Category Archives: COVID-19

I think this was my first post-COVID dream…

I think the setting was supposed to be the old State newspaper building, but wildly different on the inside…

Well, we know I have long COVID, which consists of some post-COVID physical symptoms.

But I think I just had my first post-COVID dream. (Actually, this was Thursday night, but I’m just getting around to posting it.) So I thought I’d better set it down for the sake of medical science.

I have work dreams, or perhaps I should call them stress dreams, all the time. In terms of the way they feel, they’re related to the cliché dreams that everyone who has been to college has — it’s the end of the semester and you have to go take an exam, only you’ve never been to the class, and you’re afraid to ask anyone where it is, because then they’ll know you haven’t been to the class, etc.

At least, that’s the way those dreams work with me. And with me, looking back on my college career, they’re not that different from reality. But they’re stressful.

And the work dream I had last night was like that, but it had a new, post-COVID wrinkle. By the way, I should mention that these dreams are almost never related to any work I’ve done in the last few years. They’re drawn from the intense situations I encountered daily in the decades of my newspaper career — sometimes from the early days in the newsroom, and occasionally from my time later on the editorial board.

This fit in that genre, but with a twist that is very much pandemic-related. It’s not that I’d had COVID in the dream, it’s that my work habits were what so many of us have experienced the last couple of years. And it’s not that — as in the college dreams — I didn’t know where the office was. I knew the place well, but I just hadn’t been there in a really long time. And things had changed radically.

(In this sense, it’s a little like my current life. We shut down the ADCO office when the pandemic started — in mid-March 2020. Sometime later, we shut it down for good. But in the last few months, my colleagues opened a new office. Nobody goes there as often as they went to the old one. I don’t go there at all. Except for two meetings and one case where I went and took a picture of a client, I haven’t encountered any work that can’t be done in my home office. Anyway, those circumstances seem  to have imposed themselves on this otherwise standard newspaper dream.)

It started with a phone call. Someone called me from the office — an office I hadn’t been to on a long time. He wanted to discuss a backup editorial (a short item that ran below the lede editorial, back when such things existed) he was writing for the Sunday page. He wanted some sort of guidance on it. I found this call disconcerting on a number of levels. First, it was ridiculous that he seemed to think he needed urgent help at this time, because it was a Monday afternoon — normally we wouldn’t even have identified a topic for such an edit at that point. Secondly, the call cut off before we could get the matter settled, and I couldn’t seem to reconnect with him.

But the worst part was that I had no idea who this guy was. And I was aware that there were a number of such people at the office now — new associate editors and editorial writers I had never met, but whom I was supposed to be supervising. It dawned on me that this was probably an unacceptable situation. I decided I should probably start going in to the office and sort all this out. I didn’t want to, but it seemed the responsible thing to do. At the very least, I needed to find out who this one guy was, so I could address his question.

I needed to go there and find Cindi Scoppe, who was the only person I knew who still worked there. (Of course, in real life, even though she was the last member of my team to get laid off, at this point she hasn’t been there either, for several years.)

I went there, and I eventually found her. She was outside a door to the editorial department. I peered in through a window in the door, and saw a place I’ve never seen before. A confusing, chaotic place, crowded with old desks jammed together, and strangers wandering among them. I had hoped to infer somehow which of them had called me, but I couldn’t. Nor could Cindi. She knew these people — she named some of them to me — but had no idea which had called me. I was going to have to get past that door somehow — it was locked — and engage these people in conversation until I sorted out which was the right one, and answered his question.

Eventually, I got in, and engaged with some of these strangers. My first problem is that I had no idea where to put down my laptop, because I couldn’t figure out where my office was. I finally realized that none of these people had offices (we all did back in my newspaper days) so maybe I just had a desk among all the others. I found this disconcerting, and was already missing working at home, but worse, I couldn’t sort out which was mine, so I couldn’t put down the things I was carrying.

And of course, I couldn’t ask anyone. Cindi had wandered off, and I couldn’t say anything to these strangers that indicated that I didn’t know where my workplace was, and I had no idea who any of them were.

Anyway, you get the idea. Like in the classic college dream.

The weird thing is, in real life, I’ve experienced no such difficulty working from home. I talk to people and I write things. With very rare exceptions, of it is easily accomplished using the phone, or perhaps Zoom on my iPad, and my PC — all right here in my office.

But in the dream, it seems I had thought everything was working fine before the dream started, and the main point of everything that was happening was that I was finally realizing what should have been obvious.

This doesn’t worry me, because I have these work/stress dreams all the time. I’m just setting this one down as the first in which the stress seems to have been driven by things we’ve experienced during the pandemic — in this case, by my favorite part of the “new normal,” the part where I don’t have to go to an office outside my home any more.

Anyone else have any such dreams?

Well, it seems I DO have what is termed ‘long COVID’

No longer confined to my home office, I may wrap up and head out to walk.

Several days ago, one of our regulars here on the blog emailed me — apparently motivated by a mix of solicitude and impatience. I hadn’t posted in a startlingly long time, the unapproved comments were stacking up, and he asked, “You doing OK?”

When I explained that my absence from this venue reflected a lot of things — such as being busy with family, and still dealing with doctors and such in connection with the lingering effects of my having had COVID — he asked, “Could it be long covid?”

Since I was going to see my pulmonologist next morning (Friday), I said I’d ask, but that I didn’t think so.

I was wrong. He said yes, that’s what this was. I had been confused for two reasons. One, I hadn’t really paid much attention to all the stories I’d seen about “long COVID” — which I assumed referred to a continuing, contagious presence of the virus itself — and up to this point the doctor had referred to my problem as “post-COVID.” Of course, I hadn’t worried all that much about what to call it; I just wanted it all to go away. I was tired not only of the symptoms themselves, but the side effects of the remedies (for instance, my difficulties sleeping at night, caused by the long course of prednisone I was on).

On Friday, the bad news was that my lungs — still impaired by inflammation from the long-gone virus — were only working at 67 percent of normal capacity. The good news was that overall, he saw me as having improved considerably, and he took me off the prednisone! Yesterday was the first day I didn’t take it, and I slept like Rip Van Winkle last night, and through most of this morning. It was wonderful.

