Conspiracy is easier than vulnerability and grief

“Our culture faces a flood of conspiracism” says the Atlantic Monthly.

My great Uncle forwards an article that says we are tracking along stages as we did to WWII.

I write back. No, I say, we are tracking towards WWI.

Because of Covid-19.

The problem with the pandemic is vulnerability and grief. It is difficult to be mature enough to accept vulnerability and grief. It is easier to find someone to blame and go after them. We can’t burn a virus, we can’t hang it in effigy, we can’t take it to court and give it the death penalty. Many people are terrified and do not want to feel vulnerable and do not want to grieve. So they fall into conspiracies: it is safer to believe that the pandemic is a lie, that alien lizards have taken over the US Government, that it is the fault of a country making it on purpose, or a race, or a religion. It is easier to believe that nanocomputers are being injected with the vaccine than to think about the number of dead. It is easier not to think about the number of dead, the terrifying randomness, to believe that this only affects people with preexisting conditions, or people who God wants to smite, or people the lizard aliens hate. Or that the whole thing is a lie.

We are mimicing the late 19 teens and early 1920s very well. A world pandemic. We have a war, that is not a world war. This time we have bombs capable of destroying current life on earth. We’d be left with tardigrades and those bacteria who live in the deep trenches in boiling water where the earth’s crust is thin. At least one of my friends thinks this might be a good thing.

We have just reached 8 billion people.

In London, the Black Death had a 50% kill rate in the 1400s. Half the people that got it died. It changed the world. Pandemics change the world. In this pandemic the death rate is about 1% or a little more. However, 10% to 30% of the people with Covid-19 have Long Covid. Today, Johns Hopkins says we are at 635 million people who have gotten Covid-19. 6.6 million or more are dead from it. Then we have between 65 million and 195 million people with Long Covid in the world.

We don’t know how long Long Covid lasts. We don’t know how to cure it. We do not know if we can cure it or if people will get better. We do not know, we do not know, we do not know.

Which is also terrifying. So the conspiracy and someone to hate or some group to hate or someone to fight is safer for many people.

Do not go there. We must grieve. We must help each other. We must face fear and not give in to it. We must not fall into the trap of the charismatic leader who will give us villains, who will lead us into a World War to distract us from our grief.

And from there into a world depression. Remember, the Roaring Twenties end with the worst depression the world has seen so far. Let us not repeat it, let us not beat it.

Peace you and blessings.

sleep and defiance

Oh, gosh, CNN is making everyone panic about sleep again: https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/08/health/sleep-deprivation-wellness/index.html

Don’t buy it. It used to be 8 hours. Now they are saying 7 in this article. SLEEP AT LEAST 7 HOURS OR YOUR BRAIN WILL MELT.

Nope. The media likes us to panic because it sells papers and gets shares. Don’t buy the hoopla.

After all, I took call at night for 30 years and my brain has not melted. (Ok, if you disagree, post your own blog, heh, heh.) Starting third year of medical school. Sometimes it was every third night, sometimes every fourth. We were often up and awake and working for much of the night and then through the next day. If we had to be ready for rounds at 8 am, we had to be there earlier to see the patients, check the lab work, check any studies, drink a gallon of coffee and then be coherent on rounds, where the faculty physician might quiz us about the nineteen causes of high potassium. Uh. Taking too much potassium is one. Kidney failure, diabetic ketoacidosis, etc, etc.

I made up the number nineteen.

Anyhow, I was a sleep rather than eat person. If we got a break, I would go to sleep and skip food. The bad rotations were obvious because my weight would drop. We’d meet for “nutrition rounds” in the morning. I would skip lunch, hoping to have it at home post call, but the list might have things added even as I ran around checking things off. At last I would stop for lunch at 2 or 3 or 4 because my brain was no longer functioning.

Doesn’t sound very healthy, does it?

Here is a post on sleep from 2015: https://drkottaway.com/2015/01/08/sleep/. I sent a copy to our sleep specialist and he liked it.

