Category Archives: health

Growing Old Together

No, this isn’t going to be a post about me and my husband, although it’s true that we’re growing older (every day) and we’re still together (after nearly 40 years).

Instead, I’m going to write about growing older with my cat, Dushenka. (Dushenka, incidentally, is Russian for “Little Soul” and is used colloquially to mean “Sweetheart” or “Darling.”)

I once had a cat (Louise) who lived to be 21. That’s rather old for a cat. I had her with me since she was a kitten. While she wasn’t mine for all of my life, I was hers for all of hers. Figuring cat-to-human years is tricky, but she was definitely a senior cat. But I digress.

I don’t really know how old Dushenka was when she came to us, but the vet records show we first brought her in in 2012. Assuming she was two or maybe three when she chose us for her family, that makes her 11 or 12 years old, or approximately the same age as I am now in cat years. We are aging together, and not always gracefully.

In fact, “gracefully” is a memory for both of us. Every time she jumps down from her perch by the window, her back legs don’t work so well and she bonks her little bottom on the floor. To get up on the perch, she now has to take a route from one of the chairs in my study and make a smaller leap, rather than jumping up from the ground.

I know exactly how she feels. Sometimes my legs don’t work right either, and more than once I’ve gotten up off the floor by using a chair as an intermediary.

When cats age, they often get gray or white hairs on their chin or around their muzzle. Dushenka avoids this by having a completely white chin and muzzle already. (It should be noted that all my profile pictures were taken mumblemurph years ago.)

I get cold very easily and need sweaters or blanks tucked around me. So does Dushenka. Her favorite napping spots are on a chair that contains one or more of my sweaters or a pillow that makes her look like a princess. Her favorite sleeping spot is in our bed, curled up in a little nest made of the comforter, or on top of my husband (who radiates heat like a fuzzy stove).

Dushenka is, however, not too old to play sometimes. She likes “get that string” and is pretty quick at it. I like playing “get that string” too, from the other end of the string.

She likes sun and fresh air, sitting or sleeping on her perch when the sun is shining and I’ve opened the window for her to sniff the wonders outside. She watches cat TV, also known as “I wanna bite the birdie.” I like the feeling of sun on my old bones too, and the fresh air, as long as I have one of the sweaters. I watch human TV and enjoy “I wanna bite the birdie” when they’re fixing poultry on “Chopped.”

She does not go outside, primarily because I want to keep her safe from fleas, diseases, and marauding cars. I stay inside to ward off pandemics and how people-y the outside world is.

Still, it would be foolish not to say that Dushenka and I are both on the decline. She will likely reach the end of her life a few years earlier than I do, given the cat-year-progression thing. And when that happens, I will have to think hard about whether to get another cat. I surely wouldn’t want to adopt a young kitten and leave her all alone at some point in the future.

Maybe a senior cat. They always need homes. And we can grow older together.

 

What I Do – And Don’t – Know About the Vaccine

This week I got my first shot of the Moderna vaccine, which was the kind they had at Walmart, where I was able to get an appointment for me and my husband. I don’t really know the difference between that and the Pfizer one, but I do know the Johnson & Johnson one (also called Janssen, for some reason) requires only one shot to be effective and requires less refrigeration than the others.

Getting the shot itself was okay. My arm didn’t hurt at all until the next day and was then just a minor nuisance.

Actually, my legs hurt more than my arm did, because there was a lot of walking, waiting, and standing involved. The trip went like this: From the parking lot into the store. From the front door to the pharmacy department. Standing in line there, while they tried to find my insurance on their computer. Then to the lawn and garden department at the other end of the store, where the shots were being given, for some reason (one of the things I don’t know about the vaccine). And I had to stand in line there too, while my husband was scoping out planters.

But that’s just me bitching.

The truth is, while I didn’t enjoy every minute of the process, I was overjoyed that I got the vaccination. It’s not that I enjoy injections (or “jabs,” as the rest of the world calls them). I’m not needle-phobic.