He also took me off colchicine. I had wondered why I was taking that, anyway — it’s known as a remedy for gout. It can also be helpful with arthritis, I believe. I assumed it was for something he saw in the battery of tests he ran last month (which I repeated several days before this appointment), and which I could not detect.

When I asked, he explained that colchicine is an old, inexpensive drug that helps prevent a “cytokine storm” — which is the phenomenon that leads to so many COVID deaths. Wikipedia defines such a storm as a condition “in which the innate immune system causes an uncontrolled and excessive release of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules called cytokines. Normally, cytokines are part of the body’s immune response to infection, but their sudden release in large quantities can cause multisystem organ failure and death.”

Inflammation like that which had messed up my lungs. It seems that colchicine prevents such a “storm” through the same mechanism that alleviates gout.

The doctor said that I, and many others, had not heard about this use of colchicine because so many were talking about another, extremely expensive, drug that does the same thing. I didn’t write down the name of that other drug, because I was uninterested in anything that cost “$10,000 a dose,” especially since colchicine did the job.

So now, all I’m taking that was prescribed by this doctor is Vitamin D3 (which, I have learned, is actually a hormone rather than a vitamin, but since I don’t fully understand the difference, never mind). And he had me reduce the dosage of even that — from 10,000 units a day to a mere 5,000. He had had me on the high dosage because the standard range is 30-80 ng/mL, and mine was at 17.3 on the first test. He told me last month he wanted to get me closer to 60 than a mere 30. According to last Monday’s test, I was at 55. Satisfied, he reduced the dosage.

So, I’m getting better. The main restriction I had experienced was a lack of stamina. I haven’t done my normal 10,000 steps in a day since before I got the bug. I’ve tried, but I haven’t gotten past 2,000 without feeling great fatigue and beginning to cough again.

The doctor says it’s time to start getting exercise — and to get some sun as well, which I assume would help with the D3 — but not to attempt 10k. He says 3,000 to 4,000 is more my speed.

OK, now you have my update. Which I have shared in such detail partly to explain why I’ve been so unavailable, but also to make a larger point. Apparently, about a fourth of people who get COVID are “long-haulers.” This is a huge part of the effect of the disease on our society. In fact, I waited almost two hours past my appointment time to see him because he was overwhelmed with patients with my condition. This guy is really, really knowledgeable about it, and I think a lot of other doctors are doing what my primary-care doc did — sending their patients to the expert. Which means he’s getting better and better.

Anyway, I say all that for the benefit of those of you who make the mistake of calculating the effect of COVID solely in terms of the number of people who actually die. As tragic as every one of those 6 million deaths has been, and as horrific as they are in the aggregate, that’s not the entire story. There are other things happening as well…

OK, I didn’t have COVID ALL that time. And I’m getting better…

Reporting from my official home-office recliner: Things are looking better. This was Sunday morning.

About the third time I bothered my primary care doctor on the phone about the fact that I still felt like crap after three weeks (and after a second positive COVID test), he put me together with a pulmonologist — largely because my oxygen levels kept dipping in weird ways. (Like, down to 90 and below a time or two last week.)

I had a fascinating phone conversation with that specialist Thursday evening, and learned a lot.

First, he said I didn’t have COVID — not anymore. Not even when I got the second test. He said that was some leftover virus RNA strands still littering the lining of my nose. Of course, I always thought that that’s kind of a virus was — random, disorganized strands of more or less living material — but he sounded quite certain, and I was convinced.

So what was wrong with me? What was with the continuing, irritating, hacky little cough that interfered with talking to people? Why did I continue to run a low fever and have chills? Why didn’t I feel up to doing anything?

He said those were post-COVID effects, the most salient of which was probably inflammation in the tiny, hair-sized ends of my bronchial tubes, interfering with respiration enough to cause that cough and keep me feeling low. Also had something to do with the low fever, I think.

He put me on a course of prednisone — for the inflammation — plus 5,000 units a day of Vitamin D, because he was sure I had a deficiency. And he was right. He sent me to the hospital Friday morning for some blood tests, and one of them confirmed I was well under the normal range on D. I’m to see him for a followup later this week.

Anyway, I’ve been on the steroid and the D since Friday, and I’m dramatically better. No cough. No fever — in fact, I didn’t even think to take my temp for a couple of days. I 3made myself take it last night, and it was 96.1. That’s not even a fever by MY low standards.

The O2 levels remain very good — like 98 percent, frequently with my heart rate in the 50s where I’m used to it being. That had been elevated before, when the O2 was lower.

I’m still not walking or anything — I don’t feel that good. And I’m still spending all my time, including sleeping, in my home office, at least until I find the time to start moving my junk back to other parts of the house. In the meantime, I’m getting some work done. And I’d better get back to that now…

A fortnight and counting

Reporting to you from the front, where things are not so much grim as tedious.

Just thought I’d report in from the COVID front — which, for me, is located in my home office. Since I work from home, I already spent a lot of time here, but now it’s pretty much ALL my time. I’ll go down to the kitchen — masked — to heat a meal and bring it up to eat at my desk. I sleep on a futon here. Just don’t call me Mark Sanford.

Of course, there are other COVID fronts as well, some of them with much heavier fighting going on, and significant losses — such as hospital ICUs. But this is mine.

I’m actually about to go to a hospital this afternoon. It will be my first time out of the house since my positive test two weeks ago. I wonder what that will be like. When I present myself at the door and am questioned and say, “Yes, I have COVID,” will alarms go off? Will everyone scramble to implement a Code Red? I don’t know.

I’m not sure it’s necessary. But since I bothered my doctor on the phone yesterday, he decided to have me get a chest x-ray, as a precaution. Why did I bother the doctor? Because it had been two frickin’ weeks, and I wasn’t getting better. I still felt like crap, I still got a slight fever and chills whenever I went a few hours without acetaminophen, and the last few days I had developed this irritating cough.