When I got my flu vaccination and covid booster a month ago, it hit me pretty hard. I am sleeping as I normally do at night, for 6.5-7 hours. But I also started napping, once or twice a day. I was sleeping 11 or 12 hours total daily. I canceled pulmonary rehabilitation exercise, because it wiped me out. I was starting to feel better after three weeks, so I restarted pulmonary rehab. I promptly slept 12 hours a day again and my muscles gave me HELL.

So what in the heck IS this? Well, healing. My body is knocking me out to do repair work. It’s sending a pretty clear message that running on a treadmill is not ok right now. My immune system is busy making antibodies and is saying HEY WE DO NOT HAVE ENERGY TO SPARE FOR ANYTHING ELSE. This is sort of annoying except that having had four rounds of really bad pneumonia, the last one requiring oxygen for a year, still on oxygen to sing and for heavy exertion, I am willing to listen to my body. It is annoying, but: my mother, father and sister are dead, so even though I am struggling some, I’m not dead. It’s all relative, right?

When I had pneumonia #3 (2014) and pneumonia #4 (2021), both times part of the healing is sleeping twelve hours a day. I went back to work six months after the 2014 one and promptly slept twelve hours a night. I was seeing 4-5 patients a day and could barely do that. I went into denial about chronic fatigue, but I knew I had it. NO WAY, I AM TOUGH. Well, I am tough, but that means chronic fatigue and not dead.

I do not worry about sleeping 7 hours a night or 8 hours. I sleep when I get sleepy. Naps are fine and one gets to relearn napping after age 50 or 60 and it’s ok. If you need to stay awake after lunch, have a small lunch and no alcohol. Alcohol is not good for sleep in the long term and neither is marijuana. Benzodiazepines are worse than either. Ambien and those drugs are approved for “short term” use, meaning two weeks. Great. We don’t know what it does if you are on it for years, but some of us note that those drugs are closely related to the benzodiazepines. I think the most addictive drug is tobacco, followed by benzodiazepines and then methamphetamines. That is from asking patients and observation over 30 years. There are individual quirks though, and I have had people say, “Alcohol is no problem but the first time I was given oxycodone I wanted more.” Sometimes there is a bit of denial in those statements.

The photograph is me doing my second sleep study last week. I scored. Um, or rather, it was a positive test. Sleep apnea, darn. I am now waiting for my bipap machine. The funny bit is that I had to drive an hour to the lab. I was supposed to be there at 8. I got there an hour early because I get really tired at night. The tech let me in and wired me up. “But,” she said, “you can’t go to sleep until 9, because I have another patient and they are not here yet.” “Ok,” I said. I read for a while in the chair, put my head back and (don’t tell) fell asleep.

She came back in, did the final connections and then left. There is a ceiling camera and a disembodied voice. We tested the connections. “Flex and extend your right foot.” “Now breath through your nose.” I did and immediately fell asleep. She woke me, “Breath through your mouth now.” “Was I asleep?” “Yes.” The wires didn’t bother me much, though I had to surface part way during the night to change position.

I’ve slept sitting up in hospital meetings. I fell asleep standing against the wall in medical school. It is really a blessing to be able to fall asleep.

The year my father died, I had a terrible time falling asleep. His will was very out of date, written 40+ years before. It was a mess. His house had 13 years worth of unopened mail. I used Jon Kabat Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation tape to fall asleep. But I used it in a rather weird way. He has a section where he says “Do NOT fall asleep.” It was a body scan. I would think, hey, you can’t tell ME what to do, and I would always fall asleep during it. So there, Dr. Kabat Zinn. Thank you.

The pandemic is enormously stressful, not to mention all of the other things. You can still relax though. What relaxes YOU? Stupid animal videos? A walk around a yard or park? Dancing in your kitchen? Knitting? Reading your absolutely most boring textbook? Put the phone and the television and the computer away at least one hour before you want to sleep and preferably two hours.

And here, to relax you, are pictures of sleep: https://drkottaway.com/2018/04/30/zzzzzz/

Blessings.

We want to believe

My cousin said to me once: “We want to believe what we want to believe.”

This was right before Mr. Trump was elected President.

After my cousin said that, I was unsurprised that Mr. Trump was elected. He was elected out of fear and anger and shame and grief. He was elected by people who are afraid that people rising out of discrimination will take things from them. Lower their standard of living. They are afraid that they will have to give things up.

