Lessons Learned in the Time of Covid

A hairdresser once told me that letting my hair go gray would not make me happy—and I believed her. Then came Covid-19 and our involuntary incarceration. Relatives and friends in my age cohort went gray or, if lucky, silver—their locks longish and lacking style. Seeing them on frequent Zoom calls confirmed that I did not want to follow suit.  I had to find a hairdresser who was-Covid safe.

I slid into Tiffany’s single chair in the small salon appended to her kitchen. She allowed only one person to enter at a time, and she was a reasonable person: mature, bright, and caring.  Moreover, she was an excellent hair stylist, having worked out of her shop for over twenty-five years; she was old enough to be cautious and young enough not to cut my hair so that I looked like a senior member of the White Glove Ladies Club. I thought I had found my solution!

However, as Tiffany was tying an apron around my front, she announced—similar to a first grader showing her mom a gold star on her homework—that she had gone for her first vaccination with her daughter, Riley. I managed to keep the shock from showing on my face. “Terrific,” I said, with all the gusto I was able to muster. “So glad you got the shot.”  

“Yes,” she smiled, clearly proud of herself. “Riley works for Well-Star (a large medical group), and it mandated that all employees get vaccinated. She confessed to me that she was ready anyway, after seeing weeks of patients on ventilators. She took me with her, and we got our shots together.”

The conversation moved on to small talk, and Tiffany finished trimming my hair. We set up my next appointment for a hair color. I paid, petted Hank—her big, white and black bulldog-Dalmatian mix—and left the salon.

I didn’t turn on the ignition. Instead, I sat in my hot car and mulled over the fact that, for the past several months and many appointments, I had assumed that Tiffany had been fully vaccinated.

Lesson one: Never assume that someone is vaccinated.

Lesson two: Never, ever assume that someone is vaccinated.

Lesson three: Wear your mask and get vaccinated because too many people are not.

Got It Now

I work for the department of public health, assisting in Covid-19 vaccination outreach. I read the headlines: deaths rising, ICU beds in short supply or unavailable, breakthrough infections, younger people dying. The death toll is almost 700,000 souls in the U.S. alone.

But until last night, I didn’t get it. My family has been blessed not to be afflicted by the virus, other than getting shots and trusting our incarnation to protect us from the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers.

Yesterday I understood viscerally the pain of the people who loved those nearly 700,000 Covid victims, because of my sister’s near-death from a tragic accident.

Last night, my younger sister had emergency surgery. She had fallen down a hill and driven a stick through her frontal lobes. After a long medevac from her home on an island in northern Maine, she has come through emergency surgery in Portland, responsive and heavily sedated. There is damage to her frontal lobes, (extent not yet determined), but her motor skills are good.

I stayed up all night waiting for news. I was giving vaccinations at a Black church when I got the first news of the accident. I didn’t handle it well, shaking and feeling sick to my stomach with worry and fear. The pastor and two parishioners at the church grabbed me and prayed with me. Quite an experience for a Jew. Just a bit overwhelming to be embraced by three large people praying in Jesus’ name—especially on the eve of Yom Kippur. However, I was extremely grateful to be in the arms of caring people. 

The text came this morning before dawn. I was playing Mi Shabeirach on my phone, the Hebrew prayer of healing. My sister has survived surgery; now we can only hope that she will not suffer terrible consequences from the damage done.

In those dark and awful moments, I knew fear, loss, and grief. I understood the horror of Covid. We can’t protect ourselves from accidents like my sister Sunnie’s but, damn, we have the means to stop Covid.

Paranoia in The Age of Covid

In 1993, the remnants of the Khmer Rouge and the temporary Cambodian government’s military (who determined to win the national elections at all costs) gave rise to a lot of very real safety concerns as the first week of voting began. I was a United Nations (UN) electoral supervisor in a northwestern province called Pusat. The province had been experiencing some malicious mischief from both groups leading up to the elections. The UN military observers handed out flack jackets and helmets to UN volunteers like me.

“Nope, don’t think so,” I said as I handed back my too-large helmet and ten-pound Kevlar vest. “Really,” I sighed. “Its 105 degrees outside and, if my local Khmer poll workers aren’t getting safety gear, then how can I wear it? It would create panic and fear.” 

I had already convinced the leadership to move all the polling sites out of the jungles and floating villages and onto Highway 5. This highway was a mostly paved government road that stretched from Phnom Penh northwest to Palin. We could move our equipment and military easily, whereas the remote polling sites were inaccessible to our vehicles because the monsoon rains had started early. Cambodians, on the other hand, could get to us with no problem—they had foot power, bicycles, and ox carts!