One thing I don’t know about the vaccine is why it was so hard to find a location that would give it to us. It would have made sense to get vaccinated at the pharmacy in the store where my husband works, but no. I was put on one of the infinity waiting lists and Dan couldn’t even get on that because he doesn’t have a smartphone so he couldn’t get a text about it. (Dan is the last person in America to have a stupidphone, one of the old flip variety. I think he just likes to pretend he’s a cast member on the original Star Trek.)

I tried a couple of other local pharmacies. I tried registering online, but no appointments were forthcoming. And there were no stadium drive-through vaccinations (that I heard of). At last, I tried Walmart. I’m not fond of Walmart, for any number of reasons. But this time they booked appointments for us within a reasonable time.

Now, as to the supposed dangers of the vaccine. Here’s what I do know.

You cannot get autism from the vaccine, as one of Dan’s coworkers fears. That was definitively debunked years ago (the doctor who started it all lost his license) and was only considered a potential hazard for children when the rumor was first going around (the bogus rumor, I add).

You will not be chipped by Bill Gates. First of all, the tiny needles they use for the vaccination are too small to contain even a microchip like the ones my cats have. And Gates surely has no interest in where I go (which isn’t of interest to much of anyone at all, not even me). Nor do I think he cares what I spend, as long as some of it is on Microsoft Windows, which I need to do my work. Besides, your cell phone is perfectly adequate to track your movements, if anyone is interested.

You will not get the Mark of the Beast along with the vaccine. None of the vaccines I’ve gotten – smallpox, flu, etc. – have had the least effect on my soul. I don’t see why this one should be any different.

Taking the vaccine is not the first step in a long, convoluted trail to government control and a cashless society that keeps track of where we go and rules our bank accounts (see Bill Gates, above).

Getting the vaccine has not changed my DNA (or even my RNA). I would not pass along tainted genes to any hypothetical children, and I will not turn into a half-human-half-animal person. DNA doesn’t work that way, and neither do vaccines.

I do believe I might get flu-like symptoms when I get my second dose, but I’ve handled the flu before. It’s a drag, but not as big a drag as COVID.

All in all, I’m glad I got vaccinated. All I really have to say about it is “Go ye and do likewise.”

 

Missing My Friend

Last week I received an answer to a query. An agent I had contacted about my mystery novel had asked to review my complete manuscript.

My first thought was, “I have to tell Robbin about this!” But I couldn’t.

No, Robbin doesn’t have COVID and she isn’t dead. But she had a severe stroke last month and is in a nursing home. I can’t visit her or even call her on the phone. 

Robbin has a limited range of motion on one side of her body. With the other hand, she keeps trying to pull out her trache tube, which has made her life a tennis match between hospital and nursing home. Hospital to insert the tube, and back to the nursing home until she pulls it out again. Evidently, the nursing home does not have personnel able to put in a trache.

Robbin’s daughter and husband have had “window visits” with her, and now Stu is allowed to visit her in person. Stu and Kelly phone me frequently to give me updates on her condition, though there isn’t really much to tell, except transfers to and from the hospital and occasional infections and fevers. The latest update was that they’re now treating her for pneumonia. None of it is in the least encouraging.

I fear I will never have my friend back again.

Robbin and I met when she applied for a temporary job at a publishing company where I was working. I remember seeing her credentials and editing test and thinking, “We’ve got a live one here!” She only worked at the company for a few months, but it was enough to bond us.

Robbin has been my partner in crime, my commiseration buddy, my writing cheerleader, and my test audience. We have compared notes on our mental and emotional states, bitched about our husbands, given each other gifts, talked for hours about everything or nothing much. We have crashed parties together. We have made rum balls together. (My contribution was to taste them and advise, “Needs more rum.”)

She has taken me shopping and dressed me up like her own personal Barbie. Until she came along, I didn’t know there were any colors other than beige, olive drab, and camo. She took my husband shopping too, when he needed a suit for his class reunion.