A friend was working on my boat. He said that if I paid in cash, it would be less. Because, unspoken, he would not report the income. I thought about it. I said, “My medical practice is mostly medicare and state insurance. That is paid for out of our taxes: yours and mine. Therefore I am giving you a check and I don’t care if it costs more.”

There is a big culture here of not paying taxes. Cheat the government. Pay cash to each other, nod, nod, wink. It is tempting, takes a percentage off what I pay. But…. the people who I know are doing this are mostly conservative. They say drain the swamp. They say the government is cheating us. But THEY are cheating all of us.

I asked my cousin why he and my maternal family believed a story masterminded by my sister. That my father and my neice’s father and I were villains. One of the villainies was the our grandmother’s money had paid for MY graduate school but not my sister’s graduate school.

But that is not true. My grandmother paid four years of medical school tuition. 21K. I paid my own loans.

After my grandmother died, and then my mother died, my father used “my grandmother’s money” to pay off my sister’s graduate school loans. 36K. My parents also cosigned on a house, that my sister walked away from. They wrote 30K off thier taxes that year selling it. My father bailed her out of 7K on a work credit card. My father called me crying when she bullied him out of another 30K for another house. And that is when I said to her ENOUGH. I refused to visit for a year: until she went into hospice for her cancer. I visited three times while she was in hospice. We made peace. But she did not tell anyone else the truth.

I said to my cousin that I could send the bank statements showing that my father paid for my sister’s graduate school. That is when he said, “No. We want to believe what we want to believe.”

I thought really? So you want to believe my sister because she is dead. We will not speak ill of the dead, so you are ok with me and my father and my niece’s father being villainized and you will not even look at the lies.

VOTE and VOTE against FEAR, SHAME, DISCRIMINATION, ANGER AND GRIEF. We have to stand up. I loved my sister even when she was dishonest and bounced 1000$ worth of checks in my small town with people I knew. My father got threatening phone calls and he paid. That was the last straw for me.

So guess which politician stirs up fear and hate and discrimination and anger and grief? Well, honestly, both sides are guilty of that, but I stand against discrimination. We all shall rise up.

Love and Blessings and Peace you.

The photograph is on one of the last three visits to my sister. She died in March 2012.

I am the princess

I woke this morning thinking about a poem my sister wrote, titled I am a princess guarded by dragons snorting and grumbling and rumbling in wagons.

I am the princess guarded by dragons snorting and grumbling and rumbling in wagons

I am the princess guarded by dragons
snorting and grumbling and rumbling in wagons
I am the princess surrounded by briars
with wretchedly nasty folk starting briar fires
I am the princess with long, tangled hair
I cut it myself and I climbed down from there.

I am the princess, asleep ’til a kiss
woke me, he shoke me, all after was bliss
I am the princess who sat at her wheel
spinning, my fingers bled, hating the feel
I am the princess for whom you fought wars
Raggedly, jaggedly, murderous spars.

I am the princess, a wildvirginqueen
commanding with glory that none had foreseen
I am the princess who made wild things grow
I fought for my daughter, in winter below

I am the princess, I wore a great gown


Now cowboy pjs, I’d rather dress down.

by Christine Robbins Ottaway

________________________________

I did not want to be a princess when I was a girl. It seemed like a dead end career. The happiest day of a girl’s life was when she got married and what happened after that? Well, in the Disney animated movies, all adult women were either evil witches or evil stepmothers, or dead in childbirth. Until recently there were no live adult women on the throne who were not evil. And certainly the Queen in Frozen II has been attacked mercilessly by the Internet for being a woman without a man. Perhaps it would be okay if she were named Elizabeth.

I wanted to be a superheroine, not a princess. A secret identity was great and Spiderman had just as much angst as I had. I could be myself AND a superheroine. Princess seemed impossible and you had to be nice all the time and you had to talk to mice or spin straw into gold or be the daughter of a king. I did not want it.

Once I went to the Unitarian Church and my minister gave a sermon on each of the four types of Unitarians. That day was about mystics. I thought “Mystics, what hooey!” but by the end of the sermon I thought, oh, I’m a mystic. And a secret romantic. How exactly do I square that with my refusal to have anything to do with Princesses.