I basically called to say, Yes, it’s just a mild case and I don’t need to be hospitalized. And I doubt there’s anything to be done. But it’s been two weeks, which is way longer than I expected, and I’m even feeling a bit worse (the irritating cough), so should I be concerned? Also, is there some magic thing you can do that I’ve missed in reading about this for the last two years?

Well, as it happens, there was something he could have done if I’d called him right after my positive test. There are a couple of meds that could help with the condition — ask Paul; he knows about them — but you have to take them pretty early. There are drugs like that for flu as well, I believe. But I saw no need to bother my doctor in those early days. I wasn’t worried, and I figured it would be over in a few days.

Oh, well.

There are times when I think I’m getting better. Yesterday, in fact. I had an awesome nap from about 2:30 to 4, and it set me up amazingly. I felt stronger, generally less lousy. Having taken a single 500 mg acetaminophen tablet at 2, I decided not to take any more. But then by bedtime, I was back to the usual crappiness, with a temp of 99.4.

By the way, that’s what I meant by “slight fever.” I feel pretty awful when I get to that temp. And the couple of times in recent days when I’ve been at 100 or more, it’s been much worse. Technically, no one in the medical profession would call 99.4, or even 100, a “fever” — even a “low-grade” fever.

But hey, my normal temp is about 97. Do the math, and you see that 99.4 is 2.4 degrees more than that. If a person whose “normal” is 98.6 goes up by that much, he’s at 101. So get outta my face, before I give you COVID.

Anyway, this is probably all very boring to you. Half of you have probably already had this, and probably worse cases. But I thought I’d report in. This is what’s going on in my world.

May God send his healing grace upon all those who are really sick…

Well, I’ve got it. What now?

Just got the above notice, from my test yesterday morning.

How am I? I feel like crap. I have since last night. I’m going to do a quick couple more work things, including a phone interview at 1 p.m., then I’m going to eat some lunch and lie down.

After that… what?

I thought when they told me it was “DETECTED,” they’d say, and here’s what you should do in addition to what you’ve already been doing.

I thought it would be like, I don’t know, getting a draft notice: “GREETINGS,” followed by specific instructions on where to report for my physical.

But nope.

Kind of anticlimactic, really…

 

We’re all gonna get this thing now, right?

That’s what Dr. Fauci said yesterday, and I just nodded.

After all, it’s finally in my house.

My youngest daughter, who was about to head back to her home in the Caribbean on Monday, had to change her flight to several days later because her COVID test was late coming back.

Then it came back, and she has it. She’s fully vaccinated of course, and her symptoms are mild. But she’s got it. She’s staying in her room — teaching her dance students in Dominica, and her English students in South America, remotely — and the rest of us are wearing masks in the house and being as careful as we can be.

Another daughter, who was with her a lot just before the positive test, isn’t feeling well. She’s awaiting a test result.

I got tested at 9 a.m. today at Lexington Medical’s site near me. I’ll have the results in a couple of days. That was my second test in a week. My wife has an appointment to get one at CVS tomorrow.

My test was at a little off-campus building LMC owns that’s down a side street right across from the turnoff from Sunset to our subdivision. Toward the end of the holidays, the line of cars for that process was maybe a hundred or so vehicles deep, stretching out onto the main road. Last week, I was the 10th or so in line. Today, I arrived 15 minutes early and there was no line at all. For a moment I thought the place was closed, but there were the poor nurses bundled up in the doorway in the 31-degree weather. One came out, did the deed, told me to look the MyChart app in 24 to 48 hours, and I was gone. Less than a minute.

So this is what we do now.

How’s it going for you out there?

At the time of my last appointment — 3:30 p.m. last Friday — I still had some people in front of me. Today, I didn’t have to wait at all…

No, it’s not about the cheese. But what IS it about?

Yesterday was January 6, and you know what that means, right? The Epiphany! Time to start putting away the Christmas decorations!

If you consume news the way I used to, you might think it means something else. A certain anniversary. News organizations have gone sort of nuts about anniversaries over the past 20 years or so. I mean, we were always kind of that way about Pearl Harbor Day or other historical dates, but news folks have gotten way more into it in recent years in the constant madness of filling the content beast. Seems like now, it’s always the first, or fifth, or 10th anniversary of something we are obliged to remember.

Not that what happened last year wasn’t significant. If this nation ceases to exist while some of us are still alive, we’ll look back on Jan. 6 as being the moment when everything changed. Never before in our history had it even been conceivable for actual American citizens to have attacked, trashed and briefly taken the citadel of our government. Sure, Andy Jackson’s supporters trashed the White House that time, but that was just a party, backwoods style. (That was significant, too, though. They were celebrating the greatest disaster in an American election that occurred before 2016. It was the preview of what our civilization would look like when it disintegrated.)

Of course, things had been changing for awhile before Jan. 6, 2021. And not just politically.

Note that last bit. Not just politically. As much of a disaster as Donald Trump was and is, he is not the problem. The problem is the phenomenon of which he is merely a prominent symptom.

Basically, the American people — and people around the world — had been going completely stark, raving mad for awhile.

We worry about COVID — and we should — but it seems that some kind of infection swept through our world several years back and caused some serious damage to our brains.

We’ve been seeing the evidence for some time, but I’d particularly like to call your attention to this piece that was in the NYT the other day. It’s been getting some attention; I see Jennifer Rubin wrote about it in the Post as well.

The headline was “A Nation on Hold Wants to Speak With a Manager.” The subhed was “In our anger-filled age, when people need to shop or travel or cope with mild disappointment they’re devolving into children.” By the way, if you click on the link as I intend you to do, I advise you to quickly scroll down to the main body of the piece, to reduce your exposure to the extremely irritating animated graphic at the top. As though we didn’t have enough things driving us over the edge.)

Here’s the lede anecdote, plus the nut graf (here’s hoping this falls within the range of Fair Use):

Nerves at the grocery store were already frayed, in the way of these things as the pandemic slouches toward its third year, when the customer arrived. He wanted Cambozola, a type of blue cheese. He had been cooped up for a long time. He scoured the dairy area; nothing. He flagged down an employee who also did not see the cheese. He demanded that she hunt in the back and look it up on the store computer. No luck.