When a tornado destroyed our house and my husband and I were stuck in a Red Cross shelter, Robbin and Stu gave us a lift and the use of their credit card to get us into a motel, where we stayed for a number of weeks.

I gave Robbin the first cat she ever had (Norman), thus starting her on a long career as the local Crazy Cat Lady. We’ve supported each other and cried our way through many a feline illness and death, and reminisced about our little friends afterward. I know her cats and her little chihuahua Moochie are missing her too. (This cat would surely remind her of Sandy, or one of the many others she opened her heart and house to.)

Robbin has never been good at diplomacy. She says what she thinks and doesn’t sugarcoat it for anyone. You always know where you stand with her. She has a generous heart and a raucous laugh that I fear I will never hear again. Her absence is a hole in my life that no one else can fill.

I know that the odds are not good for her to recover from this, the second stroke she’s had. I know I will likely never get my friend back the way I knew her. And I know my feelings are as nothing compared to those of her husband and daughter.

But I wish I had the Robbin I knew back, even for just another phone call.

How the Pandemic Changed My Life

The pandemic has changed lots of peoples’ lives. They’ve taken up new hobbies, learned new skills, and bonded more closely with family and friends. They’ve learned what things mean the most to them and what they miss the most. Some have lived in fear and others have found new strength.

Post-Pandemic

As for me, since the pandemic struck last spring, I have been working from home, on my Macintosh. Because of that I can – and do – spend most days as well as nights in my pajamas. I have not had my hair or nails done since March.

I no longer go out, except for vital appointments like visits to doctors. I have a mask (actually I have two – one leopard print and one camo) and I wear one or the other religiously whenever I do go out. In general, when I do go out or want to look even semi-respectable, I pull my hair back into the fortunate ‘do known as a messy bun – my favorite of all the recent fashion styles.

My husband takes care of most of the errands, such as grocery shopping. He’s not able to work from home, so most days are very quiet, allowing me to do my work and my writing.

Speaking of writing, I have had time to work on my mystery novel. It’s now in shape to where I can send queries to agents and start collecting rejection slips. (I’ve done this before and am used to them.) I haven’t taken up any other hobbies. I have resisted the allure of homemade bread and jam and homemade Christmas decorations as well.

I don’t really have pandemic panic. First of all, I have a third-degree black belt in social distancing. I have no aesthetic, medical, or political objection to masks. And I’ve mastered the art of creative procrastination.

My philosophy has for a long time been not to worry about things I can’t do anything about, and to postpone worrying until the looming whatever-it-is actually hits. So far the pandemic has not invaded our house (not to put a kinnehara on it). Since I have been taking all necessary precautions, I won’t worry about it until it does.

That said, I can’t really say that I miss my life before the pandemic. You see, it has changed almost not at all.

Pre-Pandemic

I’ve worked from home for a number of years, so that’s no challenge for me. And I can just sit down at my computer and work on my novel as I always have. My typical uniform has always been pajamas, or a nightshirt when the weather is pleasant. I never had much of a social life anyway, mostly conducted by phone and computer. For “formal” Zoom meetings, I could half-dress, which is still true.

I not only haven’t had my hair and nails done since March, I haven’t had them done in years. (Unless you count clipping my nails, which I do regularly, or biting them, which I do occasionally.) 

Also, pre-pandemic, it was rare for me to leave the house, except for doctor’s appointments. And when I did this before the pandemic, I didn’t wear a mask, of course, not even for Halloween or when robbing banks. (I wonder how bank personnel feel about having masked people coming into the branches that are open. It must be at least a little unnerving. But I digress.)

My husband has always done the grocery and most other shopping, as he works in a big box store that has a grocery section. He has worked third shift for years, so it’s always been quiet, both during the morning when he sleeps and at night when he works.

I still have all the things that are important to me – my husband, my home, my work, my novel, my cats, enough food, and my medications (which can be picked up at a drive-through). The pandemic so far has taken none of them away. There is almost nothing I miss.