My sister was much more comfortable with the Princess Archetype than I was. I wanted a career that would support me and children, because even if my wedding was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, I still noted that half of marriages ended in divorce. And what about men? Almost no one celebrates the virgin male and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything about marriage being the happiest day of a man’s life. What is the story there?

My version is titled: I am the princess

I am the princess guarded by logic
By science, degrees and words pedagogic
I am the princess staying in school
seeming obedient to misogynist rule
I rack up a degree, residency next
study the landscape, study the texts

I am the princess who longs for a kiss
various frogs taste worse than horse piss
I am the princess flaying a man
who was already dead, to learn what I can
I am the princess, no wars fought for me
I fly under the radar, no one can see

I am the princess, perhaps I’m a queen
hide in a small town, nearly unseen
Treating my people while staying awake
Try to avoid being burned at the stake

I was a princess hiding from most
raising my offspring, I’d rather not roast

__________________________________________

The photograph is from the Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race and is not me or my sister.

My sister’s blog: https://e2grundoon.blogspot.com/2009/01/chemo-not-in-vain.html

Adverse Childhood Experiences 14: Hope

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.

Blessings.

Don’t try this at home

https://news.ohsu.edu/2022/03/17/little-evidence-on-how-psilocybin-therapy-interacts-with-existing-psychiatric-treatments-review-finds?linkId=156952130

People are busily hopping on the psilocybin bandwagon. DON’T. Why not, you say, it’s NATURAL. Well, the death angel mushroom is also natural but it will kill you. So are red tides, poisonous snakes and sharks.

You wouldn’t take your buddy’s appendix out in your kitchen, would you? Don’t mess with your buddy’s brain either. Especially if there is already a behavioral health diagnosis and/or an addiction already on board. Either or both might get WORSE rather than better. Wait for the research.

And remember: one in four people meets diagnostic criteria for a behavioral health diagnosis at least once in their life. When there is also an addiction, we call it dual diagnosis.

And for pity’s sake, be careful with pot products, ok? It’s a total myth that they are not addictive. Yeah, people have told me for my entire career, over 30 years, “I am not addicted to (pot, heroin, alcohol, gambling, cocaine, meth, crack, whatever)”. ALL ALCOHOLICS say this the first time they are admitted for crashing a car or alcohol poisoning or vomiting blood or liver failure. “Not me. I am stopping today. I am NOT addicted. I do not need to talk to the substance abuse person.” We roll our eyes and send in the substance abuse person anyhow, because HEY, THE PERSON IS TOO ADDICTED AND IN DENIAL.

If you are going to use pot products, use them one or two times a week. Max three. Because a study of teens that paid them (with parental permission, consent, etc) to stop for a month found that almost none of the teens who used pot daily could stop. They relapsed. And they complained of anxiety and insomnia. And I have worked with adults trying to quit: again, anxiety and insomnia. The teens in the study who only used 2-3 days a week COULD stop for the month. The study monitored urine drug screens quite strictly.

And if you say, well, I can’t sleep without it. Um, yeah, that is addiction. I would wean. Reduce amounts and then start with one night a week without it. Good luck. Get help if you need it.

And don’t jump on the psilocybin bandwagon!!! Holy moly, humans are amazing, the ways they think up to hurt themselves and each other. If you want to be in a clinical trial, go find one. Don’t fool with Mother Nature, she can be a killer.

Happy solstice and blessings.

Here is the scientific paper for the science geeks like me:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-022-06083-y

The picture is just a picture. No worries.

Covid-19: omicron

So far, it looks like the Omicron variant is more infectious and less virulent.

“This is good, right? you say, “We can all just get it, then we are immune, move on with our lives.”

There are three, no, four major problems that I can think of right off the bat.

1. Long Haul Covid. We do not know if Omicron will cause Long Haul Covid. This is a big deal. The numbers right now are suggesting that one third of the people who get Covid-19, even a mild case, still have problems at six months out and twelve months out. Are you willing to take a one in three chance? Not me! We do not know how to fix Long Haul Covid-19, we don’t know what it is (even though I have suspicions) and some people can’t even get out of bed. This is bad.