And then he lost it, just another out-of-control member of the great chorus of American consumer outrage, 2021 style.

“Have you seen a man in his 60s have a full temper tantrum because we don’t have the expensive imported cheese he wants?” said the employee, Anna Luna, who described the mood at the store, in Minnesota, as “angry, confused and fearful.”

“You’re looking at someone and thinking, ‘I don’t think this is about the cheese.’”

It is a strange, uncertain moment, especially with Omicron tearing through the country. Things feel broken. The pandemic seems like a Möbius strip of bad news. Companies keep postponing back-to-the-office dates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps changing its rules. Political discord has calcified into political hatred. And when people have to meet each other in transactional settings — in stores, on airplanes, over the phone on customer-service calls — they are, in the words of Ms. Luna, “devolving into children.”…

Yep. The piece — all of which you should read — lists a lot of incidents like the one that was not really “about the cheese.”

If you look at the URL for the piece, you’ll see it includes “customer-service-pandemic-rage.” I think the problem predates the pandemic, just as it predates Trump, but there seems little doubt that, like Trump, COVID has helped bring it out.

Of course, it could just be the pandemic, and I’m just the wrong person to assess that. Whenever I read or hear about how horribly stressed people have been, I always have trouble identifying with it. There’s also the fact that since dairy is a deadly allergen to me — I think of what you call “cheese” as “spoiled bovine secretions” — I can’t imagine why someone would get in the car and drive to a store to buy someone anyway, whether it’s some special kind called “Cambozola” or not.

Yeah, I know if you’re a very young person who has career ambitions that can only be fulfilled at the office, and your spouse works too, and you have young children who may or may not be going to school tomorrow, this imposes certain stresses. But since none of those things describe me, I can’t feel it. And I know if you’ve lost someone to COVID, this is a horror of almost unimaginable proportions.

But if you don’t have any of those factors in your life — if you’d MUCH rather stay home than go to an office, see a movie in a crowd of people, attend a sporting event (shudder), eat out in a restaurant, or travel somewhere in an airliner (something that, honestly, was never fun in the healthiest of times, and which I could only make myself do because I deeply wanted to go to the place at the other end of the ordeal) — then it’s hard to understand this stuff.

And I especially can’t understand how someone my age (“a man in his 60s”) who should be past a lot of those stressors in life could be that desperate to eat a piece of cheese.

So it doesn’t work. And I’m left trying to understand what started all this.

Of course, as you know, I’ve been struggling with the challenge of creating a forum ruled by civility ever since I started blogging in 2005. And it gets harder every year. Lately, I notice that a lot of people have been getting as concerned about it as I have been.

Yesterday, I was talking with a thoughtful person who was trying to analyze the problem. How could someone go into a store or a commercial airliner or a public meeting and act this way? He offered this analogy: “If I enter your house, and you have a rule that I take off my shoes, I either take them off or leave,” he said. “It’s a matter of respect.”

Yes it is. And it immediately struck me that, as I look around me at the problem, it seems we’re living in a world that is absolutely crammed — all of a sudden — with people whose mamas didn’t raise them right.

So what happened?

Is Sapiens smart enough to survive?

I saw the above image when Samuel Tenenbaum shared it on Facebook, and it reminded me of the book I am finally almost, almost, almost done reading, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

It reminded me of something I keep thinking of while reading the book. I keep thinking, Yeah, maybe we’re the homo that is the most sapient, so the name of the species works. But are we really smart enough to keep going?

I suppose you noticed a day or so ago that, thanks to Omicron, the United States just set yet another record for new COVID cases in a day.

This, despite all the free vaccines and boosters. This, despite the fact that it’s perfectly obvious how to avoid passing on infections, which create new, more contagious (and more likely to overcome vaccines) variants as they reproduce through the population.

We know what to do. We — as a total population — just don’t do it in sufficient numbers to snuff this thing out.

A virus is about as stupid a life form as you can imagine, if you even want to call it a life form. It doesn’t even form cells, much less anything remotely resembling a brain, in contrast to the huge hunk of gray matter than homo sapiens has been blessed with.

But over and over again, it keeps outsmarting us.

So maybe, in Darwinian terms, it’s the one that deserves to win out.

I don’t believe that. I really don’t believe it at all. I’ve got a lot invested in this big-headed species to which I belong. I know we can do better. In fact, I keep getting kind of ticked at Yuval Noah Harari as I read his book, because again and again, he declines to give our species the kind of respect I think it deserves. Or that I at least want to think it deserves.

But time and time again, we just don’t do what we know how to do. It’s like we’re trying to shove ourselves toward extinction. Which ticks me off. And really, really disappoints me…

How to deal with Omicron? It’s easy as one, two, three

So it sounds like you and the experts you talked to are saying that the answer to preventing variants like omicron and enduring them is not severe travel restrictions. It’s just a lot more vaccinations.

We know what works. It’s vaccination, it’s masks, it’s social distancing, and probably not travel restrictions.

— Exchange between host Michael Barbaro and reporter Apoorva Mandavilli on The Daily

I’m still trying to catch up on things enough to resume blogging, but I just thought I’d take a moment to weigh in on Omicron. There’s a lot about it we won’t know for weeks, until we see just what it does to us and our world.

There are reasons to be concerned, of course. As this episode of The Daily noted earlier this week, there are three principle questions we ask when a new COVID variant emerges:

  1. How contagious is it?
  2. How severe is it? (Will it lead to more hospitalizations, and deaths?)
  3. Will the vaccines protect us from it?

The initial analysis of the variant indicates it has properties that cause concern in all three of those areas — more than Delta did back during the summer.

But we just won’t know for a while, until we see what happens outside the laboratory.

In the meantime, though, we know how to reduce the risk to our neighbors and ourselves:

  1. Get vaccinated, if for some unimaginable reason you haven’t already done so.
  2. Wear a mask around other people.
  3. Avoid other people. Keep your distance. For God’s sake don’t go out into crowds unless it cannot be avoided.