Now, in 2021, I am in the U.S. state of Georgia, working for the Department of Public Health in its Covid outreach program. We create and manage Covid vaccinations across two counties, which include a huge military base. Under Biden’s administration, vaccinations are mandatory for all military personnel. Next week we are scheduled to give shots to four hundred and eighty folks who do not want to be vaccinated.

When I heard this plan, I panicked! Although I was willing to beg, if necessary, I first suggested that my supervisor contact the base organizer and request extra security. “They are working on it,” she texted me. “Working on it” did not quell my crazy. I walked down the street to see my neighbor, whose husband is on active duty in the Army. She was out on her front lawn planting flowers. “T’Keisha,” I called to her. “Does Ernie have any Kevlar vests at home, and do you think he would lend me one on 9/11, when I’m at the base giving shots?”

Ernie didn’t think I was crazy, but he did reassure me as best he could while adjusting the jacket to fit my smaller frame. “lf something does go down, security will button it up pretty quick.”

Pretty quick? Nope, not reassuring enough. I’m going to wear the vest.

What If?

Talking, debating, and conversing with others who don’t share your political views may cause some consternation, but this practice has definite benefits. We all suffer from confirmation bias, preferring to ingest information that supports our opinions. A good healthy dose of another perspective forces you to reflect on what you think you know and how you understand your sources. Of course, you can’t have that kind of conversation with a dolt! You have to share some tenets so that there is a bridge on which to meet. In my case, that shared value is family support and generosity. 

After one such conversation and some reflection, I came up with a laundry list of “what ifs?” as well as would-haves/should-haves.

What if President Obama had not publicly pronounced that the U.S. would pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, giving the Taliban the first sign that we would not stay forever?

What if we had pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014? Would we now face a larger ISIS and Al-Qaeda threat?

What if President Trump had not negotiated with the Taliban, without the presence of the “legitimate” Afghan government? Would the Taliban not have counted on the U.S. leaving soon? Would they have known the waiting game was almost over? Would the Afghan government’s officials not be negotiating every side deal they could in order to save their own butts, rather than their country’s?

What if President Biden’s intelligence sources had predicted more accurately how fast the government—already undermined and aware that our troops were leaving—would fall?

What if the U.S. military had not left its allies, the Afghan forces, the equipment they needed to stand off the Taliban, but instead had destroyed it before it could fall into the hands of the enemy? Which is the greater sin?

What would have happened if we had evacuated people from our military base instead of from the airport in Kabul?

The events of 9/11 so stunned the country that President Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan would probably have been made, no matter who was in the White House. Successive governments have kept Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban in check, albeit by spending a horrendous portion of the U.S. budget and generating huge profits for our military-industrial complex.

Maybe, just maybe, we should really raise taxes on the rich, who continue to get richer while our bridges collapse, our fight against climate change is hamstrung by a lack of funding and will, and Big Pharma grows bigger. It seems neither political party wants to tax the rich, so why not abandon Afghanistan instead and save three billion dollars a year?

The Spa

The women moved noiselessly in their mocha-colored, oversized robes and dark brown plastic sandals. They appeared to be so anonymous that even their faces began to look alike to meall white, mostly plump with dirty blonde hair. Large chaise lounges filled the room; a bar with a variety of drinks and snacks lined the wall. I was the only person wearing a face mask.

Occasionally, a young woman would come by and collect the used glasses and cups, or an employee would step out from behind huge wooden doors and call the name of a woman sitting in the “relaxation room.” I watched as one of the ladies got up and followed her through a set of doors. As I settled into my lounge chair, I noticed two more rooms—one behind a set of large wooden doors labeled “quiet room” and the other down a narrow hallway, which was set up with café tables laden with chocolate-dipped strawberries and bottles of wine. That room was off limits.

Increasingly, I felt like I was in a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale.  I was there for a facial but, as I stared up at a large chandelier made of deer antlers, I began to feel uneasy, as if something more nefarious was awaiting me through one of those big sets of doors.

I was up in the North Georgia Mountains for a week-long retreat from the stress of everyday life in Covid-19 America. My first mistake was bringing a news magazine, The Week, to the cabin. My second mistake was not bringing ice cream. Instead of regaining my lost optimism, I discovered that being inside my head, despite the spectacular mountain scenery, was like inhabiting a bad neighborhood. I didn’t want to be there alone. The facial was an attempt to quiet the feeling that I was slipping into a morass of depression. 

I told the girl who was collecting used glasses that my esthetician had to wear a face mask. I used the excuse that I worked for public health, which made me “over-sensitive and cautious.” After all, I was in Trump country, and I knew first-hand that its hospitals were full!