Except going out for lunch. We’ve done take-out, but it’s just not the same. At home, the cats bug us shamelessly for little nibbles of whatever we’re having. Even if they don’t like the food, they can’t resist sticking their little noses in. At least in proper restaurants, there are no intrusive noses.

 

Gravity Is Not My Friend

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “Gravity is not just a good idea; it’s the law.” That may be true, but I am seriously considering a career as a lawbreaker, an avocation as a scofflaw. I might even argue the point as a lawyer.

Gravity, while one of the most powerful forces in the universe, is not nice to those of us living on Earth. Oh, I know that gravity keeps the moon in place and creates tides and other really neat things. But for the creatures living here, it has its disadvantages. And by creatures, I mean people. You and me. Particularly me.

First, let’s take weight. It’s that darn gravity that causes us to weigh what we do. The moon’s gravity is only 1/6 of Earth’s. Therefore, on the moon, we would weigh 1/6 of what we do now. That’s why astronauts get to jump and bounce on the moon and give the illusion of floating. The moon still has gravity, but it’s not nearly as annoying.

It is possible to achieve zero gravity on Earth, but you have to ride the “Vomit Comet” to do it, which I, for one, am not willing to do, even if they would let me. (It’s an airplane that makes steep inclines and steep drops that leave the humans inside suspended in midair for a few moments, just long enough to see their breakfast also suspended in midair.)

(Incidentally, there’s been a lot of speculation about what zero-g sex would be like. From my extensive research in science fiction novels, I gather it would be awkward, difficult, and counterintuitive. If I ever have the chance to find out for certain, I’ll be sure to let you know right away. It’ll be the first thing I do, after.  But I digress.)

No, the problems with gravity are for we, the Earth-bound. Aside from the weight issue, there are the aging issues. Gravity pulls on our no-longer-so-firm tissues and causes them to elongate. This is noticeable in the skin (particularly on the upper arms and neck) and, need I say, in the boobs. You wonder why your chest is starting to migrate to near your belly-button when you take off your bra? It’s gravity’s fault you’re not perky anymore.

In my case, it’s also gravity’s fault that I’m as beat up as I am. My childhood nickname was “SuperKlutz” (this was in the days before self-esteem had been invented) because of my ability to accomplish such feats as falling out of the car with both feet still in the car. I also managed to fall off the monkey bars, landing on my head on what was then considered to be reasonable playground surfacing, i.e., asphalt. Some people say this explains lots, but never mind that now.

At my age, gravity takes my least little misstep and turns it into a trauma. Just the other week, I wiped out on a short flight of concrete steps, despite using a cane at the time, and bruised my leg, skinned my scalp (which bled like an SOB), and produced a massive goose egg on my forearm. The goose egg has ebbed some, but it left a hideous bruise that has still not resolved to a proper skin tone. I glance down and think, “Wait! I don’t have a huge birthmark there!” And even if I did, it likely would not be turning entertaining but appalling shades of dried ketchup, soot, teen hair-color, and pea soup as I wait for it to dissipate. It resembles either a tornado sky or a very overripe, much-abused eggplant.

To add to the indignity, when I do fall, that mean ol’ gravity keeps me stuck there on the ground. I need to strengthen my leg muscles, I guess, so I can regain a standing position if my husband isn’t there to swoop in and hoist me back to vertical. (Actually, sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t, and I’ve never been able to figure out what makes the difference.)

A cane I have gotten used to. Riding scooters in large home improvement stores with concrete floors is also acceptable. But, so far, I’m resisting using a walker, though I suspect it will eventually come to that, sometime in the distant future when I’m truly old.

Unless some clever scientist figures out how to dial back gravity just a wee bit or my next house is on the moon, of course.