All of these things make it less likely that you will pick up the virus and pass it onto others. Which reduces the chances for Omicron or any other variant, or any other infectious disease, to spread, to reproduce, to evolve. If everyone does these things, the pandemic burns itself out sooner rather than later.

In other words, act like a grownup. Be a responsible citizen. It’s really not that hard.

No one is ‘entitled’ to endanger the people around him

Again, I’m just going to share a tweet, and perhaps enlarge upon it a bit:

I’m just reacting to a headline, of course. The writer of the column is very much taking this guy, whoever he is (and yes, I can see he’s in a football uniform, but that’s all I know), to task. But she is wrong to throw the guy a bone by saying he is entitled to do the first thing.

No, he isn’t. He lives in a society. A society doesn’t work unless we accept, at the minimum, the obligation not to harm the people around us. That’s pretty much minimal. All the other things involved in making a complex modern civilization work — the laws, the system of government, the roads, a monetary system, and so forth — come after that.

How are y’all doing with the supply chain these days?

Kind of moody and overly dramatic, don’t you think? But it was the only horizontal image I could find that I figured I’d be allowed to use.

This is an update to my July post on the supply chain problem. Then, I was celebrating the fact that my shoes I had waited for for months had finally come.

Now, this issue is fresh in my mind because I’m waiting for my new iPhone. It’s supposed to arrive today.

My “old” phone is an iPhone 8 that I got on my birthday in 2018, during the campaign. In fact, I think James and Mandy were the first people I spoke to on it, sitting in the parking lot in front of the Verizon store. I remember thinking there was something wrong with it because I wasn’t hearing as clearly as usual. That’s because I didn’t have the center of the phone over my ear, because I was used to the narrower iPhone 5. It was fine.

But not any more. Among other problems, the camera has been acting up. Sometimes, when I touch the virtual shutter release button, the camera app shuts down, and no image is recorded. Which is bad. We grandfathers have to have a fully functioning camera at all times. And I also frequently use the camera for work.

But HARK — the UPS man was just here, and the phone has arrived!

So I’ll get back to you later, beyond making my point: Which is that when I went to Verizon on Oct. 12, they told me I’d have to wait until possibly Oct. 29.

Oh, sure, if I’d wanted to spend almost two Gs on an iPhone 13 — for which they had displays all over the store — I’d have probably been OK. But since I’m a sensible guy who thinks the most insane thing Apple has ever done was get rid of the home button, I was getting an SE 2020. So I had to wait.

But apparently the chain wasn’t quite as stressed as they thought, since it just arrived.

So y’all go away and let me play with my new toy. In the meantime, how’s the supply chain acting for y’all now, beyond driving up prices and such?…

DeMarco: If there was a vaccine for cancer that was 99% effective, would you take it?

Covid vaccine TheState 2021 8 21

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The vaccinated among you who read this will rightly wonder why, as a doctor, I don’t make a stronger case for vaccines. First, plenty of frontal assaults on the unvaccinated have already been published. Second, it’s one thing to talk theoretically about vaccine hesitancy and another to have a one-to-one conversation about the vaccine with someone for whom you are providing medical care. Although I am frustrated and confused by the widespread resistance to vaccines, unleashing that frustration on my patients would do no good. If the piece leaves you wanting a more direct, robust argument, I sympathize. But I’m not writing for you. I’m hoping to address readers who can be convinced to join your ranks.

When I hear stories about illness, I often imagine that I am the physician for the sick person being described. So when I read about people who decline the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19, I envision them sitting with me in one of my exam rooms. By now I’ve had hundreds of conversations about the vaccine.

In the winter, many of them were about where patients could get the vaccine most quickly.

Over the past several months, the discussions have evolved; now it’s mostly coaxing the unvaccinated to overcome their hesitation. Hard-won experience has taught me that as I attempt to persuade a reluctant patient to accept a therapy, the harder I push, the less I succeed.

I begin by asking whether my patients have been vaccinated. If they say yes, I exhort them to encourage everyone they know to follow suit. I have several vaccinated ministers who tell me that every week they implore the disinclined among their flocks to get the vaccine.

There are very few patients (myself included) who do everything their doctor recommends. Countless patients of mine have refused my offer of a flu shot because “I got the flu from the flu shot.” Despite my gentle rebuttal that it is impossible to get the flu from the flu shot (although you can get flu-like symptoms from the vaccine), I rarely win the argument. I recognize that my advice is only part of my patients’ decision processes: Personal experiences, advice from other people they trust, and information from media also inform their decisions.

With the COVID-19 vaccine, I have had more success with ambivalent patients, although the majority still decline. Since I have an office practice, I spend much of my time trying to prevent illness rather than saving lives. But during a pandemic, convincing a patient to get vaccinated can be lifesaving, and therefore has been a source of intense focus for me. Most of my patients are over 50 and have chronic diseases that put them at higher risk. Thus far, I’ve lost two patients to COVID-19. Several more of my patients have lost family members. One patient lost a brother, a sister-in-law, and a niece in the space of just a few days.

If patients says they have not been vaccinated, I ask “Do you want to talk about it?” Most do, and express legitimate concerns – it was created and tested quickly; it’s still under emergency authorization or it had been when I wrote this); there have been side effects (blood clots and heart inflammation, to name two); they are not in high-risk groups; they don’t go out much; and they social-distance. A number can’t articulate a reason except that they are afraid of the vaccine.

My response goes like this: I acknowledge their fears. I admit that I can’t guarantee that they will not have a rare side effect from the vaccine. For those who express fear of dying from the vaccine, I acknowledge that the risk of death is currently unknown. All I can say is that it appears to be exceedingly rare.

My argument for the vaccine is based on what we do know. The latest data I can find from the CDC (for the calendar year 2020) shows the COVID-19 death rate in South Carolina was 78 per 100,000, making it the third leading cause of death in our state behind heart disease and cancer. Since the beginning of the pandemic, approximately 10,000 South Carolinians have died. The vaccine is approximately 99% effective in preventing death from COVID-19. If there was a vaccine that had a 99% efficacy in preventing death from heart disease or cancer, I ask, would you take it?

