation way back in Richmond, VA, in a tertiary care hospital, I had children who were dying: one with a brain tumor, one with liver cancer, one with Wilm’s disease. Hard work. I chose Family Practice. I have still had pediatric patients die, including an 18 month old where I had taken care of mother through the pregnancy, but not terribly many. Even less in the last ten years since my average patient was about age 70. All of my kids in the last ten years were complicated: one with Down’s, another a leukemia survivor, others. Children can be very medically complicated. I had two adults who had survived infant heart surgery as well. They were set up with UW’s Adults who had Childhood Heart Surgery Clinic, though that is not the correct name. I am pretty happy to have that sort of back up only two hours away. They both had pretty awesome heart murmurs and that midline chest zipper scar. Ouch.
So, why post this on Christmas? If the cases are rising in children, maybe that will inspire some folks to get vaccinated or at least not yell at family who refuse to bring small children to an unvaccinated Christmas gathering. Judging by the posts on the doctor mom facebook group, there is quite a bit of family yelling going on. Stand down, folks, and respect other peoples’ boundaries.
The problem is, if enough children are sick, we run out of beds. And staff. “As of Thursday, there were 1,987 confirmed or suspected pediatric covid-19 patients hospitalized nationally, a 31 percent jump in 10 days, according to a Washington Post analysis.” (3)
I was thinking about masks and the whole “masks don’t work” or “masks are unproven*” thing. That is complete and utter crap. We proved masks work YEARS ago.
If they don’t work, do you mind if your surgeon don’t wear one? What about your nurse with a cough when you are in the ICU? I think we have proved quite definitively in the operating room that masks work.
Also, your family doc and OBgyn ain’t gonna NOT wear a mask when delivering baby because it can be REALLY SPLASHY. And some patients who are delivering a baby have hepatitis B or HIV or hepatitis C or whatever. WE DO NOT WANT TO CATCH IT SO WE WEAR MASKS. MASKS WORK.
And take tuberculosis. Tuberculosis bacillus is tiny and can be air borne, if you have active tuberculosis and cough. We use reverse flow rooms in the hospital with an airlock: a door to a small entry room, that has to close before you enter the inner patient room. And the air is slightly lower pressure so that air comes in from the airlock but doesn’t flow out. All the air out of the room is filtered to catch and kill the tuberculosis bacillus. We go in the airlock and put on nearly full gear: gown, gloves, mask, hair covers, shoe covers. When we come out, we take it all off in the airlock. We also keep a stethoscope in the room so that we don’t carry infection from patient to patient.
So the whole anti mask thing seems categorically insane to me.
Like, didn’t we figure out masks work back before the civil war? Or thereabouts. No, maybe later than that. Without masks and gloves we had all the women with post baby fever, who died like flies and most people died of infection after surgery. Until that coke addict at Johns Hopkins made people wear clean clothes and wash their damn hands before each surgery and wear gloves. Suddenly people survived post surgery at a much higher rate. Everyone came to train with him to imitate him. By 1897 everyone was wearing gloves to prevent infection. And so a brilliant coke addict invented medical residency, which is why residents are not allowed to sleep. We’ve gotten over that a bit.
Anyhow: masks work. Think, people, think.
*Usually the unnews qualifies this as “masks are not PROVEN to work with Covid-19”. What, you want a ten year clinical trial first? Are you crazy? And the resounding answer is “YES! We are crazy!”
Refugees welcome - Flüchtlinge willkommen I am teaching German to refugees. Ich unterrichte geflüchtete Menschen in der deutschen Sprache. I am writing this blog in English and German because my friends speak English and German. Ich schreibe auf Deutsch und Englisch, weil meine Freunde Deutsch und Englisch sprechen.