2. Omicron will be happily playing with Delta and trading genes and making NEW babies. As one math joker says, “hey, don’t screw up Pi for us.” We could get a version with the infectious capacity of Omicron and the virulence of Delta. This is also bad.

3. We don’t know what it will do to small children and babies and the very old and the immunosurpressed and Covid-19 turns out to infect fat cells which is theoretically why overweight and obese people in their thirties are dying with it. The doc group I am in on Facebutt is reporting a 5% survival with long term ECMO (heart lung bypass machine) and that people may need to be on the machine for months. Like, eight months. This requires two nurses at all times, not to mention a specialist. A few places report 30% survival, but they also say that they say NO a lot and refuse people they think will not survive. Might as well pick the ones that might survive, right?

4. We don’t know if the drugs we have right now work against it. Some may, some may not. Starting over.

So, I still say get immunized if you haven’t and get boosted if you have. Get your influenza shot too. The masks are helping with influenza this year too, but if flu really got a hold, flu in post-covid would be a very very effective killer. And if you are 65* you should get your prevnar vaccine, for pneumococcal pneumonia. It used to be called “the old man’s friend” because it’s such an effective killer of people 65 and up. The new shingles vaccine, yeah, get that too. Do you feel like a pincushion yet?

No word yet from my immunologist. If I am not making antibodies to Covid-19, do I cancel my Christmas trip? Dunno. Will wait to hear.

Happy whatever you celebrate.


1. https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/02/world/south-africa-omicron-origins-covid-cmd-intl/index.html?utm_source=fbCNN&utm_medium=social&utm_content=2021-12-02T13%3A31%3A02&utm_term=link&fbclid=IwAR0NySrFr-I_ieYmVMQawstw6-oEGlxf32MgcbKyLz8RvpdHHGfzZ678XTY

2. https://robinschoenthaler.medium.com/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-omicron-that-we-dont-know-yet-d85bdd64d76e

3. https://longbeach.gov/press-releases/omicron-variant-of-covid-19-virus-found-in-long-beach/. Yep, in my state.

4. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html

* Or are younger and have heart disease, lung disease or anything really complicated, like cancer, lupus, autoimmune stuff, etc, etc.

Baby doctor

I pick up a Steffi-baby doctor while I am in Michigan.

For whom, you say?

For ME. I collect mother/baby images and statues. I have photographs, statues and toys, of mothers and babies and of pregnant women. Some family ones too. I am a Family Practice doctor, after all.

The Steffi is in with a bunch of Barbies. I am glad to see Barbie Princesses that are ethnically diverse. Next I hope the Disney will decide that adult women who are not virgins are human too, but judging by the way the second Frozen was received, I am not holding my breath. The only good Disney Queen is a dead one. The ones who survive, well, sex apparently turns them evil. It is pretty consistent in the Disney animated movies.

So, Steffi. I was thinking of Skipper, Barbie’s friend, but I realize that Steffi is not Skipper. Note that the baby has a facial rash. This apparently resolves if a cool washcloth is used on the baby’s face. I wish all babies were that easy to treat.

I look up Steffi on the internet and she is German. The packaging confirms this, with an instruction sheet in German and multiple other languages. I like Steffi a lot better than the Disney Princesses. She has tools: a stethoscope and a bottle and an otoscope and a thermometer and a rather mysterious looking caliper set. She has a green version of the white coat and a dress with hearts to reassure the babies. And LOOK! Steffi is wearing a MASK!

I love it. Up with Steffi, who can do things. I am not totally against princesses, I am just against the whole princesses are waiting for some prince to arrive and then their life will… well, they will die in childbirth if they remain nice and they will turn evil if they live. It seems like a poor choice of careers, honestly. My favorite princess is the Dealing with Dragons series, because that princess decides not to follow the usual princess path. The first thing she does is follow a frog’s advice and runs away. And the dragons are wonderful too.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: worry. I worry about the message of the Disney Princesses.

DMV

I really did not want a tour of the DMV.