Surprisingly, a few of my patients, when I ask whether they want to talk about being unvaccinated, say “No thanks.” If that is the response I leave it be, but I wonder what they are reading or watching to make them unwilling to hear from the person in whom they have entrusted their medical care.

I suspect their unwillingness is driven by cable news or internet media. One of the worst things that has happened during the pandemic is the unwarranted attachment of political and philosophical meaning to the virus. Recently, I heard a caller to a radio talk show describe people who wear masks as “our enemies.”

COVID-19 is no respecter of political party or religion. It’s a simple virus with no brain. All it knows how to do is reproduce itself in our cells. The longer it has susceptible hosts, the longer it will continue to infect us, and the more efficient it will become. The delta variant is the latest example of this. The longer it takes for us all to be vaccinated, the more likely another, even more infectious and more deadly, variant will arise.

You may not be my patient, but as a doctor I care about people’s health whether I know them or not. Please get vaccinated.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. This was first published as a column in the Florence Morning News on Aug. 18.

Covid vaccine DHEC 2021 8 21

How about if we pay attention to reality instead?

Oh, look -- Henry's "urging" vaccines! But read the actual story. The news is that he's NOT mandating masks, and he's only URGING vaccines....

Oh, look — Henry’s “urging” vaccines! But read the actual story. The news is that he’s NOT mandating masks, and he’s only URGING vaccines….

For a couple of months, I’ve had in mind a certain blog post, but haven’t written it because of the time it would take — time I don’t have. The basic idea was this: As you know, I’m sick and tired of the usual stupid news stories with ideologues yelling about whether people should, for instance, wear masks in public.

My idea was to contrast that with the real world. When I go out in public — to the grocery, to Lowe’s, to Walmart, and especially to medical facilities (which I visit a lot, usually to take my parents to appointments), people, generally speaking, wear masks. Everyone does at the medical facilities, because otherwise they don’t get in. Elsewhere, sure, fewer people were wearing them, but it was never perfect. Even at the worst moments of 2020, there were always some twits who didn’t wear them — in places where folks in charge lacked the nerve to enforce the rules. This summer, the numbers of maskless were greater — even serious people were starting to think they didn’t have to — but it wasn’t some ideological war. Reality was complicated, and most people were trying to be sensible.

But I missed my time for writing that. In recent days, things have changed. For instance, on a personal level, last night my wife told her high school classmates she would not be attending the 50th reunion in Memphis. Everyone else in the class was sending in similar messages. She attending a Catholic girls’ school that had only 37 seniors graduating in 1971. Of those, 22 had planned to attend. Now none are going, so once again the event is postponed.

This morning, she followed that up with a note of regret that she would not be attending a wedding she had planned to go to while in Memphis.

As she did these things, I nodded, because it seemed consistent with what I’ve seen around us in recent days — hospital beds filling back up, people re-evaluating gatherings and resuming precautions when they go out, all because of such factors as the Delta variant and the insanely large number of people who have refused to get vaccinated. Here and there, you even see a report of someone who had refused but has wised up.

Normal, rational human behavior — people adjusting to shifting circumstances. All that is in the real world in which we live.

But then I look at the world being described most prominently in media we consume — from mainstream to social. And I see the idiotic ideological arguments, the same taking of absurd positions that would be laughable if they weren’t so harmful to public health.

You know what I’m talking about. Locally, our alleged “governor” continuing to refuse to take any responsibility for public health. (At least he’s consistent, right? This is what the majority out there voted for, to its great shame, in 2018.) Our attorney general reaching out to try to prevent other elected officials from taking any such responsibility as well. Other such behavior across the country, from local to federal levels.

Occasionally, I comment, usually on social media, when things get really far from reality:

But mostly, I just look around and wish I could see more reporting on what’s really going on, and less about what stupid things “leaders” who refuse to lead are prattling about.

Sometimes I do see it. For instance, there was this, put out by The State in the past 24 hours:

Lexington Medical Center is experiencing a critical shortage of intensive care unit beds as it approaches a record-high number of COVID-19 patients, hospital officials said.

More than 90% of the West Columbia hospital’s 557 beds were occupied Tuesday morning, including 146, or about 26%, of which were filled with coronavirus patients, Lexington Medical Center spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson said.

“We are approaching our highest number of COVID patients hospitalized at one time ever,” said Wilson, who added that the situation at Lexington Medical Center was “very serious” and encouraged South Carolinians to get vaccinated.

The vast majority of the hospital’s COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, she said.

Only 16% of coronavirus inpatients at Lexington Medical are vaccinated, and just three of the 43 COVID-19 patients in the hospital’s ICU are fully dosed….

That’s about the hospital that you can see from the street I live on, if you walk down that street a bit to get a better angle on it. What’s going on there, and in the hospitals across South Carolina — and the nation, and the world — is infinitely more important to me than the pronouncements of people who have made it startlingly clear, over and over, that they will in no way do or say anything that reflects what’s happening in the world.

Oh, and by the way, Jennifer Wilson — quoted in that news item I cited above — is married to that same attorney general mentioned above. The difference between them is that she lives and works in the real world, while her husband lives in one in which continued employment depends on showing people you are devoted to Trumpism.

Yes, reporters should continue to cover what the governor and AG say and do. Who knows, they might even run across a “man bites dog” story like this one from Arkansas: Arkansas’ governor says it ‘was an error’ to ban mask mandates. You know, a point at which reality and Republican political speech actually coincide.

Maybe someday our governor will stop trying to outstupid Texas, and instead endeavor to outsmart Arkansas.

But while you wait for that actual astounding news to develop, cover the reality more, please…

My shoes came! How are Y’ALL doing with the supply chain?

My new shoes. I need to break them in, but they're feeling pretty good...