Big Pharma and COVID-19

Big Pharma has a bad rep. And there are certainly valid reasons for that. Recent accounts of price gouging, particularly on common, life-saving drugs like insulin, have had consumers fuming. The cost of newer drugs is sky-high. And there have been an awful lot of drugs that were apparently sent to market too early, leading to a lot of dire side effects and drug recalls. Add to that the dubious practice of advertising prescription medications direct-to-consumer, and Big Pharma has abused the trust of the American people. The drugs they develop and sell may be – indeed, often are – beneficial and even life-saving, but that doesn’t seem to dissipate much of the cloud of bad feeling surrounding American pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Unfortunately, Big Pharma is likely going to be needed to help get us through the coronavirus crisis.

Sure, there are government agencies involved in the process of developing treatments and vaccines as well – the CDC, FDA, and NIH, to name a few. But even these institutes and organizations have been tainted by the dubious reputation of large drug companies. They are seen as in cahoots together, developing and testing drugs together, rushing them onto shelves and into doctors’ offices and hospitals, patenting the results, and pocketing the proceeds. Never mind whether that’s an accurate portrayal or not. That’s the public sentiment.

But where, exactly, do people believe that COVID-19 treatments and vaccines are going to come from, if not from Big Pharma and the various institutes? This is a novel virus, not likely to be much affected by drugs that already exist, though those should certainly be tried. Cures for other diseases have already been tested on COVID-19 and found wanting. Crackpot theories such as drinking bleach have made the rounds, with the potential to do great harm rather than help. Developing pharmaceuticals requires a huge investment of time and especially money. Big Pharma has to be big to work even as well as it does. So, yes, we should be looking to Big Pharma, if not directly for discovering a vaccine, at the very least for manufacturing and distributing it. Basically, there aren’t any mom-and-pop vaccine shops, biotech start-ups and upstarts notwithstanding. 

The question then becomes, if and when Big Pharma does develop drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 (far from guaranteed – we still don’t have a vaccine for HIV/AIDS), will people be willing to use them?

Scientific literacy is pretty low in the US right now. People don’t understand how vaccines work. Of course, that isn’t entirely the fault of the US education system. For decades now, there has been a growing party of anti-vaxxers that don’t just not understand the science, but refuse to even consider it. And facts don’t matter to those whose minds are made up. Still, after all these years and the complete discrediting of the guy who faked the study, people believe that vital childhood vaccinations cause autism.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists. I don’t know how many people there are who actually believe that Bill Gates is a Bond-style supervillain living on a volcano island, petting a long-haired white cat, but there certainly is a vocal subset of people who proclaim that, even should a vaccine for COVID-19 be produced, they will not use it, for fear of being microchipped, or submitting to the New World Order, or the Number of the Beast, or something. There may not be many people that far out on the limb, but their fervent influence has the potential to disrupt the herd immunity that ought to develop after the proper use of a new, effective vaccine.

So, the question becomes, if and when a treatment or vaccine becomes available, will people be smart enough to avail themselves of it? Or will the lack of trust in Big Pharma, the medical establishment, and medical science itself mean that sufferers will deny themselves treatment and go right on spreading the deadly disease?

I suppose it in part depends on how horrendous the death toll has been by the time that a vaccine exists, and how many family members, friends, and loved ones of doubters have died. 

 

 

 

Sick of the Virus

I am sick of all the coronavirus blog posts and memes. But there are a few that I’m particularly sick of, especially the defiant ones and the conspiracy theories. Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth.

No, COVID-19 was not engineered by the Chinese or anyone else. There are plenty of viruses running around out in the wild and jumping species without anyone having to create them in a lab. Just because this one might affect you doesn’t mean it’s special.

No, wearing a mask does not violate your civil liberties. Miners and construction workers have to wear hardhats. Painters have to wear masks or respirators. Surgeons have to wear gowns, gloves, and masks. There are laws about these things designed to protect the people involved. If they can suck it up and wear protective equipment without protesting, so can you.

No, your need for a haircut does not trump my need for staying off a respirator.

Yes, social distancing is inconvenient, but it still beats having your lungs filled with fluid.