I arrive early, just as they open the doors, and there is already a line. We file in, each taking a paper number. The people in front go straight up to the desks. One window processes two people in only ten minutes each and then promptly puts up a closed sign. I guess it’s exhausting, working so fast.

Everyone waiting looks strained or sullen or stressed at the DMV. Shoulders hunched, heads down, the ones in power suits on their phones, but the phones keep cutting off in the DMV. Some sort of special shielding, I would bet.

I have number 17 and get to go to a window after 2 hours.

The clerk smiles at me. She is pale, pale, but has horns and pitch black wings, no feathers, like a bat.

“Unitarian!” she says, grinning.

“Um,” I say, eyeing the wings.

She looks wicked and then her wings are classic white feathered. She is browner and well, I’d guess Filipino. “Worried?” she says.

“No.” I say. “Tired. Sad. Curious.”

“What would you prefer to see?” she says and morphs. Now she has one bat wing that changes to black feathers then through rainbow feathers, to the snowy white feathers on the other side. Her skin tone is very dark on her right hand and then lighter across to pale with red freckles on her left hand.

“Nice.” I say.

“Which heaven would you like?”

“Unitarians do not believe in hell. Send me back.”

“You just got here. Violently and by surprise.” she wrinkles her nose. “Riots again. Sorry about that. We have opened a Unitarian space.”

“No. Send me back.”

She sighs and pulls down a heavy paper file. All the papers have gold edges, except for those with black. “You found your true love.”

“Yes. So what. We didn’t have time to make it work.”

“Don’t you want to wait until she dies so you can head down at the same time?”

“No. She’s only 32. And there is work to do.”

She is paging through the file. She snaps it shut. “Two week vacation. The minimum required. Go to the door on the right.”

I sigh. I want to argue but I’ve done that before. She will add on an extra week for every word I say.

My memories are intact here. Of all the lives. It’s always a bit overwhelming when I first arrive.

I go to the door on the right. A small page with grey tattered wings opens the door for me. I think it is a boy but he is wearing a Tinkerbell style tunic.

“I am your guide today.” No, it is a girl. I think. They may be able to morph that too.

We go in the door. My guide is shedding feathers, one every few steps. I pick one up. “Sorry.” she says. “Puberty. So, where do you want to spend your two weeks?” We are in a half circle shape hall, with hallways branching off. The hallways have no end that I can see and there are open doors all along them.

“I just want to go back.”

She pats my arm absently. “Oh, yes, they told me. You have to take breaks. You are wonderful, though, we love you.” She is leading me to one of the halls towards the left. We go past two doors and to the third. “See?” she says. “Unitarians. Of course, they can come in and out and go in all the others and argue with everyone. We wouldn’t want them to get bored.”

The room is empty at the moment. “And I guess they are all in other places!” The room across the hall seems to be a classic hell, with demons and pitchforks and a grim rocky landscape with pits of burning tar. I can see a dinosaur caught in tar, and a really huge crowd of people. There is a lot of screaming.

“Some people insist.” says my guide. “Where to next? Evangelical? Valhalla is rather fun for males and certain females, we’ve got fluffy clouds and harps, or are you more interested in touring Asian, African, Australian? We do have paleolithic sites and many people are interested in Egyptian themes. The cliff dwellers interest many as well. “

“Atheist.”

She frowns. “Of course, but that room shuts down consciousness and you have to have two weeks of consciousness before you can go back.” She is leading me back into the central half hall.

“Ok,” I say, giving in. “I am not trying to be difficult, you know.”

“Yes, and everyone told me correctly that you are difficult. All the ones that go back over and over are difficult. And there are more every year.”

“Take me somewhere new, ok?” I am looking now at the frieze over the door that will take me back. Two weeks. I can manage. I am resigned. The frieze is cupids and then male odalisques, then female, then leopards, and then they are cupid fauns with horns on their heads, morphing towards adulthood. Yet the carved letters stay the same:

Deus Machina Verum

and I follow my guide into another hallway to find a place for my two weeks.

_________________________

This poem inspires me to post today’s story: https://narble.blog/2021/08/17/if-there-are-no-dogs-in-heaven/

I think the hell in heaven also fits today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: scorch.