My new shoes. I need to break them in, but they’re feeling pretty good…

My new shoes finally came! I’m wearing them right now. They feel pretty good so far, although it will take a while before they’re as comfortable as my old ones.

The old ones are a somewhat tattered pair of Salomon “Fellraisers,” which I got shortly before going to Thailand in 2015. I think of them as my “Thailand jungle shoes,” because when I got them, I was thinking about that day we planned to spend hiking through Khao Yai National Park. (Which was awesome.) Salomon calls them “trail-running shoes,” with knobby things on the bottoms meant to provide traction on natural, unpaved surfaces. I’m not planning on hiking through any tropical seasonal forests in the near future, but when these started wearing out on me, I wanted some more, for one simple reason:

They fit my feet better than any pair of shoes I’ve ever worn in my life. Far and away. It’s like they were painted onto my weird, narrow feet, for which I’ve always had trouble finding shoes that even come remotely close to fitting.

One problem: Salomon quit making the Fellraiser. (You may not know this, but the entire global economy seems to be built largely upon one little-known principle: Produce a product that Brad Warthen really, really likes. Wait until he realizes that, and truly appreciates the product. Then stop making it. I plan to write a post about this later.)

So I kinda freaked. But then I settled down, and started writing to Salomon to ask, as politely as I could, “What do you still make that is as much like the Fellraiser as possible?” They were helpful, and eventually I settled upon the Speedcross 5 Gore-Tex. I went for the color they somewhat ludicrously overdescribed as “Martini Olive / Peat / Arrowwood” (stuff like that always reminds me of Elaine Benes writing ad copy for J. Peterman, which makes me smile). They seemed the closest to my old ones, which in my unimaginative way I call “green.”

This was back in April. But I just got the shoes. Why? Because of the way the global supply chain got backed up by COVID. They told me in April to get back to them the second week of July. So I did, and it worked out, and that’s great.

But I was wondering what sorts of supply-chain problems the rest of you have been running into. Because this goes way beyond shoes.

COVID did (and is still doing) a lot of a lot of stuff to the economy, and one was that it knocked its rhythm off.

New York magazine recently laid it out this way:

At the beginning of the pandemic, it felt like everything essential was in short supply. Toilet paperhand sanitizerdumbbellsflour, and even baby wipes were nearly impossible to find as we all hunkered down for what we had no idea would be more than a year of quarantine. But now, as pandemic restrictions ease in the U.S., so too does our once-overwhelming inclination to hoard. If our lives are (slowly) returning, shouldn’t the availability of the things we want to buy get back to normal too?

As it turns out, no. Soaring demand from our lockdown lives and fewer workers have left suppliers strapped for major materials like lumber and aluminum — not to mention the semiconductors that power everything from our cars to our laptops. Those shortages trickle down into less-major things, too, which means that, Girl Scout cookies aside, lots of products are hard to come by. If you’re among the millions of Americans who bought a pandemic house, you may be struggling to get materials to build a new deck or repair a fence. Or maybe you’re just trying to get your hands on a can of your dog’s favorite wet food, a set of patio furniture for under $1,000, or a Playstation 5. Maybe you’ve finally decided to buy a used Subaru, if you could just locate a dealership that has one, or you went to re-up on your go-to organic cotton underwear, only to find the price has risen $2 per pair. Whatever your need, if you want something right now, you may well have to either pay a lot more to get it or find a suitable alternative.

On a more personal level, I go to the store now, and usually can find what I need — but I can’t help noticing how thinly populated the shelves seem. I keep hearing from family members about their troubles finding basic things that would not normally be hard at all to find, seeing as how we’re not actually living in the Soviet Union of circa 1980.

Anyway, as I said, I wonder what y’all are seeing…

My old shoes, when they were new. This is the morning we were about to set out in Khao Yai. The canvas things were issued to us to protect against leeches.

My old shoes, when they were new. This is the morning we were about to set out in Khao Yai. The canvas things were issued to us to protect against leeches.

 

Do you ‘ache’ for these ‘cesspools?’ If so, why?

cesspools

Here I go again asking whether you yearn to get out there amongst ’em — however you define “’em.”

And trying to understand it.

See the headline above. The picture — which I loved when I saw it a couple of weeks ago (the guy with his fist in the air seems to think he’s Henry V or something — once more unto the breach!) — is of a particularly silly event that many seemed to enjoy. Here’s the original story about it, from late April.

Anyway, the event and the apparent enjoyment it provided inspired one Galadriel Watson to wonder why: “What do we get out of them that’s worth exposure to hundreds or thousands of strangers?”

I read it today because I can’t imagine. I have no pacifistic objections to battling over the name “Josh,” particularly with pool noodles. I just don’t know why anyone would want to get out into any crowds, at any time, for any reason — concerts, street protests, eating out, what have you. Not that I haven’t willingly done it myself — I have no crippling fear of crowds. But when I have, the presence of the crowd is usually a strong argument against attending the event — one that must be overcome by a stack of positive considerations that overcome it — not a favorable feature.

Knowing that many people feel otherwise — and “feel” is the proper word, since I can’t imagine thought being involved in this impulse — I read it in part looking for a passage saying “not everyone feels this way,” and looking for the explanation of that, as a way of answering the subquestion, “What’s wrong with me?”

And sure enough, she mentions introverts, but the “expert” she quotes gets it wrong:

It doesn’t even seem to matter if you’re an extrovert or introvert. Tegan Cruwys is an associate professor of psychology at the Australian National University and a clinical psychologist. She said, “Personality might affect the kinds of events and social groups that appeal to you — for example, music festivals versus gaming conventions — but there is no evidence that these social phenomena only apply to extroverts. Introverts are not asocial.”

I beg to differ, based on actual, personal experience. It’s not that I’m asocial, or antisocial. I am, after all, a communitarian. At least in the abstract, I love the whole community. That doesn’t mean I want to be packed in with the whole crowd like a sardine.