Yes, the employees in businesses that are still open probably hate wearing masks too and sanitizing their hands multiple times a day. But they don’t want to take your viruses back home to the people they care about.

No, it’s not necessary to carry guns to rallies protesting COVID-19 restrictions. Shooting legislators and health authorities will not make a bit of difference to the virus. Show some dignity, people. 

Yes, states have the right to respond to the virus in any way they choose, but they ought to consider that the virus does not care about state lines or crossing them. An informed national policy would make the crisis less of a crisis, though.

No, people in the 70s did not like gas rationing, any more than people during World War II liked rationing of gas, sugar, flour, shoes, and many other commodities. But they put up with it for the sake of a greater goal. In this case, the greater goal that restrictions are required for is preserving the lives of innocent people.

No, you don’t need that much toilet paper. The virus attacks the respiratory system, not the GI tract. Leave some for others, for goodness sake. Let’s not be ridiculous here.

No, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros had nothing to do with the origin or spread of the virus and are not using it as an excuse to microchip everyone. (Microchipping your pets is still a good idea.)

Yes, staying at home and sheltering in place can be boring. And trying to work from home or home-schooling your kids can be frustrating. But there are people who do these things by choice, every day of the year, and if they can put up with it, so can you. Boredom and inconvenience are not sufficient reasons to risk death for yourself or others.

No, politics has no effect on the virus. It hits red states and blue states equally, all things being equal. Some states are just more on the ball than others when it comes to limiting the spread of the virus. Look at Ohio – a red state with a governor who listens to a doctor and takes her advice about proper precautions. The virus wasn’t “timed” to interfere with elections either. There’s no way you can make a virus do that.

Yes, you are acting like an idiot if you harass (or shoot) employees who insist you wear a mask. They are carrying out their employers’ instructions or the health regulations of their state, county, city, or other authority. They’re not to blame for it.

No, no one is whipping up fear for fear’s sake. COVID-19 is already fearsome enough without it. This is not a plot to use fear to control us all. 

Yes, I have an axe to grind, “skin in the game,” as it were. I am a senior with an immune condition and an immunosuppressant medication. My husband has diabetes and a job in the high-risk environment of a grocery store. If either one of us gets the virus, we’re likely both toast.

There. I hope I’ve made it clear. These “news” stories, rumors, memes, and speculation have to stop. There are people’s lives at stake here, folks.

Let’s Talk Viruses

denisismagilov – stock.adobe.com

What’s up with viruses? What the hell are they, anyway? And how do those sly whatsits operate? Here’s a layperson’s guide.

Disclaimer first: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I’m not a microbiologist and I don’t think anyone plays one on TV. I’m simply a person who stayed awake in science class and has read a lot ever since.

First, let’s make this clear: Viruses have no brains. We can talk about a virus’s goals or intentions or strategies, but we’re at least partly anthropomorphizing or speaking metaphorically. A virus is a strand of DNA or RNA (in the case of COVID-19) wrapped in a shell which can glom onto bodily tissues so the virus can duplicate itself and move on to another host.

That’s what it does, and that’s about all it does. All a virus wants is to replicate itself and continue to do so. The fact that it makes you sick is quite incidental to that.

The incubation period – the length of time before you show symptoms of an illness – is important. It gives the virus time to multiply unnoticed within the body and infect others via bodily fluids before someone notices and tries to kill it off. The longer the incubation period, the more successful the virus is. Think HIV. It has an incubation period of years, which was what allowed it to be so successful at infecting a large number of people before anyone noticed.

The incubation period for coronavirus is, we think, about two weeks, give or take. You could have the virus without any symptoms during that time and all the while be spreading it by coughing, poor hygiene, or being too close to people. The masks that you wear may seem like they are protecting you, but actually they are preventing you from making other people sick.

Viruses are tricky bastards. They can – and do – evolve and mutate and jump species. That’s when a virus becomes particularly dangerous. If it mutates, as the flu virus does pretty much every year, no one has a natural immunity to it and unless a vaccine is created for that specific version, a lot of people get the flu.