Finally, I heard my name called and a woman, unmasked, escorted me through another set of doors leading to a hallway of more doors. A young woman, in her mid-thirties if I had to guess, stood, masked, in the doorway at the end of the hall and welcomed me. She was pleasant, conversant, and not at all put out by having to wear a mask. In fact, I think she was relieved.

An hour later, after my Ultra Facial treatment, I definitely was relaxed. However, I looked like a scary clown in a horror movie, with my hair standing on end. But my face glowed. Never mind the hair.

There I was, feeling my muchiness, except for my hair. I suddenly had a craving for a steak and headed to the nearest grocery store. OMG. Rib-eye steak now cost $17.00 a pound, so no rib-eye for me. The butcher kindly suggested “heart of chuck,” which cost only $10.00 a pound; he would package a five-ounce piece for me. Was the $2.39 per pound price for chuck steak that long ago?

The Third Shot

Yesterday, on the advice of my doctor, I went to the drugstore and got my third Moderna vaccination—the booster. Upon reflection (I try to monitor my responses to controversial stuff), I found my attitude strange. Getting the booster seemed as normal as volunteering my arm for my annual flu shot. Seven months ago, I was a nervous wreck. I could hardly believe that the vaccine was either safe or effective. However, my skepticism couldn’t dent the euphoria I felt at the mere possibility that I was safe from the ravages of Covid-19.

I checked with others who got or were contemplating a third shot. My niece, a fifty-ish psychologist, offered, “Yeah, it was so different. I got teary the first time, so emotional. Today was much calmer, though I’m still feeling like we got a new lease on having some normalcy in our lives.”

An artist friend and wife of a former colleague commented, “I held my breath as he jabbed me with the needle, wondering if I’d made a big mistake. I was feeling a bit of dread over getting a booster after having such a hard time getting the Jansen & Jansen shot. Hope when our time comes, it’s as easy as it was for you.”

I woke up achy, with a mild headache. I took two Tylenol, went back to bed for a bit and now, I’m just bored because I called off work. I’m stuck at home looking at my cell phone. When the email came through, I wasn’t feeling brave for getting the booster—perhaps just a little lucky that I could get it early. The email was from the department of public health where I work as a community outreach specialist—a soft-money Covid prevention program. It was a warning.

“Good afternoon. While we have not received any specific/immediate threats, we would like to remind you that there are a few people in our communities who disagree with some of public health’s recommendations regarding COVID-19. Given this environment and out of an abundance of caution, please be mindful of your surroundings.” It went on to stress locking doors and preventing non-personnel into secure areas.

Don’t worry about the booster. Worry about the crazies spawned by political leaders, intent on mayhem as a way to regain political power and hold on to their financial gains, which are fed by the ignorance and suffering of others.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

I’ve been blogging now since about 2017. No idea how many people follow me or read what I write. I assume that anyone who reads more than one of my blogs is politically moderate to liberal, not a fan of the former president or his followers, and is likely to be fully vaccinated. My blogs have been varied, but few are simply positive homilies intended to make people smile or feel optimistic.

I find myself unable at this time to write anything that doesn’t sound angry, frustrated, or fearful. I don’t want to add my negative feelings to the miasma that exists. I am struggling not to give up, give in, give out…but I am losing the battle for now.

Thus, I am signing off for the near future—or longer if required. I am getting my third vaccine—booster—this week.  I am going to continue outreaching to my community in the hope that more people will follow suit and get their shots. But I need time for reflection, for meditation, maybe even for prayer.

I’m off to the North Georgia Mountains. If I’m lucky, I’ll return optimistic and full of words to share.

The Aggressive Cricket

Why I even looked down is a bit of a mystery—but I did. A cricket, not more than an inch long, kept hopping towards me. It was quite persistent. I tried to get away but my shoe, a slide-on, started to twist and throw me off balance. I headed straight down toward the sidewalk, rotating my body as much as I could. I landed with only my nose and mouth on the cement; the rest of my head lay on the 10 inches of grass between the sidewalk and the curb!

It took me a minute to shake off my surprise and do a quick check of my body parts. Everything seemed to be in working order, so I stood up. It was then that I felt the pain and tasted a bit of blood. A small cut on my upper lip was bleeding and swelling.  I made it across the street to a neighbor’s house and rang the doorbell. Even though I was only a few doors from home, I knew that the cut would start to balloon if I didn’t get some ice on it right away.  No one answered the bell until I had turned to head home. Then the door opened and my neighbor, clearly not quite awake, stared at me from the doorway. “Ice, can you give me a piece of ice? I just fell and my lip is swelling.” It took another second or so for my request to register. He returned quickly with ice wrapped in a paper towel and wished me a speedy recovery.