I go into a crowd the way one enters a survival course — as an ordeal to get through. What is my exit strategy? Where are the bathrooms? (No, real bathrooms; not port-a-potties.) Is there food that I can eat, or will it be the usual junk one finds at such dubious gatherings? This is sort of perverse, but I’ve been known to approach some crowds willingly as a challenge, as a way of testing myself. For instance, I have this thing about liking to go shopping at Harbison on Christmas Eve, just to take pride in my ability to avoid the traffic as much as possible, walk from convenient parking rather than wait an hour to park at the mall itself, etc. And then congratulating myself upon arriving home the same day.

Yeah, I know that’s weird. But I think wanting to go into crowds in general is weird.

Anyway, this article did not reassure me about the motives for liking such gatherings being positive. It said things like:

  • “As a human, you have ‘a very primitive desire to feel like you’re a part of a larger collective’…” Yeah, I’ve noticed. That’s what gives us all this insanity of people seeing political parties or movements as their tribes. Very primitive, indeed.
  • “Large events also reinforce our sense of identity…” Yeah. Exactly. It’s so heart-warming to find yourself in a crowd of like-minded white supremacists, for instance. This is a portal into my dislike of Identity Politics, but I’ll close it and move on…
  • “This idea of ‘us’ also provides a sense of security. ‘I’d be more inclined to look out for you…'” Sure. Because you’re one of my “tribe.” To hell with those “other people…”

And so forth. None of which feels uplifting or ennobling to me, or even like fun.

Maybe y’all can give me reasons why it’s good to get out in a crowd, and make me feel like a selfish jerk who lacks something important that should connect him to other people — which is a position into which I sometimes talk myself.

But this article didn’t do it.

Anyway, have at it. Good luck…

SC has enough problems without these folks joining us

Henry vax

I don’t watch TV news, but my wife does. And yesterday, finding this a bit hard to believe, she called me into the room to witness it.

Basically, it says anti-vaxxers are moving to South Carolina because they see Henry McMaster as their kind of guy.

Once, governors — Henry included — labored mightily to be perceived as people who attracted jobs to the state. Now look where we are.

This new South Carolinian WIS interviewed thinks Henry is the bee’s knees (there’s something about Henry that invites to use of archaic slang) because, in reference to people who objected to their children being required to wear masks, he said, “Those parents are exactly right…”

“I think that was a big thumbs up for him,” says a friend of Rebekah Schneider on video.

Ms. Schneider lived in Connecticut for 38 years before moving here to be more accepted for her views. Apparently, based on several things she says, she has a “religious” objection to vaccines. As is the case with so much of the careless reporting we see these days (and not just on TV, but in the skeletonized newspapers), this is not explained. Is she a Christian Scientist? I don’t know.

But I’m looking at the math here. With only 32 percent of South Carolinians being fully vaccinated at this point, far short of what is needed for herd immunity, and too few showing interest in getting vaccinated, we are unlikely ever to become safe from COVID. And that’s without following idiotic policies that make anti-vaxxers want to move here.

Ms. Schneider moved here because her former governor pursues policies to protect public health. WIS says, “According to the Associated Press, he also told reporters he did a lot of his own research before signing the bill into law.”

Henry does “research,” too. He thinks, “How will the Trump loonies feel about this?”

He may have missed the mark this time. As much as Trumpistas are associated with “What, me worry?” approaches to COVID in general, the ones who oppose vaccines are not alone in this.

Have you ever heard of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?

Must give Henry pause…

 

I just now started wearing a mask on walks. Guess why…

Why weren't we wearing these EVERY spring?

Why weren’t we wearing these EVERY spring? This is me out walking today…

All this past year, I felt free to walk around the neighborhood without a mask on. I was careful everywhere else, but I never got close to anybody — except that one time, on account of the snake.

And I thought that was fine. Until now. Of course, I’ve had both of my shots now, but so what?

This is about the pollen.

I’m sure all my neighbors think I’m trying to show I’m more COVID-careful than anyone around, but no. I’ve been doing enough sneezing lately, and finally it just occurred to me: Why haven’t we always worn these in the spring? Or at least, why haven’t I, with all my allergies?

I’ll bet this one neighbor below supports this new practice, no matter why I’m doing it. I don’t know these folks, but I like them. My kind of people. They were also among the first in the neighborhood to put up signs for Joe and Jaime last year (that picture I linked to was after they’d put up Jaime, and before Joe — a lot of people had trouble finding Joe signs for awhile). They’ve had this one up several months…

wear a mask

Henry didn’t want to go ‘too far’

OK, this kind of rocked me:

I already said this on Twitter, but now I’ll say it here:

Perhaps it’s rude of me to interrupt Henry when he’s congratulating himself, but 8,053 South Carolinians have died, at the very least. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that had we gone a bit closer to what he calls “too far,” some of them would have lived…

DHEC graphic

Henry’s knee jerks in response to being outstupided by Texas

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I’m not going to say a lot about this, because it’s just more of the same. And as you know, I gave all I had trying to get South Carolina to elect the other guy a couple of years back.

But it’s indeed pathetic, and appalling, and will likely lead to a few more of my fellow South Carolinians dying. Beyond that, I’ll post this so y’all can elaborate if you’d like.

So we had what the governor of Texas did the other day. I have trouble remembering his name, but I remember the fact that whenever I read or hear it, it’s in connection with him doing or saying something phenomenally stupid. This time, it was him saying, “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.

Well, Henry McMaster wasn’t going to stand still for being outstupided by Texas. So we got this:

South Carolinians will no longer be required to wear face masks inside state-owned buildings or inside restaurants when not eating or drinking under Gov. Henry McMaster’s latest COVID-19 order Friday.

The governor’s latest announcement follows the steady decline of new virus cases and mass vaccination efforts. But it also comes after other states, including Texas, have lifted their own mask mandates over criticism from public health leaders.

In the same order, McMaster also asked state agency directors to pull together and submit plans to bring employees back to the office full time….

Oh, by the way — I’m not sure “outstupided” is a word. But it should be. No, wait! Here it is. Good. I think we’re going to be needing it going forward. Too bad we didn’t have it in wide circulation over the last four years.

Oh, by the way, in related news:

Notice how he didn’t say, “former President?”…