Jumping species is another thing altogether. A virus can be living happily in a pig or a chicken or a bat or a monkey, not causing too much damage (at least not right away). But when a virus mutates so that it can infect and cause illness in another sort of animal (for our purposes, a human being), that’s when things get really tricky. The virus now has a population to infect that never encountered it before. It can burn through that population like wildfire. If the incubation period is short, the virus may burn itself out rapidly and not claim too many victims, as they die before having a chance to pass it on. But if the incubation period is longer, the virus gets a free ride to any number of new hosts.

And yes, people can get infected by eating the host animal. It’s not very likely, since most people eat their meat cooked, not raw. Bodily fluids and bites or scratches are much more dangerous, as is contamination with feces. But that’s not the only way that viruses are transmitted via animals. You know how viruses are passed from person to person without us having to eat each other’s flesh? Well, the virus can travel in the bodily fluids of other animals as well. So if you don’t wash your hands after feeding your chickens, or you stir up and breathe in some bat guano while you’re exploring a cave, or a mouse pees in your storeroom, any viruses lurking there can infect the unwary, if that virus is ready to jump species.

So, that’s a basic guide to viruses. And let’s be real about this. Viruses are all around us and spread quite naturally. There’s no real need to worry about a virus being manufactured and escaping from a lab. And need I say that Hillary Clinton, the deep state, Chinese supervillains, and George Soros have nothing to do with it? Yes, I suppose I do.

When the Pandemic’s Over

Right now there are a lot of blog posts that tell you how to get through this period when we are plagued with COVID-19, the coronavirus. There are helpful patterns for sewing masks. There are recipes to try and games to play to while away the time spent in self-isolation. There are exhortations to take up a new hobby or learn a new language or just take care of yourself – your mental and physical health. There are also entertaining conspiracy theories for the origin of the virus, which seem to involve germ warfare, Hillary Clinton, bats, the Deep State, and the elections. (Personally, “bats” is the word that comes to my mind to describe these theories.) There has even been a virtual science fiction convention online that has been running for weeks instead of just for the usual weekend.

But at some time – no one knows just when – there will be a break in the clouds of invisible invaders and we will all breathe a cautious sigh of relief. What will we all do then? Keep practicing our new hobbies and languages? Try to turn those masks back into bandanas or fetching little hats?

I have some suggestions.

Hug everyone you care about. One of the worst things about social isolation and distancing is that they make you feel … isolated and distant. We may be shy about returning to shaking hands as a social norm (I prefer the Vulcan hand salute). But hugs are life-affirming and life-sustaining.

I’m not recommending that we substitute hugs for other greetings for business or ordinary social purposes. But so many of us have been without hugs and long for a brief squeeze or a warm embrace with a friend, a grandchild, a lover, a niece – whoever has been involuntarily separated from you. It is my great good fortune to be acquainted with some world-class huggers (including my husband) and it is my intent to line them all up and hug every one of them. 

Be prepared for the next time. There will be a next time, make no mistake. COVID-19 may not confer immunity, leading to a second wave. There’s always the regular flu season, which I suspect will now make us all very anxious. And there’s been SARS, the Spanish flu, the bubonic plague, and countless other pandemics that crop up with surprising regularity (and not just at election time, either).

I’m not suggesting that we all fill one closet with toilet paper and another with bottled water, pasta, and hand sanitizer. But it couldn’t hurt to keep on hand at least one extra package of the things that the stores keep running out of. Take advantage of two-for-one sales. It’s like filling up your gas tank when it’s half empty (a thing my father did faithfully).

Eat out and shop locally. Bars, restaurants, and small local businesses are among the industries hit the hardest. Some may never recover. But those that do will need patronage to get back on their proverbial feet. And tip well. Servers in particular have been hard hit. I understand that with contactless pizza delivery now in place, customers are forgetting to leave some money in an envelope taped to the door for the driver. And the “delivery fee,” if there is one, doesn’t go to the driver. It goes to the store. (You didn’t know that?) Tip for food delivery the same as you would for a restaurant meal – 15% or 20%.