My reflection in the bathroom mirror was not pretty—but not horrible, either. I had suffered worse. No chipped tooth, only a small cut, and some scraped skin on my nose.

A lightshow—the precursor to a migraine, a response to the stress of the fall—started quickly. A Maxalt pill moderated the headache, so I decided that I was well enough to go to work. Not a good idea! Within a few hours, I was napping back at home. I’m fine now.

The lesson to this story is that, at 79 years old, even a minor fall becomes a major trauma! Life is precarious, and falling is a huge concern at this stage. A serious fall can be life-changing and even fatal. I’m always mystified by the fact that, thus far, I have escaped major injury when others I know have suffered far more. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I also refuse to give up my morning walks.

By the way, I fell on the cricket and it is dead. I also will wear sturdier shoes and use my hiking sticks.

Funny how something so small can change your life.

Lighting Does Strike, Even Twice!

All my life I have heard sayings like, “Lightning never strikes twice,” generally meant to convey that something significant—bad—rarely happens twice to the same person or team. Most of us do not worry about this, or even give one lightning strike a passing thought.  However, while in south Florida last week, the number of lightning-related warnings transmitted to my friend’s iPhone every day during my visit surprised me. We stayed inside and watched the light show, but worried only about the power going off—not personally getting struck.

Lightning kills an average of 49 people each year in the United States, and hundreds more are injured. And while lightning is one of the leading causes of weather-related fatalities, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are only around 1 in 500,000—a  better chance than winning the lottery, but still not very common.

I came home from south Florida to read this headline: Parents struck by lightning on Sanibel with their two young children nearby. The article below it began: Two people, a husband and wife, were struck by lightning Saturday afternoon on Sanibel, according to the Sanibel Fire Rescue District. The couple were on holiday with the woman’s mother, a colleague of mine. She had been so excited about this vacation with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, aged two and five. The City of Sanibel said that families watched in horror as the two were struck, and that the lightning barely missed the children.

I’ve since learned that the husband, who was struck in the head and declared brain dead, has since died, albeit not before his organs were harvested. His wife, struck in her arm and torso, is expected to make a full recovery.

 I’m not sure whether this incident meets the definition of lightning striking twice, but it is close enough to find it almost unfathomable . . . and certainly horrific. I’m reminded of another cliché: wrong place, wrong time.

Besides the sadness and concern for this family, I can’t help but think how uncertain life is. How random and chaotic our existence is. And yet, when we know quite well how to minimize our risks and lessen the uncertainty, we don’t act! Nothing could have prevented this particular tragedy, but we can reduce the odds of collapsing condos, bridges, and highways. We can minimize climate warming, dramatically moderate the spread of Covid-19, and finally put an end to gun violence.

Why don’t we?

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

I have it on good authority, backed up by evidence, that the Covid-19 virus did leak from the Wuhan laboratory, a laboratory funded partially with U.S. dollars. Furthermore, my source posits that the Chinese government informed the U.S. government of the leak within two weeks or less. They, the Chinese, shut down the lab and subsequently put a military general/scientist in charge while placing all other labs in China under military control. There were also published reports in the first few weeks, which our intelligence folks would have most certainly picked up on their surveillance radar.

China’s knee-jerk “admit nothing” response would have created more political jeopardy for its leaders if they then turned around and retracted their position. Hence, denials piled up upon denials. But what about the U.S.? Why did the Trump administration soft-ball China’s culpability? Why didn’t the Trump administration take immediate and aggressive actions to minimize the impact of the virus? To what extent did our own scientists know about Chinese experimentation and culpability? After all, China was researching areas that U.S. scientists were prohibited from investigating because of political-social policy.

My guess? The U.S. did not want its connection to research in China made public, and Trump underestimated the threat and preferred to protect business interests before lives. Shutdowns are costly; old people are expendable.

Fie on the Chinese government! Fie on the U.S. government! But now what? China is not going to make reparations, and blaming them for the pandemic will only exacerbate anti-Asian sentiment that serves no positive purpose. The U.S. will never admit to knowing the truth, and not doing creates a standoff, an impasse.

Now the U.S. is suffering a surge of Covid-19 among the unvaccinated, spread primarily by the Delta variant. Can we blame China for that? No, we can’t. We can only blame ourselves. We can share the blame with some politicians, conspiracy nuts, religious fanatics…but the real culprit is us.  I quoted Pogo in an earlier blog: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Get vaccinated, America!