Educate yourself. There are good nonfiction books – reputable sources – that offer information on epidemiology, pandemics, zoonoses (illnesses transmitted by animals to humans), and epizootics (epidemics ditto). David Quammen’s Spillover, Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, and Influenza by Dr. Jeremy Brown are good places to start. 

Maybe if more people understood a little bit about how these diseases develop and spread there would be less fear, scapegoating, and improbable chains of coincidences presented as theories.

Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It may.

 

Someone You Know Is Mentally Ill


Let’s say you have five people in your family and another five who are close friends. Or four and six – enough to make up ten people in your life, anyway. Statistically speaking, two of those people will experience mental illness at some point in their life. Or the person experiencing mental illness could even be you. The National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in five – or maybe even one in four – people will experience mental illness. That’s 20% to 25% of Americans.

Don’t assume you know who those two people are. Many people with mental illnesses never talk about their difficulties because of the stigma attached to living with a mental disorder. Many others are high-functioning, able to have relationships and work and lead a relatively normal life, especially if they receive proper treatment. 

So, what are we talking about when we talk about “mental illness”?

We’re not talking about the person who straightens pictures and has a neat desk.

We’re not talking about the person who is sad after the death of a pet or grieving after the loss of a loved one.

We’re not talking about the person who is overly bubbly and laughing most of the time.

We’re not talking about the person who always seems to be on a diet, no matter how thin she is.

We’re not talking about the person who has some mood swings.

We’re not talking about the person who’s afraid of spiders and germs.

We are talking about people with serious mental conditions like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), major depression, mania, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. (There are other psychiatric illnesses, but they are much more rare.)

For harmless habits to be actual mental illnesses, they must persist over time and usually interfere with people’s abilities to accomplish the ordinary tasks of daily living. If a person’s depression lasts for weeks or months (or even years), he may have Major Depressive Disorder. Some of the symptoms are low mood, isolation, feeling hopeless or helpless, and changes in appetite. Of course, all those things happen to most of us at one time or another, but if they last for a long time and keep a person from going out or doing their work, they may be signs of a serious mental illness.

This is not to say that you can diagnose mental illness on your own. A psychiatrist or psychotherapist is needed to tell whether any condition is severe enough to be called a mental illness. And only a doctor can prescribe the medications that can alleviate the symptoms, lessen the effects, and help the person back to stability or mental health.

But if you do have a friend or loved one experiencing mental difficulties – and you probably do – what should you do?

If you are sufficiently close to the person, you could gently express concern and suggest that he might want to tell a doctor what is going on. With an acquaintance, it may be best to simply be understanding and supportive. Don’t be offended when she cancels an outing or can’t make it to a party. Her disorder may be preventing her from going, much as she would like to.

If the person seems to be in danger of harming himself, definitely have a talk with him. Tell him how worried you are and how you’re upset to see him suffering. If the situation warrants, make sure your friend has the number of a suicide hotline or knows that he can call you when he is having excessive bad feelings.

The best thing you can do, though, is to educate yourself about mental illness from reputable sources like NAMI. You’ll find that mental illness is treatable and not likely to lead to violence unless it is very severe. Don’t joke about mental illness. Once I did and it prevented someone with depression from speaking about her condition. Sharing our stories with each other might have brought us both connection and comfort.

Think of a mental illness the way you would think about a physical illness. If a person you know had a broken leg, you wouldn’t ask him to go skiing. If a person you know had cancer, you wouldn’t make jokes about it. If a person you know had the flu, you would understand and might offer to run errands.

Dealing with mental illness is not easy, but it is important. And I assure you, someone you know needs help and support. Think about how you can provide that. Then follow through. It’s often lonely having a mental illness. Do your best to be a good friend. That will help, even if your friend or loved one doesn’t acknowledge it at the time.